Apple Tablet Is Now an e-Reader?

The latest crop of Apple Tablet rumors continues to rage on, but a new wrinkle has emerged: Some speculate that the Apple Tablet is nothing more than … drumroll … Apple’s grab for part of the growing e-book market.

Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun-Times started Wednesday’s rumor ball going by profiling a company called LongBox, which hopes to kick-start a digital comics phenomenon by offering access to new comics via applications stores and e-readers, beginning in November. LongBox folks told Ihnatko that a secret, important partnership has been signed with a high-profile mover and shaker in the hardware market – someone that can support “a multinational launch with literally millions of installed users.” That someone, the columnist speculated, is likely Apple, with its rumored e-reader-ish Tablet, and the iTunes store.

Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner continued the Apple-in-e-reading trend when he told Computerworld that the Barnes & Noble Android-based Nook e-reader, which will offer a full Web browser, “should not only throw a scare into Amazon but also put somewhat of a damper on the e-reading capabilities of planned tablets/devices from Apple and Microsoft.”

Meanwhile, everyone from the New York Post to the Baltimore Sun has taken to calling it the Apple “tablet/e-reader.”

There is, of course, no real hard evidence that Apple is looking to the e-reader market, though it would make sense for it to do so. And in fact, the idea that the Apple Tablet is meant to be an e-reader idea actually dates back to the spring, when the launch of the Amazon Kindle provoked comparisons between the two (despite Apple not actually confirming that a tablet computer is in its pipeline). In September, the strongest indication of e-reader interest came when unnamed sources leaked information that Apple has approached major media outlets and textbook companies to secure content for the tablet – which would be a similar strategy to the Kindle DS’s large-format, newspaper-friendly design.

The e-reader line of reasoning comes a day after Apple reported its most profitable quarter ever, reigniting the Tablet rumor in the process when executives said that air freight costs would be “abnormal” for the first quarter of fiscal 2010. When pressed, Tim Cook, Apple COO said the increase in freight will have “nothing to do with iPhone.”

He added, “but, generally speaking the air freight is planned to get enough units in to the channel in time for the holidays and is necessary for that reason.”

The general non-clarity of the statement sparked off a fresh round of speculation as to what kind of non-iPhone product is Apple hoping to get to market for the holidays, with many fingering the Tablet as the device in question.

Despite being propped up by a lack of anything but un-sourced inside information, speculation and the dropping of hints, the Tablet continues to rule the gadget rumor mill. We might miss the frisson of it all when Apple finally lays open the roadmap to confirm or deny the existence of the Tablet, once and for all.

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