Apple to launch tablet?

Apple is set to by-pass the netbook market and launch a tablet-like device next year according to a leading Wall Street analyst.

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Apple is set to bypass the netbook market and launch a tablet-like device next year, according to a leading Wall Street analyst.

Gene Munster, a senior analyst for Piper Jaffray, ticked off significant amounts of circumstantial evidence to back up his thinking on Apple's move into the lower-priced market.

"Between indications from our component contacts in Asia, recent patents relating to multi-touch sensitivity for more complex computing devices, comments from [Apple acting CEO]Tim Cook, and Apple's acquisition of PA Semi along with other recent chip-related hires, it is increasingly clear that Apple is investing more in its mobile computing franchise," said Munster in a note delivered to clients this week.

Contrary to other analysts, including Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research, who believe Apple will react to pricing pressure by unveiling a device priced between the lowest-end MacBook and the upper-end iPod Touch this year, However, Gottheil also said that Apple would release a low-priced netbook at this year's Macworld Expo, so he's been wrong before.

As Munster sees it, Apple's answer to netbooks - the smaller, lighter and most of all, cheaper notebooks that run Windows and Linux - will be a tablet sporting a 7-to-10-inch screen that runs a Mac OS X-like operating system optimized for multi-touch. The time it takes to develop that operating system - and wrap up negotiations with mobile carriers, who Apple may be talking with about iPhone-like subsidies for the new device - make any debut this year unlikely.

"We are anticipating a new category of Apple products with an operating system more robust than the iPhone's but optimised for multi-touch, unlike Mac OS X," said Munster in his research note. "Such a product line would be a sort of hybrid between the iPhone and the Mac, requiring a new operating system."

Much of Munster's prediction hinges on Apple's well-known dislike of netbooks. In October 2008, CEO Steve Jobs ridiculed current netbooks as "a piece of junk" and said Apple simply would not compete in the $500 PC market. "Our DNA will not let us ship that," he said at the time.

Just last month, Cook also scorned netbooks. "When I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience, and not something that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly," he said.