Apple Mystery Tablet: Think E-Reader for College Students

It's a good bet that Apple's mysterious tablet rumored to be in the works will be aimed at universities.

Much rumor and innuendo continues to swirl around Apple's mysterious 10-inch touchscreen tablet, rumored to hit the market perhaps as early as this fall. Speculation has ranged from a Netbook-style-device (even though Apple continues to pooh-pooh the netbook market) to an iPhone docking station.

Last week, AllThingsD joined in the noise, with a naming contest for the new device. Some of the more creative ones include iAmakindlekiller, iNOTBOOK and iWant. A report surfaced last month from Taiwan that Apple plans to release the tablet this October. The report said the device will have a 9.7-inch touchscreen and a price tag of $800.

A new Apple product hitting the market in two months? It's no wonder the rumor mill has started up again. Nearly everyone thinks the device will target the emerging e-reader market. I blogged about this last May and wondered why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars for an e-reader, given all the criticism Amazon has taken regarding its Kindle pricing.

But now I've seen the light—or is it iLite? Apple, I believe, isn't just going after the e-reader market with this device, rather it's going back to its strategic roots and targeting the college student.

Already students across the country, from Duke University to University of California, Berkeley, use iPods and iPhones to get their work done. Texas' Abilene Christian University (ACU) dished out iPods or iPhones to all incoming freshman last fall so that they can get homework alerts, answer quizzes in class, get directions and check meal balances. ACU has 15 Web-based applications optimized for the iPhone or iPod Touch. Meanwhile, the University of Missouri School of Journalism strongly suggests students have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

This week, CourseSmart LLC, a digital course materials supplier, began offering eTextbooks for the iPhone on the App Store for free. With a catalog representing most of the titles in use on campus today, CourseSmart claims, students can purchase their required textbooks at an average of half the price of print textbooks.

With the mysterious Apple device on deck, I'm imagining a large iPod Touch that doubles as an e-reader and notetaking device tuned almost exclusively for the college student. Apple CEO Steve Jobs debunked the e-reader market last year, telling the New York Times, "the whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore"—but that's far from the truth for college students.

As for the potentially high cost of the Apple device, students (or rather, their parents) fork out thousands a year to cover tuition fees, housing and, yes, books. An $800 device that cuts the cost of books in half will probably make up the difference in the first year. If the model holds up for four years, then that's significant savings. Not to mention, of course, the ease of carrying around a 10-inch device around campus rather than a backpack full of books and binders.

In fact, most industry watchers agree that the higher education market is the lynchpin to the e-reader. And who better to court iPod-toting college students than Apple? At least, that's what iThink.

Got a different take? Send me an email at tkaneshige@cio.com. Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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