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Axiotron's Mac tablet comes out of hiding

Start-up Axiotron shows off its Modbook, a keyboard-free tablet computer that began its life as an Apple MacBook. And yes, it's authorized by Apple.

Axiotron's Modbook is an Apple MacBook rebuilt to become a tablet computer. Stephen Shankland/CNET Networks

SAN FRANCISCO--On first glance, Axiotron's Modbook is unsettling. It takes a moment before you realize it's because you've been programmed by countless Apple advertisements to expect a keyboard down there below the screen.

But Axiotron thinks its Modbook machines look just fine, thank you. The start-up, founded in 2005, just began selling its "Tablet Mac" machines the last day of 2007 and is showing them off at the Macworld trade show here.

The company hopes to appeal to artists, designers, and photographers who want to be able to draw or otherwise directly interact with the screen. That can be done with products such as some Wacom graphics tablets, but the Modbook is a more portable option.

Axiotron makes the Apple-authorized machines by rebuilding MacBooks it buys from Apple with Wacom pen-computing technology that lets people draw, click, or write directly on the screen. It has a virtual keyboard, but if you want a real one, you'll have to purchase it separately and plug it into a USB port.

The Modbooks run Mac OS X and employ either a 2.0GHz or 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 processor. They also come with a 13.3-inch, 1280x800 screen, Inkwell handwriting recognition software, a built-in iSight camera, a DVD Combo drive or SuperDrive, and GPS (Global Positioning System) abilities for location.

For a model with 1GB of memory, the price tag begins at $2,290, the company said.

Update 10 p.m. PST: Cosmetic similarities--for example the white bars on the top edge of the machine--suggest that the Axiotron system might have been the origin of a rumor last year of an Apple tablet computer.