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The iTablet Cometh?

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 22, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Apple aficionados turned their attention this week back to a rumored Apple iPod touch-like tablet device. Chatter about such a gadget has risen and fallen several times over the past few months, so what put it back on the front burner? It seems a recent Piper Jaffray report suggests Apple is working with suppliers to deliver such a large-screen touch tablet sometime in the first half of 2010.

The iTablet Cometh?

Meanwhile, netbooks continue to be all the rage on the PC side of the fence, though Mac netbook rumors have appeared to die down lately.

Plus, there have been more rumblings about lower data service charges through AT&T for new iPhones. In addition, it looks as though Apple still hasn't fixed a pesky Java flaw.

Apple Tablets in 2010?

After researching component contracts in Asia, poring over multitouch and similar patents, and commiserating on some comments made by Apple officials in the company's April 22 financial report conference call, longtime Apple financial analyst Gene Munster has concluded that Apple is likely gearing up to deliver a touchscreen tablet with a display somewhere between 7 and 10 inches. Delivery will occur in the first half of 2010, he said, with a predicted price range of US$500 to $700.

Delivery of some cool new kind of touch tablet could enable Apple to continue to ignore the blistering hot netbook market, which tends to produce cheap little devices that Apple has said simply aren't up to its standards of quality.

"The device's OS could bear a close resemblance to Apple's iPhone OS and run App Store apps," Munster wrote in a research note to clients, as reported by AppleInsider.com's Katie Marsal. "Apple could possibly introduce a second screen resolution into the iPhone OS software development kit (SDK), enabling developers to build apps specifically for the larger tablet device."

Munster's predicted timing, however, seems to have disappointed pretty much everyone.

"While this is great, 2010 is simply way too long away for an announcement. See what happens when all your energies go into the iPhone? Macs get pushed aside," commented teckstud on the AppleInsider.com post.

While some users like the idea of a touchscreen tablet full of glorious color and browsability -- is that a new word, "browsability?" -- others just don't get it.

"I just don't understand why everyone is so in love with this tablet idea. These things have such an exceedingly limited usefulness. Do you really want to keep it flat on your lap while you type on it?" asked vercordio. "Because that won't add an incredible amount of strain to your neck or anything. Or maybe you can hold it up with one hand, and type with the other one. Yeah, that'll be a blast. Try it now with your keyboard. Hold it up with one hand and type with the other. See how long you keep that up."

Meanwhile, Netbooks on the Rise

Netbook PCs have continued to grow in popularity. AT&T is gearing up to expand its stable of subsidized netbook offerings. Under that system, the buyer gets the netbook at a reduced price with a long-term contract to subscribe to the carrier's 3G wireless Internet service. The whole move toward subsidies remains somewhat surprising, according to a Wired.com Gadget Lab blog post by Brian X. Chen.

"We're surprised. As I pointed out months ago, buying an AT&T-subsidized netbook for $100 requires committing to a 2-year broadband plan. The plan costs $60 per month, amounting to $1,540 over two years," Chen noted.

Of course, the key benefit is that buyers get Internet access almost everywhere they can find a cell connection. Yet a smartphone with a tethering plan could be less expensive. Chen asked his readers if they would commit to a subsidized netbook and plan.

"No," JWB commented. "Not a chance," added Tadaka.

Still, somebody must be buying netbooks, and does all this action mean the form factor is here to stay?

"Netbooks have sold very well to date since their introduction last Christmas. In April, they represented about 13 percent of retail and online sales of notebooks, according to NPD's POS (point of sale) Retail Tracking service," Stephen Baker, NPD Group's vice president of industry analysis, told MacNewsWorld.

"We believe that they are appealing to mass-market consumers looking for a low-cost PC solution, as well as something that offers the promise of mobility -- even if they don't primarily use it for that purpose," he said.

"The form factor is here to stay, although we believe that given all the upcoming activity around small, thin portable computers ... and the merging of features we see with standard notebooks, that sooner, rather than later, these will really just be small notebooks -- which is what Microsoft calls them -- and will occupy the entry-level space in the PC notebook space," he added.

Cheaper Data on the Way?

Then there are those pesky data plans. iPhone 3G users shell out $30 per month for data (that's over and above whatever voice plan they pay for), and data plans for laptops usually run about $60 per month -- with download limits in place.

Recent comments from AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega imply that the company is looking into cheaper data plans and services -- or at least some tiered pricing models, iPhoneFreak's Robert Nelson reports.

"As of now, nothing has been made official, however it sounds like we can expect to see some new plans offered in the not-too-distant future. Personally I would rather pay a few dollars more and not have to worry about overages, of course I am sure there are plenty of people who rarely use any data and would rather save a few bucks each month," Nelson noted.

Addressing iPhone data use on the Ars Technica post on the subject, Galius Persnickety wrote, "In 19 months I've used 1GB of data down, 123MB up. So they're obviously making a killing on their data plans."

Whether it's making a killing or not, AT&T has been the subject of concern regarding its ability to handle data traffic on its cellular network.

"In talking with carriers, there has been concern for some applications that were very data intensive -- so if you had a few people using data-intensive apps within one carrier's cell, it could severely impact service for everybody on the cell," Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless for the 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.

In fact, he noted, even heavy usage by just a couple of smartphone users could drastically impact the quality of service for everyone else connecting to that cell.

However, he said, as the cellular service companies roll out their next-generation 4G networks, which are designed for heavy data traffic, there's a good chance consumers will see new account options that will let them attach smartphones, netbooks, and laptops to a carrier's cellular data network -- and maybe even at reasonable prices.

Watch Out for Java

On an entirely different note, a Java flaw that Apple has so far not fixed had users scrambling to turn off Java on their Macs.

"Programmer and former Apple engineer Landon Fuller has released a proof-of-concept exploit demonstrating vulnerabilities in Apple's current implementation of Java that allow arbitrary code execution in Java-enabled Web browsers. While the vulnerabilities, first discovered last August, were disclosed and patched by Sun last December, Apple has yet to roll out a fix for its own implementation of Java," noted MacRumors.com.

"When I read this, I immediately went to Safari's preferences menu to disable Java, only to find that I'd already disabled it," commented itickings on the post, adding, "Never noticed anything missing on the web without it. At all."

While most seem to expect Apple to fix the flaw eventually, does Apple's lack of immediate action mean the threat's not all that serious? Or is this flaw, in fact, quite dangerous?

"Yes, it is very serious," Rich Mogull, a security consultant with Securosis.com, told MacNewsWorld.

"It allows an attacker to run anything on the target system -- under the logged-in user's account -- and I recommend disabling Java in all Web browsers," he added.

Users can disable Java in Safari, for example, via the browser's preferences settings.

Of course, JavaScript is right next to Java in the settings box. Are there any concerns with JavaScript?

"None at all -- it's a totally unrelated technology that just happens to share part of a name with Java," Mogull said.


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