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Thursday, January 21, 2010, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Sources detail physical design of Apple's upcoming tablet device

When Apple finally takes the wraps off its long-anticipated tablet next Wednesday, the device will strike a familiar chord with owners of the original iPhone, with similarities in industrial design trickling all the way down to the handset's button and connectivity components, AppleInsider has learned.

Nearly two and a half years have passed since AppleInsider exclusively reported in September of 2007 that the Cupertino-based gadget maker planned to follow the blockbuster success of the iPhone with a broader entry into consumer electronics, spearheaded by a completely new category of device akin to a "slate" and reminiscent of a modern-day reincarnation of the company's now defunct Newton tablet.

Since then, Apple has surprised in its capacity to work alongside dozens of partners and still maintain a relatively tight lid of the product's design, feature set, and software-driven functionality. Though recent weeks have been met by a flurry of reports on Apple's likely intentions for the device, a 28-month trail of rumors and speculation have left onlookers with exponentially more questions than answers.

One lingering uncertainty has surrounded the device's aesthetic or, more precisely, what it may look and feel like in a user's hands. According to people familiar with the device, it's largely redolent of a first-generation iPhone that's met its match with a rolling pin.

Of all the mockups and renderings that have surfaced on the Web attempting to depict what the final product will look like, the rendition below created by Flickr user Fotoboer.nl last August is strikingly close to the real deal, those same people say. It would be more precise, they add, if it weren't missing a handful of design elements of the iPhone.

Nestled in an aluminum shell that leverages the Apple's expertise in unibody construction but thinner proportionality than the original iPhone, the tablet reportedly sports all of the same buttons found on the handset, right down to its iconic home button — which, like the volume toggle, is missing from the rendering. 

Apple Tablet Rendition
 

Similarly, the tablet is said to sport all the same in/out connectivity as the current iPhone 3GS, including a 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack, built-in speaker grills, a  microphone, GPS, 3G connectivity and a 30-pin dock connector. Like the rendering, its 10-inch display is framed by a black border that bleeds into its wrap-around aluminum enclosure. 

Meanwhile, other people with proven track records in predicting Apple's future product designs have recently commented on prototypes of the Apple tablet making the rounds with a baseband chip compatible with CDMA networks like those operated by U.S.-based Verzion Wireless. However, AppleInsider cannot confirm with any degree of certainty that this technology is planned for the shipping version of the product.

For a comprehensive archive of all rumors surrounding Apple's tablet device, readers can check out AppleInsider's Newton and tablet topics pages, or review its exclusive reports on the product (below) dating back to the fall of 2007. Also of potential interest may be a recent feature article: The inside track on Apple's tablet: a history of tablet computing.

Up next for Apple: the return of the Newton - September 2007
Mega Apple filing details next-gen 'multi-touch input surface' - February 2008
Apple details next-gen multi-touch techniques for tablet Macs - August 2008
Apple pushing for patent on versatile tablet docking station - November 2008
Apple orders 10-inch touchscreens for mystery product- March 2009
Apple's much-anticipated tablet device coming early next year - July 2009
Poor bets placed on Apple taking dual tablet route - August 2009
Evidence of Apple's tablet-like input interface reappears - October 2009
Apple confirms Jan. 27 media event to show off 'latest creation' - January 2010