Apple Tablet to Hit Market in March, Report Says

A report in The Wall Street Journal keeps the heat up on all the Apple tablet rumors, claiming the device will be announced in January and will hit the consumer market in March.

The frenzied speculation around Apple's highly anticipated Apple tablet device-if it exists, that is-was ratcheted up another level after The Wall Street Journal reported that the tablet will ship in March, quoting sources briefed by Apple. Previous reports suggest Apple is planning to announce the touch screen device at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco sometime between Jan. 25 and 27. The tablet, which hasn't been officially named yet, is likely to measure about 10 inches and offer Wi-Fi connectivity. The paper also reported Apple is working on two different finishes for the tablet.

One component of the launch that is keeping analysts guessing is the price of the tablet; Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Yair Reiner wrote a December research note predicting a price point of around $1,000-the price of Apple's least expensive notebook. In comparison, semiconductor manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor recently announced its plans for entering the tablet market with a $200 device.

Regardless of price and final design, the impending product launch, which sources say company CEO Steve Jobs has made a top priority since his return to Apple, spurred a massive amount of speculation from analysts and the technology community, including a former Google China executive reportedly wrote in his blog that Apple expects to sell 10 million tablet PCs in its first year out. Lee Kai-fu, former president of Google Inc. Greater China, claimed on his blog that Apple will release the device in January, for less than $1,000 and that it will feature a 10.1-inch multitouch screen with 3G graphics.

The day before Christmas, a report by 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.

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."