Rumor Has It: Apple Could Field $800 Tablet as Early as October

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Do I have $800 to spend on yet another Apple device that bridges the (relatively small) gap between my iPhone and my 13-inch MacBook Pro? Not really. But if rumors prove true and this October does indeed see the launch of a small tablet device priced in that area coming out of Cupertino, I will be hard-pressed not to find an excuse to pick one up. In my dream of dreams, such a device would also be Wacom penabled, but Apple rarely seems to take into account my opinion when designing new products.

Regardless, I’m probably better off earmarking that $800 as pretty much spent, according to new reports from Chinese tech news site Info Times. The site, which is renowned for reporting rumors and leaks on the supply chain side of Apple’s operations, is now saying that the tech giant is set to begin actual production on a 9.7-inch touchscreen device, aimed at competing with the netbook market. $800 is still a far cry from the $300 to $400 most basic netbooks will cost, but who’s counting?

The suppliers who’ve received orders from Apple for parts for the device are the usual suspects, including Foxconn, Wintek and Dynapack. Rumors have long been circulating that Wintek has been tapped to provide screens around 9.7-inches in size, so if nothing else, this latest rumor is at least consistent with previous ones. No other details about the device are made specific in the article, including whether or not it will also have some kind of keyboard, what OS or software it will use, or what kind of hardware specs it will have under the hood.

Let the wild guesses begin. For my part, I think Steve Jobs & Co. must have something fairly out of the ordinary in mind if they want to release an $800 device to compete in a market that really tops out around $500. Jobs once remarked that Apple didn’t “know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that,” but will consumers see the $300 worth of value-add that goes into this new device, should the rumored price point prove accurate?

I think that Apple is probably counting on establishing a new device category rather than competing with the netbook market. Basically, it looks to me like it wants to recreate its success with the iPhone by porting the same incredibly versatile software platform to a device more suited to browsing, video playback, and touchscreen gaming. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was compatible with some kind of keyboard peripheral, which would give you maximum portability with the option to add girth, along with productivity enhancement should you need it. With 3G-capable netbooks popping up in deals with U.S. wireless providers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple announces a similar partnership to offset the high cost of this tablet, either.

It will be hard for Apple to thread the needle, so to speak, on a device which arguably fits into a very small niche in its existing line of offerings, but the company has been known to tap unexplored markets before, so we’ll have to wait and see if it can pull it off yet again.

Photo courtesy of flickr user factoryjoe.

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