App Store Surges While Tablet Rumors Solidify

The latest gossip around the forthcoming Apple tablet seems to be solidifying around the date and form factor, and a fresh batch of figures from the company suggest that Apple could enter the market with a much stronger position than other tablet devices.

For starters there is the enormous strength of the App Store market. It launched just 18 months ago with 500 apps, but has now passed the milestones of 3 billion downloads and 115,000 apps. It took Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) nine months to reach 1 billion downloads, five months to reach the second billion, and four months to hit the third billion.

This past Christmas saw a huge spike in sales, particularly for the iPod Touch. It surpassed the iPhone in app downloads for the first time since the store launched.

“Three billion applications downloaded in less than 18 months — this is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. “The revolutionary App Store offers iPhone and iPod Touch users an experience unlike anything else available on other mobile devices, and we see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon.”

The mythical table, still an unknown quantity, is already being met with some big projections. “Apple’s tablet would compete well in the netbook category, even though it would not be a netbook,” Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. who has followed Apple closely through multiple product launches, wrote in a research note

It will compete with netbooks because it will have the 115,000 App Store apps to choose from. Munster projects that the device will cost around $600, and that Apple will ship around 1.4 million units in 2010.

Apple is confirmed to have an event planned in San Francisco on Jan. 27. It has not said what the event is about, but the widespread belief is that it will feature the introduction of the tablet. The leading consensus holds that the device will be called the “iSlate.”

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