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Blogosphere Reignites Apple Tablet Rumors

The rumor mill has gone into overdrive again on reports that Apple has a tablet-based device in the works, only this time, there are new details. Whether those details are accurate or really good fiction remains to be borne out.

It all got started from a report in The China Times, a mainland business newspaper, that said Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) would unleash the $800 device around October, which would be perfect timing for spoiling the arrival of Windows 7.

The story went on to say that three manufacturers – Foxconn, Wintek, and Dynapack -- have received direct orders from Apple to supply devices. Foxconn is already Apple's major design partner, making the iPhone and MacBook. Wintek provides touchscreen panels and reportedly sold a bunch to Apple earlier this year.

The article (available here in Mandarin) also stated that Apple would announce the new devices come September for an October ship.

The devices would come with a 9.7 inch screen, just under what has become the de facto standard screen size of 10.1 inches for netbooks. The screen would use both a stylus and touch screen recognition.

These rumors spurred Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who follows Apple, into doing his own checks. He reported that Taiwanese suppliers informed him of plans for a tablet in the early part of 2010, also a touch screen-driven device that would sell for between $500 and $700.

Apple's big chip move?

Also weighing in was veteran Silicon Valley reporter Dean Takahashi with Venture Beat, who chimed in that the tablet would be powered not by an ARM processor, like the iPhone and iPod Touch, or an Intel processor like the MacBooks and iMacs, but by a chip developed by PA Semi, which Apple purchased last year for $278 million.

Apple never said what it had in mind for PA Semi or its exceptionally talented team of chip developers. Takahashi reports that post-acquisition, the PA Semi team was split into two groups, one working on ARM-based products for current devices, and one group working on whole new processors. This would confirm earlier reports in the Wall Street Journal that Apple is working on its own chip design work.

John Jacobs, a DisplaySearch analyst and former Apple executive, thinks Apple has had the time to make something. "Those guys at PA Semi have all the bits there. They certainly have the talent. My understanding is it takes nine to 12 months to design a chip and fab it. That's more than enough time," he told InternetNews.com.

He expects the tablet to be an "iPod Touch on steroids," with added support for gaming, an e-reader and perhaps more, but he cautioned "I don't think they would do it if they thought it would cannibalize sales of MacBooks or iPhones," he added.

Jacobs was inclined to think it would come out after Christmas instead of before. "Why that would be good from an Apple point of view is you don't get lost in the blur of Christmas goodies, you extend your Christmas buying cycle and get to potentially have the show to yourself," he said.

Apple did not return phone calls requesting comment and typically does not comment on future product plans