SAN JOSE, Calif. In January 2007 Steve Jobs stole the spotlight from the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when he announced the iPhone at MacWorld in San Francisco. Analysts say Jobs could pull a second scene stealer this year if Apple debuts an expected mobile tablet device.
A combination Apple media pad/e-book/netbook could steal much of the thunder about mobile systems expected at this year's CES. Meanwhile, Google is said to be developing its own smartphone and smartbook products, though neither are expected to emerge at CES.
Several reports say Apple will release before April a tablet computer using a 10-inch display and costing an estimated $800, some noting Apple has purchased the rights to the iSlate.com domain name.
However, one analyst said he is expecting a smaller device that could have a bigger impact. "We believe it to be a seven-inch HDTV player that receives content from the iTunes store and fits into a big jacket pocket or purse," said Rick Doherty, principal of market watcher Envisioneering (Seaford, NY).
The device could double as an electronic reader, fulfilling a promise Sony has made about color and video-capable versions of its e-book. "Apple may get there first," Doherty said.
Electronic readers are a hot growth market. Amazon.com said its customers bought more e-books than physical books for the first time ever on Christmas Day, and over the weekend its Kindle reader became the most-purchased gift in the company's history, according to a Reuters report.
Plastic Logic will announce its Que ProReader at CES, following in the footsteps of readers from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony.
Doherty expects the rumored Apple system will initially support 720-progressive resolution, use Wi-Fi instead of 3G and run on an ARM processor not an x86-based chip. Such a system would play into a younger generation's move to mobile entertainment and away from big TVs and set-top boxes, he added
"This could be a lightning bolt across the CES sky, and drive a lot of people crazy," Doherty said. "There will be 5-, 7-, and 9-inch mobile pads shown at CES using Microsoft or Google software, but no one wants to talk prices or form factor until Apple makes its move," he added.
Doherty believes the mobile system is the target for a custom quad-core mobile ARM processor being designed by the P.A. Semi team Apple acquired in April 2008. However he and others said it would be difficult for Apple to field a new chip and a system based on it in such a short time.
"This mobile system could perform well on single or dual arm, but the real economics of the design come in with a quad-core ARM," Doherty said. "We think Apple will enjoy a real price and power advantage with such a chip," he added.
"If the P.A. Semi people could produce a product for apple that fast, I'd be surprised," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
A handful of ARM-based mobile CPU makers are touting $300 netbooks as an emerging product category. At least one top tier computer maker plans to show an ARM-based netbook at CES.