Analyst: An Apple tablet is coming to shake up netbook market

Apple is likely to launch a tablet similar to the iPod touch, but larger in the first half of 2010. This tablet would then be Apple's entry into the netbook race, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

Apple is likely to launch a tablet similar to the iPod touch, but larger in the first half of 2010. This tablet would then be Apple's entry into the netbook race, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. 

In a research note, Munster handicaps the gaps in Apple's product lineup. The gaping hole: There's nothing between the iPod touch and the MacBook. Enter this iPod touch on steroids for $500 to $700. Meanwhile, Apple operating chief Tim Cook called netbooks junky, but never dismissed the consumer demand for them. 

Munster writes:

Between indications from our component contacts in Asia, recent patents relating to multi-touch sensitivity for more complex computing devices, comments from Tim Cook on the April 22nd conference call, and Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi along with other recent chip-related hires, it is increasingly clear that Apple is investing more in its mobile computing franchise. Specifically, we expect this to result in a larger (7"-10") touchscreen tablet that will launch in 1H CY10. Additionally, Apple's consistent message that it refuses to launch a "cheap" portable netbook, and its desire to differentiate itself in a maturing market before it's too late (similar to the timing of iPod and iPhone), plus its gradual addition of multi-touch technology to all of its core products (iPhones, iPods and Macs) leads us to conclude this product will be a touchscreen tablet (not a netbook). 

Also see: Are netbooks really junky?

Apple's game plan will revolve around its multi-touch patents to cook up something different from your generic netbook. Munster's theory makes a lot of sense. A netbook would tarnish the Mac's average selling price and potentially cheapen the Apple brand. A tablet wouldn't. Double bonus: A Mac tablet would compete with the Kindle. 

What's the OS look like? Munster has an answer for that too:

We are anticipating a new category of Apple products with an operating system more robust than the iPhone's but optimized for multi-touch, unlike Mac OS X. The device's OS could bear a close resemblance to Apple's mobile OS and run App Store apps, or it could be a modified version of Mac OS X. We expect the development of such an OS to be underway currently, but its complexity, along with our conversations with a key company in the mobile space, leads us to believe it will not launch until CY10.

Is Apple late to the game? Not really. Apple was late with the iPod and we saw how that turned out. Ditto for the iPhone, which came five years after the first BlackBerry. Relatively speaking Apple's netbook killer would be a fast follow.

Here's a look at Munster's argument for a Mac tablet and not a netbook.