Would an Apple Tablet be an Ereader? Yes and No.

Last Friday the latest round of rumors of an Apple Tablet swelled considerably after a piece from Apple Insider asserted the device is now on the 2010 product roadmap:

However, the past six months have reportedly seen the critical pieces fall into place. Jobs, who’s been overseeing the project from his home, office and hospital beds, has finally achieved that much-sought aura of satisfaction. He’s since cemented the device in the company’s 2010 roadmap, where it’s being positioned for a first quarter launch, according to people well-respected by AppleInsider for their striking accuracy in Apple’s internal affairs.

That means that the device, which is expected to retail for somewhere between the cost of a high-end iPhone and Apple’s most affordable Mac notebook, is bound to turn up any time between January and March, should there be no last minute setbacks. Analyst’s following the Cupertino-based company may consider factoring first full-quarter sales of the device into their models for calendar Q2.

The news sparked considerable interest among publishers, who apparently see this development as a “Kindle killer” that will upset Amazon’s apparent dominance of the ebook ecosystem. It’s understandable from the perspective of a publisher, but if this device actually exists, it’s doubtful anyone at Apple sees it as an “ereader” any more than it sees the iPhone as “a GPS device.” (The speculation stems from a piece in the Financial Times quoting an anonymous “publishing executive” and saying Apple has been talking to publishers.) Apple also talked to major newspapers before the iPhone launched, but they didn’t build the iPhone as a mobile newspaper.

Some have been speculating about whether Apple would ink deals with aggregators like OverDrive or Ingram Digital to secure ebook content for a tablet. But that assumes that Apple sees a need to directly deal with ebooks the way they deal with music, and I don’t believe that’s likely. While it’s possible they’d beef up the native PDF capabilities in a larger device, I think it’s much more likely they’ll establish the market (the App Store) and the platform (some variant on the iPhone SDK), and let developers and content creators take care of the rest, the way they have already on the iPhone with games.

Seeking Alpha has a nice analysis of Tablet Fever, and correctly places any discussion of news or books in the context of the App Store, where it firmly belongs:

Steve Jobs has mentioned that he has never seen anything like success of the App Store in his career. If he is saying that, then I’m saying that this 9.7 inch iTouch that has been designed to optimally utilize the apps will become the flagship Apple product… The order of operations for the iPhone are phone first, iPod second, Apps third, and Internet browser fourth. This new iTouch is principally designed to take advantage of the App Store gaming, books, news, entertainment, social networking, etc…

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