Rumor: 'MacBook Touch' in the Works

"I use a nice, big 24-inch iMac, which allows me to work faster and better," Jerome Krause, a longtime Apple user, wrote. "A little touch-screen laptop strikes me as a toy."

Tammy Daugherty, a Schererville, Ind., woman who described herself as a "Mac convert," said a touch screen just wouldn't work on a laptop.

"The more I use my iPhone and MacBook Pro, I realize that I don't want a touch screen on my computer," she wrote in an e-mail. "The main reason for my reluctance to purchase a touch screen would be that the screen gets mucky fast. ... The slop factor would probably cause me to just continue using my keyboard."

Consumer reluctance to embrace tablet technology is evident in sluggish sales since the technology came to market about four years ago. Only about one percent of American consumers buy existing tablet PCs, "if that many," said NPD technology analyst Stephen Baker.

"Everyone was optimistic," Baker said. "HP has had one, Gateway had one. ... But not very much in the overall concept has resonated at all with consumers."

"Consumers like touch, but tablets are more about writing. Tablets are about doing computing tasks, where touch is more about personal tasks," he continued.

There are still some people out there who do like the tablet concept, such as Matt Altman, an IT auditor in Anchorage, Ala., who said he used his old tablet PC for both work and social functions.

Now using all Apple products, he wrote, "this is the one feature I now lack. Adding the ability to write-on screen (with search functionality), or let my three kids under three-years-old have a digital doodle pad could sway me to purchase a new device."

But just because there are fewer tablet buyers out there doesn't mean that Apple couldn't cover new ground if it decided to enter the decidedly small existing arena.

"Apple could come up with a killer app" for a tablet, Baker said. "Giving consumers a reason to [buy a tablet], that's the next step."

Baker, however, believes that a touch screen desktop is a much more likely direction for Apple.

"Personally, I think the iMac, with its big screen -- the first time you see them you want touch them," he said. "I think there's a huge opportunity to kind of reinvent what a family would use by adding touch, but I don't think a tablet is going to be the long-term [option] for that."

Silicon Valley tech analyst Rob Enderle agreed.

"Apple, with the most highly profitable multitouch product in market, which is the iPhone, has yet to introduce that interface. It's widely expected that they'll do it," he said.

In addition to a "MacBook Touch" there are other rumors about what Apple products could be in the works.

Enderle predicted another version of the iPhone that has a physical keyboard rather than the touch screen to further compete with Research in Motion's Blackberry.

"[Apple] hasn't made a dent in RIM's audience. Research in Motion grew in the midst of iPhone's attacks," Enderle said.

Ultimately, however, guessing what Apple will do next is a "fool's errand," said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst at Jupiter Research.

The mystery product on the call could have been a new processor, a refresh of a product line at a cheaper price point or a new product category altogether.

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