Apple Tablet Could Be Coming To Town With Santa

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Reports from the Financial Times and Apple Insider suggest Apple is readying a tablet, probably priced below $1,000, for a Christmas or first-quarter 2010 release.

Reports from the Financial Times and Apple Insider suggest Apple is readying a tablet, probably priced below $1,000 (£605), for a Christmas or first-quarter 2010 release.

Rumors surrounding Apple’s potential tablet PC, about which the company has so far kept silent, continue to sweep across the Internet, most recently with a report from Apple blog Apple Insider that the company is “racing toward” a 2010 release date for a 3G tablet-style computer. Quoting unnamed sources at Apple, the blog said critical pieces are falling into place to allow a tablet to become a reality, including CEO Steve Jobs’ return to the company from medical leave.

“He’s since cemented the device in the company’s 2010 roadmap, where it’s being positioned for a first quarter launch,” the blog post assures, according to unnamed sources. Apple Insider claims the device will hit the market in the first quarter of 2010 and carry a price tag somewhere between Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone model and its lowest-priced notebook, which retails for $999.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported Apple is racing to get the tablet to market by the Christmas shopping season and the device will likely have a 10-inch touch-screen interface. Quoting sources “briefed on the project,” the paper reported that Apple will also launch content deals alongside the device, including an attempt to revive the music business through “Project Cocktail,” which reported will launch in September.

The launch of a tablet is seen by many as an opportunity for Apple to redefine a market niche that has traditionally struggled. It is also seen as an answer to Apple’s lack of a netbook offering. Netbooks, which are smaller, less expensive notebooks, have seen sales rise sharply over the past year as consumers look to less expensive but capable portable computers.

Last week, Apple COO Tim Cook used Apple’s earnings call to talk down mininotebooks—known popularly as “netbooks”—that have buoyed earnings for the rest of the PC market. According to Cook, price point and computing power are major factors in Apple’s decision to stay out of the space. However, he also declined to comment on rumors that Apple is developing a tablet PC that would bridge the product gap between the iPod Touch and Macs.

“I think most customers buying a portable want to buy a full-featured notebook,” Cook said, noting that he sees production costs and margins as an issue for Apple entering that market. “[However], some of the netbooks being delivered are very slow, they have software technology that is old, they don’t have a robust computing experience … that kind of thing a lot of people will not be happy with.”

Rumors and speculation regarding Apple’s future computer production plans surfaced earlier in the month, when The China Times reported that Apple will be debuting a tablet-style computer as early as October that will retail for around $800. “We recognize there are large markets left uncovered,” Cook pointed out at the earnings call. “At this point we don’t see a way to build a great product for $399 [or] $499. As I’ve said before, I think some customers—maybe many customers—become disappointed and disenchanted after buying [netbooks].”

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