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Jobs Is On the Job - Signaling Apple Tablet?

The return of Apple chief Steve Jobs to the company campus is not just a sign that things may be back to business as usual: It could be an indication that not only is Apple planning to launch its long-rumored tablet PC, but that the company's chief visionary is again calling the shots on its development.

Jobs came back to the Apple campus in June following a liver transplant and six-month medical leave. Since then, he's been exclusively focused on development of a rumored Apple tablet, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

If reports are true, the Apple crew is once again getting used to Jobs on the job --overseeing all matters involved in the product strategy. "People have had to readjust" to his presence, the Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

The report also suggests that the amount of attention Jobs is paying to the tablet is directly proportional to how important it will be for the company, as a wireless tablet PC marking another new direction for the computer maker turned consumer electronics giant after the success of the iPod and iPhone.

Rumors have long claimed that Apple is fashioning a touchscreen tablet PC that will borrow from some of the advancements made in developing the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's also widely rumored that the device will mark Apple's foray into low-power, lightweight mobile PCs -- an area dominated today by the netbook.

Apple is holding a company event Sept. 7, and some industry watchers say we may hear news of the so-called "iPad" or "iTablet" then, while others disagree, saying news won't break until 2010, if at all.

Spokespeople for Apple had not returned calls by press time.

New netbook rival: Nokia

If Apple does try to parlay the success of its iPhone into the netbook space, it will be challenging a slew of big names with extensive mini-PC experience -- including Dell, HP, Asus, Acer and Lenovo -- as well as newcomer rival Nokia (NYSE: NOK).

The world's largest mobile phone market yesterday unveiled its own plans to enter the netbook space with the Nokia Booklet 3G. Nokia said it plans to reveal pricing and availability plans early next month.

In Europe, where Nokia is No. 1, Nokia should be successful, Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart wrote in a report, though he did caution that pricing could thwart adoption -- and that Nokia has failed in other arenas outside of mobile, for instance in Internet radio and digital picture frames.

"Slightly positive on Nokia announcing it is building a netbook because it is going through the operator channel where pricing has some leeway (in Europe, netbooks are typically subsidized down to free), and at least in Europe its brand is much stronger than current netbook leaders Asus and Acer.

He went on to point out that the Booklet 3G would come preloaded with Nokia's Ovi PC suite of online services -- and thereby following Apple's successful lead.

"Nokia has invested over $9 billion in connected services such as mapping, gaming, storage, and mail -- with relatively little to show for it thus far," he wrote. "The Booklet 3G will come preloaded with Nokia’s complete Ovi PC suite, giving Booklet 3G owners a clear path to integrating Nokia hardware, software and services. Nokia clearly seems to be imitating Apple’s successful model with iTunes, Mac, and iPhone/iPod touch."

Still, at least one analyst said that when it comes to Apple, it's hard to make comparisons to other businesses.

"It's hard to compare Apple to other manufacturers because Apple has its own cult of people, it's got a huge ready-made fan base of customers that will go out and buy whatever they're offering as soon as its out," William Stofega, mobile analyst at IDC, told InternetNews.com.

He did say that dismissing Nokia, however, would be a mistake on Apple's part. "Nokia made a wise move -- they understand mobility -- so that development should be watched closely," Stofega said.

Regardless of whether Apple does start selling a tablet, a trend is emerging that is erasing the boundaries between computers and communications devices, Greengart said.

"When Nokia starts building Windows PCs, the difference between computing and communications -- and which vendors play in which markets -- is not just blurred, it is now officially gone," says Greengart. "This change has been building for a while: Apple’s phone business was more successful last quarter than its Macs, Dell is (unofficially) making smartphones for sale in China, HP is (quietly, but officially) making smartphones for sale globally, and many of the leading phone vendors are parts of conglomerates with PC divisions, such as Samsung, LG, and Sony."