July 25, 2008 — -- When it comes to Apple, it doesn't take much to set tongues a-wagging. A slim Steve Jobs at the Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco last month has led to endless speculation about the CEO's health and perhaps, according to analysts, may have caused a stock dip.
Now, after a mention of a mysterious "future product transition" on an earnings conference call, bloggers, analysts and die-hard Apple fans are focused on dissecting exactly what new products the company may have been vaguely revealing.
The comments came during a conference call this week involving Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer that discussed the company's second quarter earnings. It was during that call that Oppenheimer reportedly mentioned the "future product transition, which I can't discuss today."
"We will deliver state-of-the-art new products that our competitors just aren't going to be able to match," he continued.
The brief, perhaps innocuous comment appeared on several blogs the next day alongside a rumor that analysts say has been floating around for years -- that Apple would debut a touchscreen laptop.
Many die-hard Apple fans told ABCNews.com that they were excited by the prospect of a touch-screen anything from Mac.
"I would buy it in a heartbeat," Matt Vreeland, a doctor in Pinehurst, N.C., said in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "I have used Apple products since entering college in 1985 [the original Mac] and never regretted it. Every time I stray, I realize how well-designed Apple products remain."
Thom Rouse, a graphic designer based in Trenton, N.J., said he would definitely buy a Mac tablet.
"When I go to make a purchase, they're my first consideration -- maybe my only consideration," Rouse said in a phone interview.
Todd Mason in Los Angeles wrote: "It's not so much a fad as a reality. The products are simply better and more people are discovering that fact."
The rumor of "MacBook Touch" appeared on the blog MacDailyNews, attributed to an anonymous tipster.
"Think MacBook screen, possibly a bit smaller, in glass with iPhone-like, but fuller-featured Multi-Touch. Gesture library. Full Mac OS X," the tipster wrote.
Several more widely read blogs, including Gizmodo.com and a Wired magazine blog, Gadget Lab, picked up on the story and the viral spread began.
But rumors about an Apple "tablet" computer, or a touch-screen laptop without a keyboard, have circulated for years, according to Arnold Kim, the founder and editor of MacRumors, the most widely read Mac blog. (Kim recently quit his six-figure job as a doctor to continue his six-figure job as the site's editor full time.)
"I put very little credence in that. The way it was written out was a tip. They have no confirmation," Kim said. "We get a lot of random tips and it's hard to take them seriously."
This also isn't the first time that more legitimate media has reported on the coming of a tablet computer from Apple.
"People are still sort of keeping an eye on that, and Apple's vague hints kind of get everyone excited again," he said. "I think there is a tablet in the works, but it's a question about when the market will accept it. ... Some people don't see the need for it. The hope that strong Apple fans have is that Apple will do it in a way that will make it more useful."
That sentiment was echoed by more than a few fans who wrote e-mails to ABCNews.com, citing finger smudges and lack of a keyboard as an argument against such a potential product.
"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.
"A laptop line at a cheap price point aimed at the education market that's built cheaper seems to make more sense to me," he said. "But in the end we'll more than likely all be proven wrong, and Apple will produce something that has nothing to do with these things."