RealTime IT News

Apple Tablet Rumors Kick Up - Again

Each new week seems to bring another Apple rumor. The newest comes courtesy of a research note from investment firm Piper Jaffray, when analyst Gene Munster hinted at an Apple tablet some time next year.

These rumors have persisted despite repeated denials by Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) executives, including CEO Steve Jobs -- who is on medical leave -- and interim CEO Tim Cook. Jobs has said, "We don't do cheap" more than once in response to the question of whether Apple might make its own foray into netbooks, the low-cost, low-powered notebook PC category now seeing a boom in demand.

But in his research note, Munster said he thinks the upcoming device is more of touchscreen tablet than a notebook, and he cites a number of sources.

"Between indications from our component contacts in Asia, recent patents relating to multi-touch sensitivity for more complex computing devices, comments from Tim Cook on the April 22nd conference call, and Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi along with other recent chip-related hires, it is increasingly clear that Apple is investing more in its mobile computing franchise," he wrote.

Munster said he expects to see a touchscreen tablet with a seven- to 10-inch screen launch in the first have of 2010.

"We are anticipating a new category of Apple products with an operating system more robust than the iPhone's but optimized for multi-touch, unlike Mac OS X. The device’s OS could bear a close resemblance to Apple's mobile OS and run App Store apps, or it could be a modified version of Mac OS X. We expect the development of such an OS to be underway currently, but its complexity, along with our conversations with a key company in the mobile space, leads us to believe it will not launch until CY10," he said in his report.

Munster also believed this would be some kind of response to the Kindle/Kindle DX from online retailer Amazon.com. "While we do not expect this to be a core selling point for the device, it would make sense for Apple to develop an electronic reading app for the device (and possibly for iPhones and iPod touches too) along with digital books sold on the iTunes Store," he wrote.

Apple did not return calls requesting comment.

The company is widely expected to release something soon. Its Worldwide Developer Conference takes place next month, but rumors also suggest that new iPhones will come in a separate announcement after that event.

The original iPhone launched in July 2007, so with those two-year contracts with AT&T set to expire, Apple is expected to come up with something to keep those customers.

Adding fuel to the fire, the blog PhoneArena.com reported three mystery products listed at Best Buy for AT&T Wireless.

Plus, BusinessWeek reported last month that Apple is in talks to expand the iPhone's reach beyond just AT&T Wireless, its sole carrier, to Verizon Wireless, and with it two new phones.

A "super iPod?"

All grist for the mill, and Silicon Valley veteran analyst Rob Enderle has his own theory. He thinks any device Apple has in the works would be a "super iPod" of sorts, with optional phone service. The device would use the iPod interface and have a screen no larger than seven inches.

"They have been so against tablet computers, that I'm struggling with the idea of a sudden change in attitude that tablet is the way to go," Enderle, president of the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com. "Jobs has consistently come out and said he thought the tablet computer is stupid. He's been making those statements for the better part of a decade now."

There is value in a large screen iPod, he notes. For starters, the iPod screen is too small to effectively watch video. Secondly, it would give applications on the App Store a lot more real estate, and the App Store has been a runaway success, at least for the developers. Apple hasn't made a lot of money on the App Store but that wasn't its intention. Like the advertisements say, if you want to do a task, there's an app for that.

"They really found games have been moving [the iPod Touch] and they've been hiring gaming folks for a while. So having a device better would encourage people to port apps who might otherwise consider the iPod Touch and iPhone screens too small," Enderle said.

Just back from the Interop show, Enderle said the rumor going around that show is that the "super iPod," or whatever it is called, would make the phone optional instead of a basic feature. It would either be an add-on module or built into the device but not activated. Should they decide to activate the phone, there would be an add-on module, or it would be switched on via software.