Apple event could be tablet's debut 

Apple will host a product event on Jan. 27, giving Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs a chance to unveil a long-rumored, touch-screen tablet device for surfing the Web and playing movies and music.

The company sent out invitations Monday to an event in San Francisco, asking reporters to "Come see our latest creation." Apple plans to unveil a tablet computer, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this month.

Analysts have speculated for at least a year that Jobs is building on the iPod Touch to create a larger-screen, multimedia player. While computers without a physical keyboard haven't sold well, Apple's ability to reinvent products through cutting-edge design and easy-to-use software may persuade consumers to look at such devices again, said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

"Apple's all about trying to create new markets and paradigm shifts, much like they did with the iPhone," said Sacconaghi, who is based in New York. "This will be optimized for reading books, for viewing video, for listening to music, for Web browsing. It will be less about computing."

The event may also mark the first time Jobs, 54, appears in public since September, when he went on stage to introduce new iPods. That was his only appearance at an Apple event in 2009 after he took a five-and-a-half month medical leave.

Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment on what will be announced at the event or whether Jobs will attend.

The two types of tablet computers currently available -- slates with a pen for input and convertible laptops that have hinged, rotating screens that fold over a keyboard -- haven't been big sellers.

PC makers sold 122,000 slates last year, making the category less than 1 percent of the total PC market, according to Framingham, Mass., research firm IDC.

Apple may sell 3 million of its slate-like device in its first year, Sacconaghi said. He expects a tablet with a 10-inch touch screen that sells for at least $750, in between the $399, top-of-the-line iPod Touch and the $999, entry-level MacBook notebook, he said.

In addition to electronic books, Apple's tablet might offer textbooks, magazine stories and news reports, with links to related content on the Web such as photos, video and author interviews, said Kathryn Huberty, an analyst with Morgan Stanley in New York. Apple may also look at new pricing models for content, including subscriptions and advertising.

For that reason, she predicts the Apple tablet will take users beyond what they get today with Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle e-book reader.

"It's more dynamic than what the Kindle offers," Huberty said. "That's the type of change Apple sees as an opportunity."

Drew Herdener, a spokesman for Seattle-based Amazon.com, didn't immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Apple's reported interest in tablet computers coincides with new devices demonstrated by companies such as Hewlett- Packard and Dell at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month.

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