For the first time, Apple won't be at the annual Macworld trade show, scheduled this year for Feb. 9-13. But CEO Steve Jobs and his team will still make the next few months interesting. Apple has scheduled a press briefing for Jan. 26 in San Francisco, and Apple watchers are salivating at the prospect of a tablet computer that looks like an iPhone on steroids.
A MacInsider report that Apple registered the domain name islate.com at least as far back as 2007 fueled rumors that the tablet may be named iSlate. While Apple has steadfastly refused to comment on the rumors, there is a consensus among the Apple cognoscenti that the device will be a 10-inch-wide tablet, not much thicker than an iPhone, feature the same multi-touch screen as the iPhone and iPod touch, be keyboard-free, and support music, video, e-books and iPhone apps. The price is rumored to be around $800.
The iSlate is exciting not just Apple "fanboys" but also Wall Street. Apple's stock has reached unknown heights in recent weeks as the rumor mills started going crazy. The stock price has risen from $192 on Dec. 18 to about $211 on New Year's Eve, giving the company a market capitalization of $190 billion.
Is Content King?
There are also rumors that Apple is cutting content deals with publishers, broadcasters and movie studios, suggesting Apple intends its device to be a Kindle killer. An influential review in The New Yorker magazine panned Amazon's Kindle e-book reader and said reading books on the iPod touch was a superior experience.
Is the crazed enthusiasm appropriate? Will consumers really flock to Apple stores to pay close to $1,000 -- far more than a Kindle -- just to watch YouTube videos on a larger screen? Some analysts believe that by cutting content deals, Apple could make its tablet a must-have device. "The driver behind it will be content," said Kathryn Huberty, a Morgan Stanley analyst
A Financial Times story reported that Apple is in talks with CBS and Disney about a new subscription-based service to watch television shows over the Internet. While Apple sells many TV shows for download and other services like Hulu.com allow viewers to watch shows on a computer, no "killer app" for Internet TV has emerged. The Apple tablet could be the right form factor -- much bigger than an iPhone and much more mobile than a laptop -- to help online TV-watching take off.
The Times also reported that Time. Inc. and Conde Nast are developing digital prototypes of their magazines for tablet-sized devices.
But Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, doubts content alone will make a difference. "Pricing is the big factor," he said. "If it's priced at $700-$900, it's going to be pretty hard to sell and I don't think people will buy it because of special deals with content providers."
Apple's iPhone was originally priced at $600 but didn't become a runaway hit until the price dropped to $199 and even $99 under subsidized AT&T subscription plans. "They may be able to get away with $500-$600," Sterling said. "A lot depends on what shows up -- if you can do a lot of stuff, you get full Internet plus all these content deals, and it's this great all-in-one device, it may be pretty compelling."
Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with Creative Strategies, said in an e-mail that extending Apple's proven ecosystem to books, magazines and newspapers creates "intriguing potential" for the tablet. "Major publishers are looking for a way to re-invent books, magazines and newspapers, and tablets in general could become powerful mediums to deliver next-generation content that includes not only text, but video and 3-D graphics in the future," he said.
While news publishers have been unable to convince consumers to pay for the content they've been giving away on the web, "Apple has created a culture in which people are accustomed to paying for content," Sterling said. "It's a new medium with new features and benefits."