By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
July 28, 2009

The battle lines are drawn.

On Friday we had Jason Schwartz, an options strategist long on Apple (AAPL), explaining in Seeking Alpha Why Apple’s iTouch Tablet Will Become Its Flagship Product.

On Monday we heard from Michael Scalisi, an IT manager writing in PC World, that the Rumored Apple Tablet Is a Train Wreck.

If the first hurdle of a successful Apple product is to capture the imagination of the chattering classes, this one is half-way there.

Of course, we don’t really know what the product is, what it looks like or when, if ever, it will be released. But that hasn’t stopped the trade press from weighing in — and quickly taking sides.

In this context, the most useful thing I’ve read lately is Harry McCracken’s PAQ — for Possibly Answered Questions, a kind of pre-emptive FAQ — in Monday’s Technologizer.

McCracken sorts through the myriad details that have been bruited about in nearly two years of press speculation (and, reportedly, four years of product development under Steve Jobs’ watchful eye) and draws a plausible picture of the rumored device and what it might be good for.

Among the tablet’s salient features, as McCracken sees it:

  • Size: A 9.7-inch screen with something like 1024-by-600 pixels (the iPhone, by comparison, has a 3.5-inch screen and 480-by-320 pixels.
  • Operating System: A version of the iPhone OS that supports a larger screen and special tablet features.
  • Interface: Like the iPhone’s, it will be optimized for Web surfing, music, movies, very light e-mail, and other applications that don’t involve much data entry.
  • Applications: From the 65,000 available on the App Store.
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi for sure. Bluetooth almost certainly. The big unknown: will it have cellular broadband?
  • Other features: A front-mounted camera for video chatting. Perhaps GPS for navigation. Maybe an SD slot for importing photos. No Firewire or USB, says McCracken, although we don’t see why not.
  • Cost: More than a netbook ($500 at the cheapest) and less than a MacBook ($999), unless subsidized by a cellular carrier. (In which case the monthly bills will push cost into the thousands of dollars over the life of a contract.)
  • Availability: AppleInsider is pretty sure it’s early next year. The Financial Times is even more certain it’s September of this year. As McCracken points out, they can’t both be right.

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