Gene Munster, a senior analyst for Piper Jaffray, ticked off significant amounts of admittedly circumstantial evidence to back up his thinking on Apple's move into the lower-priced market.
"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 22 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," said Munster in a note delivered to clients this week.
Contrary to other analysts, including Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research, who believe Apple will react to pricing pressure by unveiling a device priced between the lowest-end MacBook ($999) and the upper-end iPod Touch ($399) this year, Munster is betting that Apple will wait until the first half of 2010.
As Munster sees it, Apple's answer to netbooks -- the smaller, lighter and most of all, cheaper notebooks that run Windows and Linux -- will be a tablet sporting a 7-to-10-inch screen that runs a Mac OS X-like operating system optimized for multi-touch. The time it takes to develop that operating system -- and wrap up negotiations with mobile carriers, who Apple may be talking with about iPhone-like subsidies for the new device -- make any debut this year unlikely.
"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," said Munster in his research note. "Such a product line would be a sort of hybrid between the iPhone and the Mac, requiring a new operating system."