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Connecting the Dots on the Apple Tablet

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 8, 2010 5:00 AM PT

As Jan. 27 nears, rumors swirling about an expected Apple tablet are hitting new heights. Later this month, the company is expected to make an announcement, though Cupertino has said nothing about what that announcement might focus on. At this point, though, perhaps the most surprising development would be if Apple didn't mention a new tablet computer device.

Connecting the Dots on the Apple Tablet

What chips will such a device use? How will the interface work? What kind of Internet connectivity will it offer -- will Apple stick with its U.S. iPhone partner, AT&T, or will it start seeing other carriers? Analysts, prognosticators, supposed insiders, bloggers -- and perhaps a few deliberate hoax-mongers amongst them -- all say they may have the answers to those questions.

By the way, how could a company that maintains such a steel grip over its communications with the outside world suffer so many leaks? Is this all part of a cynical Apple ploy to maintain interest in its upcoming announcement?

Goodbye, Mr. Atom Chip?

Intel announced its Atom processors years ago, but Apple hasn't shown much interest in using the line in any of its products. On the other hand, Apple owns P.A. Semi, a microprocessor design firm it paid $278 million in cash for in April of 2008, so using an ARM-based chip of its own design might make more sense.

"Using the PA chip would be smart as it would lower the tablet's cost," Brian Marshall, an analyst at Broadpoint Amtech, told MacNewsWorld.

Why not throw another rumor into the mix? Apple might just opt for Light Peak, an optical interconnect technology it suggested Intel create. Intel unveiled Light Peak at its developer forum in San Francisco in September of 2009.

The technology can run multiple protocols simultaneously over one cable, so users can connect multiple devices, including peripherals, workstations, displays, disk drives and docking stations, all through one port. Also, optical technology allows for smaller connectors and longer, thinner and more flexible cables than more widely used technologies today. Further, optical interfaces are more battery-friendly than electrical ones.

Touching Me, Touching You

News on Thursday that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office had published an application from Apple that seems to relate to multi-touch screen technology added more grist to the rumor mill. The patent, unearthed by Patently Apple, focuses on capacitive technology, which is particularly useful for multitouch.

It appears Apple is looking to go big with the kind of touchscreen interaction found on the iPhone. "Multitouch is one big advantage that Microsoft has with Windows 7," Andrew Eisner, director of content at Retrevo, told MacNewsWorld. "Apple doesn't even have a touchscreen, even though it made the multitouch interface popular with the iPhone."

Furthermore, the patent is titled "Next Generation Touch Screen for iPhone and MacBook-Tablet." Last month, Apple tablet watchers began referring to the assumed product as the "iSlate," based on a report that Apple owns a Web site by that name. Now we have this "MacBook Tablet" reference. What's in a name?

Opting for the Big VZ?

Over the last year or so, netbook PC makers have begun designing their machines with built-in cellular data capabilities, meaning the user can get online in more places, not just open WiFi hotspot locations. Such a feature sounds like a shoo-in for an Apple tablet, but which carrier would it opt for?

Apple will likely pick Verizon as the carrier for its tablet, Marshall believes. However, it won't make the same mistake as it did with the iPhone in restricting itself to one carrier. "My contacts tell me Apple won't have an exclusive contract with Verizon," Marshall said. "There will be multi-carrier support for the tablet."

Judging on past experiences, that could be a good move. AT&T, which is the iPhone's exclusive carrier in the U.S., has generated no end of complaints about its wireless service, which is struggling under the weight of the popular device.

Possible Specs of the Tablet

The tablet will likely have a 10.1 inch screen with touch and a virtual keyboard, Marshall predicted. It will offer both WiFi and cellular connectivity.

When it comes to size, however, forecasts vary -- according to the blog Appletablet.net, the tablet will have a 9.6-inch widescreen multitouch display with a 1,440 by 1,050 pixel resolution and a fingerprint-resistant coating.

It will have 2 GB of DDR2 RAM running at 667 MHz, an Nvidia GeForce 9044M graphics processor, and an optical drive. Appletablet.net foresees an asking price of US$899.

About Those Leaks ...

Given Apple's penchant for secrecy, none of these suppositions will likely be verified until (and unless) the company comes forward with a tablet on its own terms. In fact, the company has an in-house team whose job it is to drop the hammer on suspected product information leaks the moment they occur, a former Apple staffer told Gizmodo in a report published last month.

So are these tablet rumors all 100 percent made-up, or has Apple's supposed secrecy team been on a long winter break? Perhaps it's neither. Apple also has a system for "controlled leaks," according to a recent Mac Observer article. Nothing goes into writing, nothing gets confirmed, and plausible deniability is upheld. The end result is that true info gets mixed in with all the rubbish, and Apple gets to fan the flames and gauge public reaction without officially saying anything.

A cynical ploy, a savvy marketing tactic, or yet another falsehood? We may never know that, but we'll likely know more about what the Apple tablet is -- or isn't -- on Jan. 27.


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