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Editor's note: Frank Cioffi is editor and publisher of Apple Investor News and Apple-Enthusiast, part of the Tech Investor News network of news aggregation sites.

By Frank Cioffi

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- At

Apple Investor News

we track all the

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

newsflow, and it's clear the media hype, fanboy blog rumors and analyst chatter about an impending Apple tablet is fast approaching the anticipation that preceded the iPhone.

Once it is officially announced (early 2010?), the hype will then kick into the stratosphere.

I think the expectations for the iTablet are running too high, especially with investors who seem to be inferring a potential iPhone-like sales hit. Here's why that will not happen.

Tablet PCs have been around for a decade and have never been more than a small niche seller for users with specialized needs. For that targeted audience, tablets are a laptop alternative, not a separate product category.

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Herein lies the key question that will determine the potential success of this product: Will the iTablet be a product that a user would buy in addition to a laptop?

Like most users, I need a laptop either as my sole computer or as a second computer to do real work (writing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) on the road. I also need a smartphone for voice and email checks. For me, both products happen to be from Apple.

So if Apple produces a tablet product that turns out to be a winner, I would certainly buy it -- but only as a replacement for my laptop, not in addition to it.

This assumes it has full Mac OS functionality and at least a 10-inch screen. But if the tablet turns out to be just a larger iPod Touch or iPhone, it would not be a laptop alternative and therefore not a viable purchase for me and, I suspect, for many others.

Shares of Apple closed at $190.25, up 24 cents.

So there's Apple's challenge: make a Tablet Mac and you risk cannabilizing existing Mac laptop sales; make a larger screen iPhone or Touch, and you're asking people to buy a third device that would duplicate, albeit in grander fashion, the functionality they already have in their existing, but must-have, laptop and iPhone (or Touch).

Then there's the potential that this product will have built-in 3G service, which creates another hurdle: asking people, who probably already own or will soon buy an iPhone, to pay additional wireless service fees. This is not something I want or need.

And what if, as the latest rumors indicate, the iTablet is designed as an e-book reader (an alternative to the Amazon Kindle and others), but with the added functions of Web browsing, email and the array of apps available though the iTunes Store? Could Apple break open this exciting and growing market and do for books what iPod-iTunes did for music? If anyone can accomplish this, it's Apple. But I don't think lightning will strike twice. Once again, this could be a great product, but not a must-have product.(FYI: Electronics analyst firm

iSuppli estimates

3.5 million e-readers will be sold worldwide in 2009.)

Apple enjoys an enormous amount of press, blog and analyst coverage. This is a blessing any company would envy. But sometimes it can be a curse, when expectations run too high, and each product announcement is expected to include an iPod- or iPhone-like hit. Such could be the case with the Apple Tablet.

So my prediction: Apple will indeed create a fabulous tablet device that will sell quite well. It will provide a strong incremental boost to Apple's existing portable line, and that's not so shabby when you consider the Mac's growing market share and popularity of the MacBook and MacBook Pro line. But it will not be a mega-seller like the iPhone or iPod.

Whenever this "disappointing" news becomes apparent to the market, use it as a buying opportunity for a stock that, regardless of its tablet sales, is firing on all cylinders for its core product categories.

At the time of publication, Cioffi was long Apple.