Apple has been working on a tablet computer since 2003, according to both anonymous and unnamed former Apple employees and executives quoted by The New York Times. The development work has been in the form of many different projects, most of which have been 86'd by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
The comments came in an article looking at the broader topic of tablet computers in general, and the way in which rumors of tablets from Apple and Microsoft have captivated the (tech-oriented) public's attention. While some of that attention, and perhaps even Apple's newfound focus, can be attributed to the success of the iPhone, former Apple employees told The Times that Apple has been looking at the form factor since 2003.
Heretofore, however, all of those projects have run up against The Steve Jobs Wall and his persnickety attention to one little detail: What use is a tablet computer for anything other than surfing the Web in the bathroom?
Between such subtle points and less-than-subtle issues of physics, none of them went very far inside Apple's development labs. Joshua A. Strickon, a former Apple engineer, told The Times that a project he was working on, "Couldn't be built. The battery life wasn't long enough, the graphics performance was not enough to do anything and the components themselves cost more than $500."
Despite such problems, however, it would appear that the form factor had enough favor to continue getting new opportunities at an Apple life.
For instance, one unnamed former Apple executive said, "I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don't know where I would fit that into my life. Those are the debates that have been happening inside Apple for quite some time."
Today, the rumor mill has been in a full court press touting the notion that Apple will release some form of tablet device in 2010, which suggests that the twin demons of what it will be used for and getting components at the right price and performance ratio have been conquered.
That said, The Mac Observer's advice has always been that a new Mac/iPhone/iPod/unannounced-Tablet device on your desk is worth two on a rumor site, so take even the Times' Apple former employee sources with a grain of salt.