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Apple Tablet: Screen Cost is Hurdle Apple Can't Jump

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
January 05, 2010 11:43 AM ET

CIO - As the world waits with bated breath for an Apple tablet, one thing is for certain: the rumored tablet with a 10-inch touchscreen won't be cheap. Most new-fangled Apple products cost the proverbial arm and leg, and it's unlikely an Apple tablet (which the blogosphere calls the iSlate) will break this trend.One of the more sensible arguments about the price of an Apple tablet comes from NextWindow, which makes touchscreens for PC makers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. An Apple tablet will be on the high-end in price, NextWindow executives say - not because of Apple's propensity to jack up prices, rather a 10-inch touchscreen is going to be expensive to deliver.

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It's a pretty good bet that an Apple tablet is just around the corner. Sources told the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD reporters that Apple plans to announce "a major new product on January 27." And that the likely price point is under $1000. If Apple holds true to form, that will mean $999. Apple, of course, is fully aware of the tablet rumors but as of yet has done little to quell them. It would be a major disappointment if Apple's major new product turned out not to be a tablet.

How much would you pay for an Apple tablet?

A Barclays report last week predicts Apple will sell at least a million tablets per year and that the tablet has the potential to be one of the major Mac lines over time. But Manish Rathi, co-founder of Retrevo, a consumer electronics shopping site, says the tablet would need to hit the $600 price point to be really successful.

This price point would convince a good number of PC users to jump to an Apple product, according to findings from a recent Retrevo survey. "If the tablet can get to something like the iPhone, then shipments go over the top, which means you have to go beyond your Mac loyalists and get to the PC users - the people who are willing to switch."

Meanwhile, Freescale Semiconductor just showcased reference designs of a tablet with a 7-inch touchscreen set to hit the market later this year. The cost: $200.

But Apple won't be able to get anywhere near that and will be lucky to get to the $600 price point, according to NextWindow executives. NextWindow does not make the particular touchscreens that Apple uses today.

NextWindow CEO Al Monro and product marketing manager Geoff Walker, who has been involved with mobile computing and touchscreen technology for two decades, told about the challenges Apple faces when moving from the 3.5-inch touchscreen of the iPhone to a 10-inch touchscreen of an iSlate. They also share some insight on where touchscreens are headed next.

What size touchscreens do you make?Monro: The touchscreen size for the desktop is predominately 18.5 to 24-inch. In the large format, increasingly most of our stuff is over 65-inch for education - an interactive whiteboard.

What's the technology used in the small iPhone screen? Walker: The technology that's in the iPhone is called projected capacitive, or Pro Cap. Prior to the iPhone, the worldwide market for Pro Cap was about $20 million. This year it'll be somewhere around a half a billion mainly due to the influence of the iPhone. Now almost all of the mobile phones have at least one Pro Cap touchscreen in their product lines.

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