The holiday season saw no let up for Apple tablet rumours, with former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee claiming a January unveiling, a price tag below $1000 (approx £600) and 3D graphics.

"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 10.1in multitouch touchscreen, a virtual keyboard and support for videoconferencing and e-books, the post said. The claim of 3D graphics appears to relate to similar graphical functionality of the iPhone and iPod touch, rather than any implementation of the 3D display technology currently being tested in some monitor units and used in cinemas.

Although there's nothing particularly new about any of this information, the comments from Lee, who worked for Apple over a decade ago and left Google this year, add to a sea of rumours 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 January 26.

Long-time Apple watchers may find some humour in the fact that it is a former Google executive starting a rumour on the Apple tablet. The rumours of a Apple tablet have been running for nine years now, and began with a blog post by a Google executive. 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".

The iPad never materialised, and the device is now rumoured to be called the iSlate. Macworld UK has a comprehensive fact sheet on the Apple Tablet rumour.

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 US 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.