Jobs to unveil Apple tablet next month, ex-Google exec says

Kai-Fu Lee says Apple expects to produce almost 10 million tablets in the first year

Steve Jobs plans to unveil Apple's much-hyped but still unconfirmed tablet device next month, and it will come with 3D graphics and a price tag below US$1000, according to former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee.

"Most surprising: Apple predicts production of nearly 10 million [units] in the first year!" Lee said in a post on a Chinese microblog service that cited information from a source he described as a knowledgeable friend. The tablet will look like a large iPhone and come with a 10.1-inch multitouch touchscreen, a virtual keyboard and support for videoconferencing and e-books, the post said.

The comments from Lee, who worked for Apple over a decade ago and left Google this year, add to a sea of rumors about a possible ultrathin Apple tablet combining e-reader and Web-surfing functions. Speculation about the device has redoubled since a blog post by the Financial Times last week cited unnamed sources saying Apple is expected to make a major product announcement at an event in San Francisco on Jan. 26.

Lee predicted in a later post that the new device will weigh less than half as much as a MacBook Air, though it was unclear whether the message was speculation or came from Lee's friend. Lee also cited speculation that Apple could team up with U.S. network operators to lower the price of the tablet. Operators already widely use a similar model for mobile phones including the iPhone, in which the buyer gets a discounted device in exchange for signing a mobile service contract.

Lee did not immediately reply to e-mailed questions about his comments.

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