Apple Tablets Form Factor

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-11-03 Print this article Print


Analysts have used the buzz as a jumping-off point for speculation about the tablet PC's ultimate form factor. A few days after the Keller news broke, such a report circulated with a paragraph devoted to the specs of a prospective tablet PC:

"Apple is expected to introduce an entry-level Macbook or Tablet device at [estimated] $599-799 by Q2/F10," Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, wrote in his Oct. 20 research report. "An Apple Tablet could be media-centric with Multitouch, featuring a 7- to 10-inch touchscreen, WiFi, 16GB/32GB memory, etc."

Combined with a keyboard, a tablet "could also serve as an entry-level Macbook with Apple's trademark superior computing experience, likely integrated with iTunes and Apple's App Store." The device "could be tethered to an iPhone or incorporate an integrated 3G module for connectivity (and possibly be carrier subsidized)."

That report mirrors comments made in August by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who suggested that a tablet PC could feature an operating system based on either a modified version of the Mac OS X or else the iPhone OS with specialized apps adapted for a 7- to 10-inch screen. Munster predicted that the device would sell in the $500 to $700 range, and provide as much as $1.2 billion in revenue for Apple during its first year of release.

That same month, a story in The Wall Street Journal suggested that Jobs has been focusing the bulk of his time and attention on the development of the tablet. Twice before, the article suggested, tablet development had been killed after Jobs raised concerns about the device's battery life and memory capacity.

Jobs sent an e-mail to the Journal stating that "most of your information is incorrect," but the device rumors nonetheless refused to die.

In early October, a number of blogs-starting with Apple Insider-posted links to a patent application filed by Apple in June 2009 for a touch-screen interface. The mechanism described was fairly complex, describing a screen that could be manipulated with both the fingers and the palms; this sort of versatility would open up a multitouch device to a broad amount of uses, particularly in the realm of multimedia.

"Apple has a history of being outspoken, denying they were doing something they were in fact actually doing," Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said in an e-mail to eWEEK. "But the patent filing made it very hard for them to maintain this."

A few weeks after news of the patent broke, Apple announced that it had hired Michael Tchao, formerly involved in the development of the Newton personal digital assistant, to become its vice president of product marketing. His exact role is still a secret to the outside world, but Tchao's links to a former version of a popular PDA set off another round of speculation that the hiring had something to do with a tablet PC's release.  

At this juncture, the most surprising rumor concerning the tablet PC would be that Apple decided to kill the project altogether. Until something more substantial emerges, however, the online community will doubtlessly attempt to continue to fill the void with more speculation.

"Certainly in the past, Jobs has thrown a red herring to people and said something was stupid only to release it three months later, but they haven't been doing that lately," Kay said. "Their days of flying under the radar are sort of over, but their older culture also persists: They manage leakage very carefully, and use it to manage the buzz in advance."


Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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