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9/29/2009
03:44 PM
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'Giant iPhone' May Be Next From Apple

Newton exec's return to Cupertino intensifies tablet computer speculation.

Apple has rehired a former executive who once played a key role in the company's development of the Newton handheld PC, a revolutionary device that drew praise for its unique form factor and barbs for its wonky handwriting recognition technology.

Given his background, Apple's recruitment of Michael Tchao as a marketing VP rekindled rumors that the company plans to offer a tablet-style PC that would resemble an oversized iPod or iPhone. One popular tech blog speculated that Apple could release such as device early next year.

Tchao spent the past fifteen years as general manager of sportswear maker Nike's Techlab. His return to Cupertino was first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by Apple. Apple, however, declined to elaborate on Tchao's role.

Apple isn't the only tech giant said to be working on tablet computing, the history of which is at best checkered. Microsoft is reportedly prototyping a booklet-style computing device that appears to combine the functions of an e-reader, netbook, and PDA.

Courier, as it's called, features twin, seven-inch touch screens that are connected by a hinge and can fold out to provide the user with two work surfaces, according to pictures that have surfaced on the Internet in recent days. One screen offers a Web browser while the other can present locally stored information like calendar entries, contact information and personal documents.

Courier's existence was first reported by the tech blog Gizmodo but it has not been confirmed by Microsoft. Gizmodo posted a video that appears to show an animated mock up of the device in action.

The video shows a user writing notes through a stylus input device and turning pages with simple hand gestures, a la Apple's iPhone touch interface. There's no word on when, or if, Microsoft plans to bring the device to market.

Microsoft launched a tablet-style PC in 2002 but the device failed to catch on with the general public. If Courier is to succeed in the market, it would need to improve on its forerunner's handwriting recognition capabilities and lofty price tag. The same holds for any similar device that Apple might develop.

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