Apple tablet rumors resurface

We've been hearing whispers about a multi-touch Mac tablet since as far back as November 2007. After a brief bout of speculation about a potential Apple netbook, the Mac rumor mill is back with the tablet talk again. This time, AppleInsider quotes researchers from investment firm Piper Jaffray, who expect Apple to introduce such a device in the first half of next year. Here's what they cite as evidence:

"Between indications from our component contacts in Asia, recent patents relating to multi-touch sensitivity for more complex computing devices, comments from [chief operating officer] Tim Cook on the April 22nd conference call, and Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi along with other recent chip-related hires, it is increasingly clear that Apple is investing more in its mobile computing franchise," analyst Gene Munster and his team wrote in lengthy research note to clients.

Tim Cook did talk down netbooks in the April 22 call, saying the devices have "cramped keyboards, junky hardware, very small screens, [and] bad software." Attempting something radically different probably wouldn't be out of the question for Apple. Steve Jobs even mentioned "some pretty interesting ideas" for that market a couple months back.

According to AppleInsider, the analysts expect the Mac tablet to feature a 7-10" touch screen, a price tag in the $500-700 range, proprietary hardware developed in-house by Apple (the firm now has the staff for that), and perhaps 3G connectivity.

On the software front, the analysts talk of an operating system somewhere between vanilla Mac OS X and the iPhone OS. This custom OS could be compatible with software from the App Store, and it might even run an e-book reader application à la Amazon's Kindle.

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