Switched On: TabCo's tease

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology

Tomorrow, we will find out whether TabCo is a FabCo, a DrabCo, or a skunkworks LabCo, ending the best guessing game to hit the tech industry since the identity of Fake Steve Jobs.

The significant spend on the PR campaign (to quote TabCo's Web site, "That skywriting stuff isn't cheap, you know. Neither are these videos.") as well as a reference to "a large colony of nerds" have led many to believe that TabCo is a large corporation. (Its Web site says it is a global company and TabCo is planning to launch in the US in August and Europe in September.) But there are also signs to the contrary. Take, for example, TabCo's founder and CEO -- the Google-elusive Ian "IQ" Quincy (TabCo has used pseudonyms such as "Beige Foul" -- a clear reference to Apple engineer Gray Powell), who has played a major part in the campaign. Let's dive a little deeper.

TabCo's site says that tomorrow's web presentation will be when "the man behind TabCo shows you his innovative tablet." But the site also says the unmarried Quincy was born in 1974, which would rule out most well-known tech founder-CEOs. (Google's Larry Page was born in 1973 and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in 1984.)

On the other hand, TabCo has freely mixed fact and fantasy, history and hype, into its campaign. For example, the first viral video released by TabCo shows "Forget the fruit" skytyping that actually took place during Apple's June WWDC event. Subsequent videos, though, have strayed progressively further from reality, showing a fake focus group, a prototype being exposed by "Wizmodo," a fabricated manipulation of the lights of the Empire State Building, and so on.

It's unlikely that TabCo is a well-known tech company that has already introduced its first tablets. And while Sony hasn't launched its tablets yet, one of the TabCo site pages notes that its device will have only one screen whereas Sony's "S2" tablet will have two screens. Curiously, no company has denied that it is TabCo. Yet, most of the speculation has revolved around two companies that are widely expected to release tablets, but have not released any details about them – and Nokia. Quincy's background has some similarity to that of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Like Quincy, Bezos, who was born ten years before TabCo's CEO, was a child prodigy. The TabCo site also says that Quincy climbed out of his crib at an early age. Bezos reportedly dismantled his crib with a screwdriver as a toddler. Bezos also worked for other companies before founding Amazon and went to "a really great college" (Princeton). And one TabCo tablet UI screenshot is focused on IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

But Amazon's Kindle introductions have been nothing like TabCo's campaign -- just presentations by Bezos that have been as low-key as a decaf at a Seattle coffee house. In addition, the poking of fun at many named and unnamed companies, including Apple (extensively, although TabCo admits it has no -- and that it believes there is no -- iPad-killer), Google, ASUS, Motorola, Notion Ink, and Coby, would be unusual for a company that sells products from those companies. Good luck hearing a detrimental word about about even Barnes & Noble at a Kindle introduction event.

Nokia. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is neither single nor the company's founder, and is a year older than Bezos. There are some tenuous links, though, between TabCo and Nokia. References are made to TabCo being in "The Land of Innovation," a phrase that Finnish government publications have used. In addition, there is a reference in a post about Beige Foul to the Land of Innovation Tire Company. Tires were once a business that Nokia was in although this probably has more to do with the circle/wheel motif often used in the campaign.

Nokia has been on the offensive lately, swapping out everything from its operating system strategy to its corporate font. It has also not been shy at taking potshots at competitors, particularly Android. And so, a stealth campaign like "Who is TabCo?" would make more sense coming from a company that may be looking to change how it introduces products.

Elop's public comments about what it is looking for in a tablet are consistent with the differentiation that TabCo is promising. Some have speculated that TabCo's "Aha! OS" is MeeGo, which Nokia has reserved for disruptions. But Nokia's MeeGo-based N9 is not headed to the US as the company is focusing its US efforts on Windows Phone 7, which the TabCo product doesn't appear to run.

Whether TabCo is a startup, a superpower, or another surprise, it all changes for the company tomorrow. The nature of TabCo's identity has been successful at attracting curiosity, but the nature of its product will be the key to attracting customers.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.