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Report: Apple tablet is a shared media device

Anticipated device is expected be a hub for all kinds of media: magazines, newspapers, books, text books, music, games, and video, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

As the date of the Apple event next week approaches, more details about the device are leaking out.

Apple tablet event
The cryptic Apple invitation for the January 27 event.

On Wednesday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple's newest gadget could be a hub for all kinds of media: magazines, newspapers, books, text books, music, games, and video. All of that has been speculated about before, but the target demographic and the primary use for the device--which falls somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop--has been more of a mystery. Now it seems we're starting to have a clearer picture: the device has been purposely designed to be shared between members of a household as easily as possible, according to one of the Journal's unnamed sources.

Apple has "put significant resources into designing and programming the device so that it is intuitive to share," including the idea of "virtual sticky notes" that can be left for others, and a built-in camera that can tell who is using it, says the Journal's source.

The content, however, seems like it will be the key to the tablet. It was reported earlier that Apple has been talking with book and magazine publishers about porting their content to the device, but it wasn't clear who exactly was involved. Apple has been in discussion with The New York Times Co., Conde Nast Publications, and HarperCollins Publishers over content deals, and is apparently also negotiating with TV networks such as CBS and Walt Disney for monthly subscription deals, according to the report. (CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

The Journal's report also mentions the idea of an streaming music service that would allow purchase of iTunes content from places other than directly through iTunes, launching sometime in June. CNET's Greg Sandoval reported earlier Wednesday that Apple is talking to all four major music labels about a free streaming service that would be designed to boost download sales.

If this is the strategy Apple is pursuing, it's setting itself up to be the gatekeeper of all kinds of "old" media through its iTunes Store and connected devices by finding ways to continue to grow its share of music and video sales in addition to worming its way into electronic books, textbooks, and video games. It will be interesting to see who gets on board since both the music industry and film and TV studios have chafed at Apple's gatekeeping practices in the past. One of the Journal's sources--someone who worked with him previously--does say that Steve Jobs is "supportive of the old guard and (he) looks to help them by giving them new forms of distribution."

The Journal's report also included other details, some of which have already been reported elsewhere:

• It will have a virtual keyboard.
• Apple is talking to Microsoft not only about using Bing as the default search engine in the iPhone, but also as the default mapping service.
• Electronic Arts is in discussions with Apple about showing off the gaming abilities of the tablet--which explains why the gaming press was invited to the event next week.
• Apple is toying with changing "conventional payment structures," for content on the device.