Wall St. Journal reports the device will be unveiled in three weeks, shipped in three months

Sports Illustrated on a tablet. Source: Time Inc.

Quoting unnamed “people briefed by the company,” the
Wall Street Journal
reported as fact Monday what analysts and Apple AAPL watchers have been speculating for weeks: that the company is set to unveil its long-awaited tablet computer on or about January 27 and is scheduled to begin shipments before the end of March.

The real news here is that the company has actually started briefing outsiders. Earlier reports that put the unveiling in the last week of January and the ship date in March were based on leaks, speculation and interviews with companies supplying parts for the new device.

The rest of the Journal‘s account is in line with previous reports. Its sources describe the device as:

  • A tablet with a 10- to 11-inch color screen (other reports suggested that a 7-inch version might also be in the works)
  • A multimedia device that will let people watch movies and television shows, play games, surf the Internet and read electronic books and newspapers.
  • Something that could redefine the way consumers interact with a variety of content, including multimedia textbooks or newspapers that integrate live up-to-the-minute information from multiple sources.
  • Priced at about $1,000, possibly including a subscription to a nationwide Wi-Fi wireless service.

You can read the Journal report here. A video Yukari Kane adding color to her Journal story is available here. The Jan. 27 unveiling date comes from John Paczkowski in Digital Daily, another News Corp. NWS property. TechCrunch‘s MG Siegler tries to divine the tablet’s actual price from some curious changes that were made in the Journal‘s story between its posting on the Web and its publication in the paper.

To see what a magazine reconfigured for a tablet might look like, see the Sports Illustrated TWX demo here.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]