Apple's Tablet PC Rumors Refuse to Die, Despite Lack of News

NEWS ANALYSIS -- Apple's tablet PC may win an award for most-commented-upon vaporware of 2009. Rumors of the device, which a handful of analysts feel will make its debut sometime in 2010, have been fueled over the past week by comments from New York Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller. Although Apple remains tight-lipped on the tablet's existence, the company could be finding it more difficult to keep secrets than even a few years ago.

The game of "Guess the Features of the Apple Tablet PC" has kept analysts and media rampantly speculating over the past few months, despite Apple's refusal to either confirm or deny the development of a touch-screen device. The rumor mill's refusal to stop churning likely indicates two things: first, that Apple's products, no matter how vaporware, continue to have a stranglehold on the popular imagination; and second, that Apple may not be quite as good at keeping secrets as in past years.

Despite the lack of serious news, or at least a firm confirmation or denial from Apple, the company continues to create buzz around a product that many are expecting even with a general lack of firsthand knowledge. That said, Apple's reliance on more partners this time around, unlike the build-up to the iPhone, has provided industry watchers and analysts with more ideas about an Apple Tablet's form factor and capabilities.

"As Apple has moved into new product areas, it's had to widen its supply chain," Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, said in an interview with eWEEK. "By doing that, they have more people sworn to secrecy, but leakage is almost inevitable. Apple has lost some control over that process."

Kay believes that a tablet PC from Apple will make its debut relatively soon.

A few years ago, Kay added, "Apple kept secrets well enough so that [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs could plausibly deny something. But now you have leaks in places like Taiwan, where you have a lot of loose lips. The iPhone was sort of known before it came out, in a very limited kind of way, but this tablet PC has been more thoroughly dissected."

Apple's partners have also leaked information.

With recent scuttlebutt focused on Apple's supposed discussions with media companies over porting the latter's content onto a tablet PC, a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald featured executives from Australian news outlets suggesting they had been in talks with Apple officials over such a deal.

"It is understood that Apple has been in direct talks with Australian media companies to launch a new app for the tablet that would allow them to distribute their content in digital form and charge for it," that article mentioned. "Apple's model has been to give developers 70 percent of the revenue and to keep a 30 percent cut. It is expected a similar deal will be offered to media companies."

Last week, news outlets reported on how Bill Keller, an executive editor at The New York Times, referred to "the impending Apple slate" in a speech at TheTimesCenter in New York. No matter that Keller's marks were originally intended as off the record; once the news started to leak-a transcript of his remarks found its way onto the Website of the Nieman Journalism Lab-it spread faster than a brush fire up a dry Los Angeles hillside.

Keller subsequently declined to elaborate on whether he meant "Apple slate" as in a tablet-PC-like product or "Apple slate" as in Apple's generalized lineup of devices.