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Apple Announces Mystery Launch Event

Many industry observers believe the company will unveil a tablet computer on January 27.

Apple plans to hold a Jan. 27 event in San Francisco to launch a new product, or perhaps service.

The company ended weeks of speculation that it would hold such an event when it sent out invitations to the media on Monday. In typical Apple fashion, the e-mail doesn't give a hint as to what will be announced. It only says, "Come see our latest creation."

Many industry observers believe the company will unveil a tablet computer when it meets with media at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater at 10 a.m. Pacific time. If Apple unveils such a device it will mark the company's re-entry into the tablet market.

Apple stopped development on its Newton tablet in 1998 after it failed to attract many buyers. The device, which featured handwriting recognition sofware, was sold as a personal digital assistant.

Any new mobile device from Apple would enter a far different mobile-computing market than existed a dozen years ago. Smartphones, including Apple's iPhone and devices running Google's Android operating system, have shown that Internet access over wireless networks today is good enough to be useful.

Indeed, the latest figures from Gartner showed smartphone sales would grow by 29% year-over-year in 2009 to 180 million units, overtaking laptop sales. By 2012, smartphone revenue is expected to reach $191 billion, much higher than the $152 billion that will be spent on mobile PCs, according to Gartner.

If Apple launches a tablet computer, it will be entering a market that's dominated today by business devices used in the field to input data. The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets have reported that Apple will unveil a multimedia device with 10- to 11-inch touchscreen.

An Apple tablet would be expected to provide a platform for downloading and reading electronic books, which are a growing market. Forrester Researcher estimates that 3 million e-book readers were sold last year, led by Amazon's Kindle. This year, the number is expected to reach 10 million.

While tablets haven't yet proved popular with consumers, Apple is believed capable of reinventing the device through innovation and design. The company in 2007 jumpstarted the lackluster smartphone market with the launch of the iPhone.

Reports of Apple's anticipated tablet haven't gone unnoticed by competitors. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled a tablet-style computer developed with partner Hewlett-Packard. The vendors did not say when the device would be available or how much it would cost.

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