When the Apple tablet comes out, are you in?

The gadget industry is wondering if you're going to buy an Apple tablet. Because if you do, they'll be ready.

The gadget industry is waiting in suspense, wondering if you're going to buy an Apple tablet. Because if you do, they're going to flip the production line's on switch.

The ultrathin MacBook Air exudes some of the aspects of an expected Apple tablet, according to one analyst.
The ultrathin MacBook Air exudes some of the aspects of an expected Apple tablet, according to one analyst. Apple

Apple has a knack for creating new categories of devices. The iPhone arguably created the high-end smartphone segment and the design was parroted by dozens of device makers and carriers. The MacBook Air inspired the ultrathin laptop category.

The expected--and highly anticipated--Apple tablet would do the same. Manufacturing companies in Asia are eager to find a new category of devices to fill up their factories, according to an analyst I spoke with recently who monitors these things.

I will make an exception--which I almost never do--and not identify the analyst. He claims to have seen a prototype of the Apple tablet and would prefer not to be identified. (Yeah, I know, more than a few analysts claim they have seen the furtive device. But I will go out on a limb and say I trust him. He claims the MacBook Air has some of the aesthetic qualities of the tablet.)

The point is that many Asia-based manufacturers would be quite pleased if the Apple tablet was a success and, as a result, ushered in a new device category. Needless to say, companies like Dell, Sony, and Acer would quickly follow suit if consumers started snapping up boatloads of Apple tablets.

But Apple will stay above the fray, according to this analyst, offering a device that's very thin, light--and expensive. In other words, don't expect Apple to bring out a $199 tablet, as you may see from other companies that market a media pad-type device. Apple won't be bashful about charging more than $500.

Competing devices will vary widely. My prediction is that the market outside of an Apple-branded tablet will not be a Windows-Intel enclave. Like cell phones and media players, many tablet devices will likely be offered by carriers and device makers using the ubiquitous ARM processor that runs operating systems like Google's Android or the upcoming Chrome OS.

Why ARM chips? They're cheap, very power efficient (necessary for all-day battery life), and have enough horsepower to make a tablet experience compelling. Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Nvidia are either offering chips now--or are slated to bring out silicon next year--that can easily scale up from smartphones to larger devices like tablets or media pads.

What's that? Don't think you would buy one? Don't think a tablet fills a market need? Get back to me a year from now when you have a sudden epiphany and find yourself in an Apple Store or Best Buy eying one as an essential adjunct to your inner circle of gadgets.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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