Two rumors = one tablet

A Mac tablet, the longest running of all Apple rumors, was revived last weekend following a , this was more than enough to excite the "Newton forever!" crowd. Set aside for a moment the fact that both reports are based on anonymous rumors from people who claim not to have any knowledge of the product in question. Set aside, too, the tablet rumor's long history of failure. What interests me is what a larger-than-an-iPhone, smaller-than-a-MacBook product might look like. I'm dubious of the tablet idea. What's the use case? It can't replace your iPhone, even if it were to do the same things, because it's silly big. And it can't replace your laptop, because it doesn't have a proper keyboard. Sure, there are niche work applications where it might be useful, but Apple's a mass-market consumer company. A tablet could work as a content display device, like an iPod Touch, and it would probably do a pretty good job in that role, so long as you don't care much about portability. But how many people want an iPod touch that doesn't fit in your pocket, can't replace your phone, can't do serious work, and costs, say, $500? OK, you do, but who else? The netbook form factor strikes me as more plausible. There's a much-lamented, 12"-PowerBook-shaped hole in Apple's notebook lineup that's crying out to be filled. But I'd be surprised if it were filled with an actual netbook, by which I mean a device with an Atom processor, no graphics power, lots of plastic, and a $400 price point. Don't get me wrong, I have a netbook and I love it. But it's not really a general-purpose computer; it's a travel accessory. The problem, though, is that it's hard to sell people a little computer and then tell them that it's not really a computer at all. Steve Jobs is probably right that Apple can't (yet) make a netbook that consumers will be happy with. What I'd expect to see instead is a small notebook, maybe with the 11.6" screen that a few netbooks are now using, but in any case with a screen capable of displaying 720p HD video. It would have to be paired with a graphics chip powerful enough to play back HD video, which would likely mean either an Nvidia Ion (with an Atom processor) or a proper notebook platform from Intel. In either case, size and power consumption would be higher than most netbooks, in exchange for which you'd get more processing power, more screen real estate, possibly longer battery life, and a smoother overall experience at the expense of some portability. In short, a proper if low-powered computer. I'd expect a sub-4-pound weight, better industrial design than the current crop of shiny plastic netbooks, and a price much closer to $1000 than to $400.

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