Apple to launch tablet in February 2010, asserts new report

But one analyst says he is getting weary of the rumors

Apple Update will launch a tablet-style device sporting a 9.6-inch display in February 2010, according to sources cited by a Taiwanese Web publication today.

The Taiwan Economic News said industry sources have claimed several component suppliers are building parts for an upcoming Apple tablet computer, which will launch in about five months.

The tablet will feature the 9.6-inch screen, the multi-touch user interface made famous by the iPhone and iPod Touch, and a processor created by P.A. Semi, the Santa Clara, Calif. microprocessor design company that Apple purchased over a year ago .

Apple's device will also reportedly include a HSPDA (High Speed Download Packet Access) module. HSPDA is the 3G cellular data protocol used by AT&T in the US; AT&T is currently Apple's exclusive carrier partner in the United States.

T-Mobile, which is an Apple partner in Germany and Austria, also uses HSPDA in the US.

If true, it would put the brakes on rumors that Verizon , which has supposedly been in talks with Apple, will replace AT&T on the computer maker's A-list. Verizon uses the EVDO Rev. A (Evolution-Data Optimized) data protocol instead.

The selling price for Apple's tablet, said the Taiwan Economic News' sources, will be between $US800 and $US1,000.

This is far from the first time that tales of an Apple tablet have been told. Talk of such a device, which some analysts have dubbed an "iPod Touch on steroids," has been both brisk and long-running. In May, for example, Wall Street analyst Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, used circumstantial evidence and checks with Asian component suppliers to bet that Apple would release a $US500-$US700 tablet next year.

Tablet rumors picked up significantly just prior to Apple's annual developers conference in early June, but analysts then predicted -- correctly, as it turned out -- that the company would not unveil such a device at the time.

By now, although the continuing chatter makes some sense, it's getting harder to swallow the gossip, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research who covers Apple.

"It makes sense, it hangs together, sure," said Gottheil today. "But I'm starting to think that this is just a bunch of people believing each other, or maybe even an Apple disinformation campaign."

What struck Gottheil today was the specificity of the report out of Taiwan. "The sources named the companies and they named the components," he said. "That's not how Apple does business." Rather, Apple goes to great lengths to make sure its suppliers keep mum about the work they're doing for the company, Gottheil maintained.

"The signs are there that it makes sense for Apple to be doing something in the 'bigger than an iPod Touch' space, but I'm not sure this report adds any evidence to those signs," Gottheil said. "It's almost starting to look like people [are] just playing with the idea or even having fun with it."

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