Apple Tablet Finally Arriving in January?

With the news that Apple has rented a stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for a major January announcement comes renewed speculation that the debut of the long-awaited Apple tablet device is at hand.

It doesn't take much to get the Apple rumor mill spinning at full tilt, especially when it comes to hints and suggestions over the company's long anticipated, never-officially-confirmed tablet device. While speculation has grown (and peaked, and subsided, and grown again) over the past couple of years, Apple has managed to successfully suppress any official details of the supposed tablet. However, the news that Apple has rented out a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco has generated speculation that Apple is gearing up to announce a tablet-like device.

The report in the Financial Times blog quoted unnamed inside sources that said Apple rented the stage for several days toward the end of January, in preparation for "a major product announcement" on Jan. 26, a Tuesday. Other recent reports, including a research note by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who said there is a 75 percent likelihood that Apple will have an event in January and a 50 percent chance that it would be held to launch the Apple Tablet, and a report in The Wall Street Journal which said Apple is briefing major media companies like CBS and Disney on a tablet-like device, suggest Apple may release the device during the first quarter of 2010.

Earlier this year, Munster issued a report suggesting that the tablet would feature a 7- to 10-inch screen and retail for between $500 and $700, effectively filling a strategic gap for Apple between the iPod Touch and its low-end Mac desktops. Munster wrote, "We believe an Apple tablet would be priced 30 to 50 percent below the $999 MacBook, and would offer best-in-class Web, e-mail and media software. In other words, we believe Apple's tablet would compete well in the netbook category even though it would not be a netbook."

Munster suggested that an Apple tablet's operating system would resemble either the iPhone OS, with multitasking capability and applications designed specifically for a device with a larger screen, or else a multitouch-enabled version of Mac OS X. However, he wrote, "We expect Apple to build on the multitouch technology built into the iPhone and iPod Touch along with the App Store ecosystem, with an OS more comparable to the iPhone's, not the Mac's."

Apple may also integrate a mobile data feature such as 3G wireless into the device, and could even subsidize the device through a wireless carrier, Munster added. He cited the trend toward subsidized netbooks, for example, Verizon's partnership with Hewlett-Packard to carry the HP Mini 1151NR. The Apple tablet could also challenge's Kindle e-reader if Apple accompanies the device with a push to sell digital books through the iTunes store.