Rumors are swirling around Apple’s major product announcement later this month. According to a variety of sources, Apple is set to unveil the long-awaited tablet computing device that has been the subject of speculation for quite some time.

Many believe that an Apple tablet will be as revolutionary as the iPhone. Some go so far as to suggest that it could alter the computing landscape altogether.

Assuming that Apple does launch the iTablet (or whatever it is called) this year, the question becomes: will 2010 be the year of the tablet?

While tablet devices aren’t new, Apple has the touch of gold and could do for tablets what arguably no other company can. An Apple tablet will almost certainly dazzle and with Apple’s marketing prowess, there’d be plenty of buzz. Estimating how many tablet sales the buzz would drive is impossible, but Apple can probably count on its most avid fans and hardcore early adopters to spend whatever it takes to get their hands on an Apple tablet.

This said, there are plenty of good reasons to believe that tablets will face an uphill battle in achieving mainstream success, even if Apple puts its full weight behind them. Joe Wilcox of BetaNews has detailed a number of them. I’m tempted to agree with most of what he writes but I don’t think the story is as simple as it might seem. Apple does have the potential to make 2010 the year of the tablet. The reason? Developers.

Mac4Ever is reporting that developers have been handed a beta of the iPhone OS 4 SDK and if this report is accurate, it would appear that Apple has every intention of bringing the app model to its tablet. While this in no way guarantees the success of a tablet device, it does add an important wrinkle. By bringing the App Store to tablet devices, Apple gives itself the opportunity to overcome one of the tablet’s biggest hurdles: convincing consumers to buy a device that, to many, really won’t do much more than a smartphone or netbook already can.

Obviously, not everyone has an iPhone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t apps iPhone-less consumers wouldn’t find useful or entertaining. And developers will likely flock to build new apps, both for personal and business use, that take advantage of the tablet’s unique characteristics. That’s important, because if there are any questions over where tablet devices fit in, developers are probably the most likely to answer them.

The clock is ticking on Apple’s announcement and if the rumors are any indication, 2010 will be the year of the tablet, even if you rarely see them at the local coffee shop.

Photo credit: nDevilTV via Flickr.