By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated January 11, 2010.
If Apple is hoping to keep a tablet computer unconfirmed until it reveals the product later this month, a comment made Monday by a France Telecom/Orange executive undermines those plans. In a broadcast interview with French television, France Telecom Deputy CEO Stephane Richard confirmed that a tablet is coming.
In the interview, Richard indicated the tablet will include a webcam that offers real-time video streaming. And his answer of "Oui" to a question about whether Orange customers can use it is being taken to mean that the tablet will have 3G connectivity.
Year of the Tablet
France Telecom/Orange sells the iPhone in more than two dozen countries, so Richard's comment is considered one of the first inside-track, for-attribution confirmations.
The latest rumor is that Apple will unveil the tablet at a major event in San Francisco scheduled for Jan. 27.
Other information is beginning to emerge as well for the product, which may -- or may not -- be called iSlate. For instance, Reuters reported Friday that, according to unnamed sources, AVY Precision Technology of Taiwan will start tablet production for Apple in February.
With a variety of recent tablet announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed a Windows tablet expected to be manufactured by Hewlett-Packard and be on sale by midyear.
Freescale Semiconductors has unveiled a seven-inch touchscreen tablet that will sell for "under $200" and be offered to OEMs. A variety of other tablets from other manufacturers have also been announced.
While Freescale is touting its tablet as a kind of netbook, the form factor is also being seen as a new generation of the e-book reader. The e-book reader category has been very active recently, including a stream of announcements about Amazon's Kindle, several Sony e-readers, the nook from Barnes & Noble, and similar devices from others.
'A Very Hot' Market
Al Hilwa, program director at industry research firm IDC, said "the iPhone and the smartphone have proven the value proposition of a mobile browsing device," and manufacturers now want to see what can be done with "a slightly larger device." He added that "this is going to be a very hot, very competitive market" that uses the form factor of the e-book reader "but with more versatile applications." In time, he said, the tablet could replace some portion of the notebook market as well.
A key driver for consumer purchasing decisions for mobile devices is the kinds, numbers and quality of third-party applications. Hilwa said that, at least for some of the tablets, adapting applications from smartphones will be the easiest route. He expects Apple's tablet, for instance, will primarily be a different form factor than, say, the iPhone and iPod touch, and thus can reuse the applications with only some modification.
Adapting computer-based applications, he said, will involve more work, which is why he thinks Microsoft could have "a higher hill to climb" to create a large library of applications for its tablet. Apple's main barrier to user adoption, he said, is going to be price.