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Apple Tablet Rumors Take on New Life

Apple Tablet Rumors Take on New Life

Apple will be debuting a tablet computer this fall, a Chinese newspaper claims. Whether the details are spot-on is debatable, but there appears to be a growing consensus that Apple must have something in the works that would represent a response to the growing consumer interest in the netbook computer category.

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
07/14/09 4:00 AM PT

A persistent rumor that Apple has a netbook device in the works has gotten a boost from blog postings and other coverage citing a recent report in the Mandarin-language China Times.

Based on a translation of the article to English, it appears the new product will be a tablet-style computer. That alone makes this latest rumor different from some of the earlier reports. The tablet is expected to make its debut in October, in time for the holiday shopping season.

Three manufacturers -- Foxconn, Dynapack and eWintek -- have received orders from Apple, according to the China Times. Specifically, Wintek is said to be producing the touchscreens.

The product reportedly will retail around US$800, well above the usual $300 to $500 range of netbooks currently on the market.

Apple did not respond to MacNewsWorld's request for comment.

A Different Animal

Despite the new details -- the names of the manufacturers and October launch date -- it is hard to place much credence in something that has been rumored about for years, IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell told MacNewsWorld.

Furthermore, the mystery device seems to change shape, form and function with each new wave of rumors.

"There has been talk of Apple developing a touchscreen netbook, a large iPod with an 8.9-inch screen, a standard netbook and a tablet-style netbook," noted O'Donnell.

Then again, the iPod and then the iPhone were whispered about long before their official unveilings. It is not implausible that Apple is developing something new -- indeed, it more than likely it is, O'Donnell said.

In fact, conventional wisdom would suggest that Apple needs to continue leading the market-making trend it began with the launch of the iPod.

The Apple tablet, if it exists, would be a new animal, O'Donnell noted. "I see it as an interesting hybrid; not a standard netbook but more of an entertainment device."

It would most likely run an OS more like the one found on the iPhone and iPod touch than the full-bodied OS X that powers Macs, he added.

The price point will stay high, O'Donnell speculated, in keeping with Apple's usual approach to the market.

Leveraging iPod

If there is a new device coming, it is bound to leverage or incorporate development that has sprung up around the iPod, Charles King, principal of Pund-IT, told MacNewsWorld. "I would expect it to blend iPod functionality with a more traditional computing type of environment or technology."

Apple has already ruled out a $500 netbook product, King reasoned. If it were to deliver something similar but with higher value-add, then it could get away with charging a higher price.

"I can't image how Apple would want to ignore the tens of thousands of new applications that have been built for the App Store. This way, Apple's device can fill a need that isn't met already by the current market," said King.

The applications, together with the rumored tablet form and its likely sophisticated syncing functionality, would be the major selling points.

"All of Apple's devices have always synced well with the main platform," King remarked.

Netbook Craze

The common theme running through these rumors is that the device will be a response to the netbook craze -- a product category that is estimated to control 18 percent of the U.S. notebook market in 2009, according to NPD.

If this is true, then Apple will be the latest computer maker to embrace the netbook -- albeit on its own terms. Though the concept was derided only a few years ago by many manufacturers, just about every OEM now has a netbook product either on the market or in development. Earlier this month, to cite one example, Sony announced a new line of Vaio netbook computers; a year ago the company had said a $500 model would damage its brand.

Apple, of course, does not even offer a price-conscious laptop, O'Donnell noted, so it would not be surprising for Apple to release an $800 netbook-type product.

"Apple has a huge gap in its pricing in this respect," O'Donnell said. "One thing I am sure about: This new product -- whatever it will be -- will not be bridging that gap."


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