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Apple Tablet FAQs: what we know, what we don't

What will it do? How much will it cost?

What do we know about technology's worst-kept secret, the so-called Apple Tablet? Not a lot.

How will the tablet connect to the internet? Again, no one knows for certain, but the sure bet is that the tablet will support Wi-Fi, just as do the iPhone, iPod Touch and all Macs.

It only gets interesting if the tablet also includes 3G. Will the tablet have enough battery to power 3G data reception for long periods? Which mobile network will be in play? How much will data plans costs? And will carriers be able to handle the added demand for bits when some - O2, anyone? - can't keep smartphone customers happy?

Brian Marshall, an analyst with BroadPoint AmTech, went on record earlier this month as promising Verizon would support the tablet in the US. Like most of his colleagues, Marshall said multiple carriers would partner with Apple.

Last week, however, other analysts - who declined to be named - cautioned against assuming Verizon was on board.

There's no reason, of course, why Apple has to announce carrier partners Wednesday, since it's unlikely the tablet will be immediately available. Apple could postpone that until nearer the availability date.

When can I buy one? March is the earliest, most fantasy timetables say, although mid-year is also likely. Some have pegged it as far away as the third or fourth quarter.

Although those same pesky Asian sources were among the first to name March - based on purported orders and an extrapolation of how many units Apple needed in the pipeline prior to launch - the rest of us can look to Apple's history for some hints.

In January 2007, CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, but said the gizmo wouldn't be out until June, one of the first times that the company pre-announced a product. The six-month lag between the date it was revealed and the sale date gave Apple time to fill the channel, beat the hype drum and get its other ducks in a row. A similar timetable for the tablet puts its on-sale date in mid-summer.

On the other hand, Apple touted the SDK for iPhone 2.0 in March 2008, the operating system that powered the iPhone 3G, which hit stores July 11. The four months were needed to give developers time to build App Store applications, the defining change Apple instituted that year. If Apple releases a tablet SDK this week and wants to give tablet app developers the same four months, that translates into a late May launch.

What will I do with one? It's easy to make a product no one has seen be a product that pleases everyone. But what will the tablet do when reality intrudes?

At the least, say the prognosticators, the tablet will be an e-book reader, a competitor for Amazon's Kindle, if only because that market could be lucrative, as sales in the last quarter of last year attest.

The presumption is that Apple will sell access to book, newspaper and magazine content via iTunes.

Everyone expects a browser, of course, but beyond that, it gets a little hazier. Harry McCracken, former editor-in-chief of PC World and now a prominent blogger, recently asked readers of his Technologizer site to vote on what they thought the tablet would contain. Their take: 81 percent think the tablet will include a video player (QuickTime?), 63 percent bet on email and 61 percent believe it will play games.

Will the tablet run Mac OS X apps? Surprise! This is something else we don't know.

Most analysts have voted thumbs down on the idea and instead believe that Apple will go with a closed ecosystem like the iPhone and iPod Touch that relies on company-approved applications sold through an App Store.

To keep control of what ends up on tablets, Apple will have to either use the iPhone OS or create a separate operating system, most likely yet another offshoot of the Mac operating system.

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