Editor's Note: Apple is expected to announce a tablet-style computer, plus updates to its operating systems and software range at its 27 Jan "Come See Our Latest Creation" event, taking place this Wednesday at 6pm BST from the Yerba Buene Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Macworld UK is teaming up with its US counterparts for a live feed direct from the event. Click here to access our live feed, bookmark the page and we'll see you at 6pm on Wed.
Q. What is the Apple Tablet?
A. Rumour points to Apple working on a large iPod touch device with extended computing functionality. This would make it similar to the PC Tablet devices.
Q. Why are there so many rumours about an Apple tablet?
A. The mythological Apple tablet has a long and distinguished history in Apple folklore.
In May 2001, Kevin Fox, a lead designer at Google said on his blog: "at least five times in the past 10 years engineers at Apple have worked on initiatives to bring a full sized tablet-based computer to market. Though the previous four attempts never saw the light of day, Apple has saved the best for last. This July: Meet iPad".
That was over eight years ago, and rumours and myths of an Apple tablet have been circulating ever since. If true Apple has been working on a tablet PC in some form or another for 18 years now.
Q. Why would Apple want to release a Tablet now?
A. The tablet rumour really returned en-masse when netbook-style computers arrived on the scene. Ever since Asus kicked off the market with its EeePC, Apple has been under pressure from its customers to create a lower cost computing option than the MacBook for lightweight work (email, surfing the web, and so on).
Apple has been quite dismissive of netbooks, and Tim Cook, Apple COO, did comment that the iPod touch was a great way to go about these things. However, demand for a netbook-alternative has never really abated.
There's no denying that customer demand for cheaper computing is driving down the price of laptops, but that doesn't mean Apple has to follow suit. Steve Jobs dismissed netbooks saying "we don't know how to make a sub $500 computer that isn't junk" but also tellingly said: "We'll wait and see how that nascent category evolves," he said. "And we've got some pretty interesting ideas if it does evolve."
The rise of the netbook is coupled with a rise in the popularity of ebook readers (another device that Steve Jobs was famously dismissive of).
Although these remain relatively niche, Apple may believe that it can build a tablet that out-performs both netbooks and ebooks.
When is the tablet coming out?
A. Most rumours point to a mid 2010 launch. The Financial Times recently reported that Apple is planning an event on 26 January 2010 and former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee recently claimed in a blog posting that this event marks the launch of the Apple Tablet.
Update: Apple is hosting a media-only event on 27 Jan 2010 with the tagline "come see our latest creation".
Q. What does Apple have to say on this?
A. It's fair to say that all the rumours have come from every source but Apple itself. In 2003, Steve Jobs told the Wall Street Journal, "There are no plans to make a tablet… people want keyboards. We look at the tablet and we think it is going to fail."
But Steve Jobs' protestations have never stopped the rumour machine grinding its corn. Not least of which because Apple continuously applies for patents regarding touch screen interfaces, gesture controls, and devices without keyboards. As recently as last month an Apple patent involving online media distribution additions to iTunes (effectively books, magazines, and newspapers) have kept the Apple Tablet rumour alive.
Q. Could it all be smoke and mirrors?
A. When the iPhone launched in 2007 (and the iPod touch shortly afterwards) it was generally felt that the tablet rumours were off the mark after all. All the patents and planning had really been geared towards the iPhone, and subsequently the iPod touch. You didn't have to look far to find Apple's touch screen computer. It just turned out be pocket-sized.
It’s still possible that all these rumours and patents are off the mark and that Apple sees the iPod touch and iPhone as its tablet. It’s also possible that Apple is testing out ideas, and patenting products, but may decide not to launch a device after all. But there’s no smoke without some fire, and reasonably informed sources, such as this article in BusinessWeek, claim that Apple is at least testing devices out.
NEXT: What you will be able to do with an Apple Tablet