Apple Gearing Up to Release Tablet for Christmas?

A report from The China Times said Apple would release an $800 tablet computer in time for Christmas, pushing the Apple rumor mill into overdrive again.

Rumors and speculation regarding Apple's future computer production plans surfaced again this week when The China Times reported that Apple would be debuting a tablet-style computer as early as October and would retail for around $800. Adding to the speculation is an earlier report from The Wall Street Journal that Apple is investing significantly to manufacture its own processing chips, including hiring former chief technology officer of Advanced Micro Devices, Raja Koduri.

In addition, Apple acquired fabless semiconductor company P.A. Semi, which produced only Power Architecture processors (Apple uses ARM and x86 processors). However, the acquisition kicked off a fresh spate of rumors that the company would be used to help Apple design a new set of chips for the iPhone or perhaps another device. The blog VentureBeat reported, however, that the P.A. Semi team had been split into two groups, with one group working on portable ARM processors for iPhones and iPods and another group dedicated to designing processors for a tablet device.

Unsubstantiated reports and rumors have surrounded the potential Apple tablet for years, though in recent months the rumor mill has started spinning faster and faster. In a May 21 research note from firm Piper Jaffray, analysts wrote that Apple has said it's not interested in a netbook, which would not distinguish it enough from the competition and would eat away at MacBook sales. Instead, they expect Apple to leverage its multitouch patents and deliver a touch-screen tablet device.
"We expect Apple to fill the gap between the iPod Touch and the MacBook with a new tablet device (not a netbook) priced at about $500-$700," Gene Munster, the lead analyst, wrote in the report. "We are anticipating a new category of Apple products with an operating system more robust than the iPhone's but optimized for multitouch, unlike Mac OS X. The device's OS could bear a close resemblance to Apple's mobile OS and run App Store apps, or it could be a modified version of Mac OS X."

Michael Oh, president of Apple retail and care specialist Tech Superpowers says he thinks the price point and potential timing of the tablet release sounds right to him. "The iPhone 3GS just came out, and they are probably looking at what their holiday road map might be," he said. "That price point sounds right as well. Apple's always been able to pull off pricing in their own sense of reality. They have always been able to prove to consumers that it's worth paying the premium."

However, Oh said that if Apple does get into the tablet market, they'll do it in a way that re-brands the entire concept. "Apple of course is going to shy away from both the netbook name and the tablet name," he said. "Both of those carry preconceptions in the market. Given what impact the tablet has had--very little over the years-- my guess is they'll stay away from terming it that."