by Tom Kaneshige

Apple’s Mysterious Tablet Gadget: Three Burning Questions

May 14, 20094 mins
Enterprise Applications

When word recently leaked that Apple bought 10-inch touch screens from a Taiwanese manufacturer, the mobile world buzzed and twittered. Is it a giant iPhone? A flying netbook? Probably more like Clark Kent’s reporter tablet. 

The new tablet is supposed to come out in the fall or maybe this summer, analysts predict, which has only raised the hype meter.

Here are three burning questions swirling around this mysterious device.

Burning Question No. 1: Who will carry the Apple tablet?

Apple’s 1993 Newton PDA wasn’t unleashed to the market before its time. It just wasn’t a good idea. Aside from niche users, say nurses roaming a hospital and updating medical charts, the large PDA was doomed to quickly fade from the mainstream user’s radar screen like a bad X-Men prequel. (Okay, I just saw the Wolverine flick and think you probably should not.)

A tablet will surely weigh heavy on your belt or in your shirt pocket. That’s not good for most guys, unless droopy jeans is the look you’re after or you miss the glory days of super-sized pocket protectors. Not sure about purses, though, since I don’t carry one regularly.

“The need for super portable computing has largely been satiated by the smart phone,” says Forrester analyst Nathan Safran. “I’m not sure that enough folks also want a tablet PC.”

But the tablet will fit nicely in your backpack just like a laptop or netbook, which, of course, begs the question: Why not carry a laptop or netbook? An Apple tablet would mostly be used for Web browsing and email, Safran says, and that’s still best done on full-featured computers with QWERTY keyboards.

Burning Question No. 2: Will the Apple tablet run on Verizon’s network?

There have been rumors that Apple will release the tablet on Verizon’s CDMA cellular network—yes, an Apple rumor, which is about as real and rare as Twitter spam. (Want to know how to start an Apple rumor yourself, and game the stock? Jim Cramer tells all.)

Rest assured that Apple and Verizon won’t hook up for a while. “I don’t think it’s real,” says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. “Apple has said publicly that they don’t care for CDMA because it’s not a worldwide standard. Thus, the first time Apple could show up on Verizon is when they move to LTE (long-term evolution), which is about 2012.”

An Apple-Verizon deal for the tablet also carries the risk of alienating iPhone customers who’ve already switched over to AT&T for the iPhone, Safran says. On the upside, an Apple-Verizon deal would help Apple reduce the role of carriers, says Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.

Burning Question No. 3: Kindle who: Is this the killer e-reader?

Is there any doubt that the Apple tablet will go after the suddenly hot e-reader space, even though Steve Jobs has pooh-poohed the market? From Amazon’s new large screen Kindle aimed at academia to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. shaking the e-reader pom-poms to a slew of e-readers coming to market, signs everywhere point to a market on the verge of taking off. And an Apple tablet could light the fuse.

The problem, though, comes down to cost. It’s unlikely that an Apple tablet will be cheap enough to get into the hands of the masses. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney envisions the tablet as a clamshell version of the iPhone that will have a hard time breaking the $500 barrier. Indeed, there was a collective moan when Amazon announced the Kindle DX’s price tag: $489.

The safe bet is that people won’t pay that much for an e-reader. “There has been a lot of attention around the e-reader category recently, and this could be another interesting use case” for the Apple tablet, Safran says. “I don’t see it being priced nearly low enough for this, though.”

Got a different take? Send me an email at Tom Kaneshige. Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.