Analyst chimes in on iTablet: not before next year.

Rumors about an Apple 'iTablet' just won't quit, and now Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has chimed in with his prediction. The good news? He says a tablet device is coming from Apple. The bad news? It won't arrive until the first half of calendar year 2010. Yesterday cnet reported on Munster's findings and today Digitimes adds another dab of credibility by claiming that Wintek will be providing the panels for the device.

Munster says the new device will not be a traditional netbook form factor, because, essentially, it'd have to be too cheap and Apple likes to keep prices for its products high. He says a netbook would cheapen Apple's brand. Also a netbook at this point might come across as a 'me-too' kind of product, and Apple likes to innovate and differentiate its product line. Finally, an Apple netbook might cannibalize MacBook sales.

So instead we'll get a large tablet device with a touch screen for $500-$700. What the OS will look like is still up for discussion. Will it use the iPhone OS, OS X, or some blend of the two? Munster pins his 2010 launch date on the fact that we don't know yet, and developers will need time to create compelling apps for the new device before it launches. The implication is that this isn't a device that will be a WWDC surprise; we'll know it's coming (officially or unofficially) because devkits will have to go out well before launch.

One question Munster never answers: who is the market for this kind of device? The Apple faithful already have their MacBooks and their iPhones. Will they buy a 3rd device to carry around? One large enough not to fit in a pocket? Being Apple faithful, they probably will, actually. And then what? Leave the MacBookPro at home? Pricing it above $500 pushes the iTablet out of the 'impulse buy' category for most of us, and I think that will hurt its adoption. Sure, many of us will feel potent geek lust for it, but $700 is a lot of money in this economy (though perhaps things will be turning around by the time this device launches).

On the other hand, the iPod was an out-of-financial-reach product when it launched, too. Perhaps Apple can afford to be patient and build the market as economy of scale and advancing technology bring the price of the device down to where more of us can comfortably afford it. Cnet suggests that the device might compete with the Amazon Kindle, and given the popularity of the Kindle-reader iPhone app, that makes some sense. I suppose it would depend on whether you really want that e-ink display or not.

Given what we know (admittedly a hazy picture) would you buy this device for $500? How about for $700? Please leave a comment and share!

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