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Monday, January 04, 2010, 03:30 pm PT (06:30 pm ET)

Apple to unveil tablet in January, ship in March - WSJ

Apple later this month will preview its long-awaited touch-screen tablet before shipping the device to consumers two months later, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

Echoing claims of an early 2010 launch of the 10-inch device first reported by AppleInsider last July, the financial paper cited "people briefed on the matter" as saying that Apple has been experimenting with "two different material finishes" for the hardware.

Those with knowledge of the situation were unable to confirm to the paper whether that meant that the electronics maker is planning two distinct versions of the tablet, or if it's simply testing two different surface materials. It said the device will have a 10- to 11-inch touchscreen and will go on sale in March.

A report from last month indicated that the Cupertino-based company had been seeking solutions to strengthen the glass of the 10-inch tablet displays it outsourced, a move which allegedly contributed to delaying the product's launch until this month.

It's unclear whether the two reports are related to the same matter.

Nevertheless, the Journal believes the Apple tablet will serve as a "multimedia device that will let people watch movies and television shows, play games, surf the Internet and read electronic books and newspapers."

The paper also cited people briefed on the matter who say Apple "believes it could redefine the way consumers interact with a variety of content."

"Textbooks and newspapers, for example, could be presented differently through color screens, a touch interface, and the integration of live up-to-the-minute information from multiple sources," the report says.

Analysts expect Apple to charge less than $1,000 for the device when it does surface. In a report released last week, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he expects the average cost of the product to fall in the $600 range. He sees the company selling 1.4 million of the devices in its first 9 months on the market. Munster also predicted the device will debut by March.

On Monday, reputable sources reported that Apple plans to hold an event on Wednesday, Jan. 27th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. In addition to the tablet, the media event could give way to version 4.0 of the iPhone Software Developers kit, which may include the tools developers would need to build apps for the larger-screened device.