Apple tablet due Jan. 27, maybe iPhone 4.0

Apple's tablet appears ready to burst into reality, perhaps bringing a new iPhone OS with it.

With Apple's tablet now assigned a formal due date--January 27--the speculation has started to be reeled in, with the device now sounding more like what it first it sounded like: A giant iPod touch.

Nothing wrong with that, but the reality may be far less enticing than the speculation had suggested. And probably just as expensive.

For business users, the tablet should offer access to supersized versions of iPhone applications, which could drive corporate acceptance of both devices.

iPhone 4.0 software, expected to be introduced as part of the tablet package, will offer developers some new options for creating apps that work equally well on both the small (iPhone) and large (tablet) screens.

That could encourage more interesting and useful business apps, but only if Apple can convince business users the tablet is worth carrying around instead of a laptop or netbook.

It is likely to prove a tough assignment, especially if the tablet seems expensive for what Apple delivers.

The Apple tablet is also expected to compete with e-readers. The issue there may be power management, as making e-readers tremendously more attractive would require the addition of a power-hungry color display.

The trade-off is likely to be a need for too-frequent recharging. Not compared to a laptop, perhaps, but certainly to the long-lived Amazon Kindle e-reader.

However, the best announcement at the event might actually be a bit of a sleeper: iPhone 4.0 as a "catch-up" release. This is what has me excited about the event, iPhone 4.0 and perhaps the 2010 versions of the iLife and iWork applications suites, should they appear.

The current iPhone 3.0 has gotten a bit behind the curve lately, as first the Palm Pre, then the Droid, and most recently the Nexus One have all been released with features the iPhone lacks.

Key among these is multitasking, which is the ability to have multiple applications running at the same time.

The iPhone does this in a limited way, most notably allowing users to listen to music while working in other apps or making calls while browsing. Developers, however, cannot write apps that continue working alongside or behind other apps.

Apple may choose to resist multitasking, but does so at its own peril. The downside of embracing it, however, might be adding a new capability that would not be well-supported by older iPhones with slower processors.

The lack of multitasking is one of the reasons why the Google Latitude people-finder isn't available as an iPhone application.

Adding multitasking and premiering apps that really take advantage of it would improve the iPhone's acceptance as a business tool.

iPhone 4.0 needs, at the very least, to offer improved iPhone performance and tweaks to built-in applications. This might also mark the departure of some Google services, like maps, from the iPhone.

The big disappointment would be if iPhone 4.0 merely adds tablet support, with iPhone enhancements delayed until later this year when a new iPhone appears , as is widely expected. The tablet introduction also gives Apple a chance to show the iPhone isn't falling behind that the company would be wise to exploit.

As for what users want the next iPhone and its operating system to include, here's my report from last week.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

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