World Waits Expectantly For Apple’s Tablet Announcement

Nathan Eddy is a contributor to eWeek and TechWeekEurope, covering cloud and BYOD

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Today is the day Apple is expected to release its fabled tablet device, but what can consumers (and businesses) expect, and how will it affect the portable PC market?

After months of speculation, rumors and flat out misinformation, Apple’s closely guarded, worst-kept secret, a touch screen tablet device, is expected to debut at an Apple press event in San Franciso. In the week leading up to the event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs hinted at the product’s release in a press statement concerning Apple’s 2010 first-quarter report this week, saying he was “very excited” about a “major new product release”.

The tablet, if it is indeed formally announced, is expected to include Wi-Fi functionality, a 10-inch touch screen and retail for around $1,000, although potential agreements with US carriers like AT&T (which currently has exclusive rights to the iPhone) or Verizon Wireless may result in a subsidised cost to consumers. Last week The Guardian reported Apple is quietly seeking an agreement with UK network operator Orange to help subsidise the cost of the device. Earlier in the month, Business Week also suggested Apple is looking to ink a deal to help subsidise tablet costs to consumers, but this time the company was a far less likely partner – no less than Apple arch-rival Microsoft. The magazine quoted two sources “familiar with the matter” who said Apple is in talks with the company to use Bing, Microsoft’s recently launched search engine, as the device’s default web browser.

Other media outlets have reported on possible deals with news organisations like The New York Times and publishing house HarperCollins Publishers to offer e-books and news content on the device, which would put it in direct competition with e-readers like Amazon’s highly-publicised Kindle device. According to a NYT article featuring mobile analytics company Flurry, the device will run an updated version of the iPhone’s operating system, OS 3.2. Remarks by France Telecom deputy CEO Stéphane Richard, the tablet will also feature a web cam, though the company later backed away from those remarks, arguing the comments during the interview were “taken out of context, then interpreted into English.”

Michael Oh, president and founder of TechSuperpowers, an Apple care and retail specialist and founder of Codex Development, specialising in mobile applications, released a white paper on the tablet called “Apple Tablet Myths: The Impact of a Multi-Touch Enabled Tablet Device on the Market”, in which he and co-author Alex Bartfield identify the ecosystem the device might survive in. They also identify its consumer and business applications, namely as a revenue-generating news device, an enterprise reporting and business analytics tool, home automation and “the ultimate GPS, audio and video device” for the car.

“We predict that if Apple does release the tablet as rumored, it will do so with a multi-function device that will appeal to consumers on every level: Design, functionality, utility, flexibility, and its ability to connect them to new content,” the report concludes. “Combined with their extensive developers network and the Apple Store, the Apple tablet could be the next big thing in technology. Whether or not it will leverage all of these factors and sell millions to become a category defining device, only time will tell.”