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Delayed tablet Mac to launch next month?

Finally arrives to celebrate Mac's 20th birthday

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The recent launch of an iMac with a 20in display may not have closed the door on the release of a third generation of the consumer-oriented desktop.

And Apple's much-rumoured launch of a tablet-style device may come to fruition early next year - possibly at Macworld Expo San Francisco.

According to Taiwanese sources cited by local news site DigiTimes, Apple will debut a "new iMac" built out of a magnesium alloy.

While the story talks about the material being used for the desktop's case, it also notes that the current iMac is constructed using an alloy of stainless steel and zinc.

So the news doesn't necessarily mean Apple will be offering an iMac in a G5-style metal shell - rather than the internal chassis will be made of a new, lighter and cheaper material.

The latter quality is key: it will allow Apple to cut iMac prices, the better to compete with the growing array of ultra-cheap PCs. High price tags are cited by the source as the reason for "lacklustre" iMac sales of late.

Indeed, the source says the first iMac using the new material will be a 20in model - which, of course, Apple has already launched. So expect iMac price cuts in the January/February timeframe.

Production costs also appear to be behind the decision to delay launching a version of the iMac incorporating a tablet back in September, the source claims. Apparently, the use of the magnesium alloy will now allow it to do so.

It's worth bearing in mind that 2004 is the 20th anniversary of the original Mac's launch, and if Apple follows tradition, it will mark the occasion with a special edition computer. We suspect that the rumoured tablet-based system may well be just that 20th Anniversary Macintosh (as opposed to the previous 20th Anniversay Mac, codenamed 'Spartacus', released to commemorate Apple's 20th birthday). That would imply that the product was never destined for a September 2003 launch.

The source says Taiwan's Quanta will manufacture the machine, but that claim is already known: Chinese-language newspaper the Economic Daily News said as much last April.

Just recently, columnist Robert Cringely suggested that Apple had a tablet in the works.

Cringely comes to the party very late: over a year ago, Register chum and eWeek columnist Matthew Rothenberg suggested Apple would launch a "device that superficially resembles a large iPod with an 8in diagonal screen, lacks a keyboard, packs USB and FireWire ports, and runs Mac OS X along with a variety of multimedia goodies". The launch window was Macworld Expo San Francisco 2003. Matt's prediction may finally come true next month.

The device is believed to be a mobile, wireless display that communicates with a desktop unit. You can use the LCD either as a desktop display, or as a portable terminal. A touch-screen and Mac OS X's Newton-derived Inkwell technology eliminates the need for a keyboard as you check your email, or listen to music streamed from iTunes running on the base unit.

That's the theory, at least.

In fact, the idea goes way back to 2001 and an early concept for what may have ultimately become the second-generation iBook. ®

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