Ex-Googler Lee sees Apple tablet debut in January

Kai-fu Lee, now focused on Chinese start-ups after heading Google's China ops, says Apple is ready to unveil a sub-$1,000 tablet PC--and to churn out 10 million in the first year.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is an editorial director at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing for tech publications -- including at PC Week and the IDG News Service -- back when the web was just getting under way, and even a little before. For CNET, he's written on topics from GPS to 5G, James Bond, lasers, brass instruments and music streaming services.
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Jon Skillings
3 min read

Sure, every blogger worth his salt has weighed in on the long-rumored Apple tablet that may or may not be--its possible size, shape, specs, debut date, and on and on. Now offering up a perspective on the matter is a high-profile tech industry executive, Kai-fu Lee, who until recently was the head of Google's China operations.

It seems that Lee, who's now working to foster entrepreneurship in China, wrote on his Chinese language blog earlier this week that Apple CEO Steve Jobs will be releasing a tablet PC in January, and expects to produce a voluminous 10 million in the first year, according to the IDG News Service and other media outlets.

Kai-fu Lee
Kai-fu Lee Google

The tablet, according to Lee's post, will have a 10.1-inch touch screen and will look like an oversize iPhone. Other features are said to include a virtual keyboard, 3D graphics, and support for videoconferencing and e-books. The price reportedly will be below $1,000.

Coincidentally, reports have emerged in recent days that Apple may have an event planned for January 26 in San Francisco, with a focus on mobile offerings, and that Apple has told software developers to conjure up versions of their iPhone apps suitable for a larger-than-iPhone screen.

How would Lee, who hasn't worked at Apple in more than a decade, know all this? He said on his blog that he got the information from a friend (unnamed, of course) who's familiar with the project.

But it's not as if Lee is lacking for contacts in the tech industry. Until September 2009, he was the president of Google's Greater China operation. Before that, he spent seven years at Microsoft working on, among other things, speech, natural language, and assistance technologies, and founding Microsoft Research Asia. It was his move from Microsoft to Google, first announced in the middle of 2005, that brought him a wave of notoriety, as the two tech giants squabbled inside and outside the courtroom over his hiring, before settling in December of that year.

From 1996 to 1998, he was a vice president at Silicon Graphics, where he oversaw a group that developed a line of Web servers.

Before that, Lee spent six years at Apple, eventually serving as vice president of the company's Interactive Media Group, according to the biography on the Web site of his latest undertaking.

Lee's current venture, which launched in September, is the Beijing-based Innovation Works, which aims to nurture Chinese high-tech companies and entrepreneurs. Focusing on the Internet, the mobile Internet, and cloud computing, Innovation Works says on its Web site that it plans each year to "prototype some 20 new ideas, aiming to spin off 3-5 independent companies."

Innovation Works says it has $115 million in funding from "an elite group of venture capital groups and investors" that includes YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Legend Group, and Foxconn Technology Group--the same Foxconn whose operations include the manufacture of the Apple iPhone.

But Lee told the Bloomberg news agency Thursday that his information on the purported Apple tablet didn't come directly from Foxconn, or from Apple for that matter.

"I have never discussed Apple's tablet products with anyone at Foxconn, or anyone at Apple," Lee said in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.