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“[Jobs is] supportive of the old guard and looks to help them by giving them new forms of distribution. What drives all of these changes is technology, and Apple has an ability to influence that."
——an unnamed exec

APPLE RUMOR MILL HEATS UP IN ADVANCE OF TABLET UNVEILING

From the Tablet to the Cloud, All Eyes Are on Cupertino, as Countdown to Jan. 27 Continues
Apple’s new tablet will access all kinds of content and have all kinds of uses, according to several published reports.

An in-depth analysis appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal by Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ethan Smith posits that “Steve Jobs is betting he can reshape businesses like textbooks, newspapers and television much the way the iPod revamped the music industry—and expand Apple's influence and revenue as a content middleman… The company envisions that the tablet can be shared by multiple family members to read news and check email in homes.”

The WSJ reporters spoke with a number of sources in preparing the piece, and this is what they learned:

Print: Apple has recently been in discussions with the New York Times, Conde Nast, HarperCollins and News Corp. over content for the tablet.

TV: The company is negotiating with networks for a monthly TV subscription service. Videogames: Apple is working with Electronic Arts to show off the tablet's gaming capabilities.

Music: Another potential use of the tablet that has not been mentioned, apart from speculation on the part of our own I.B. Bad, is its seemingly natural fit with the iTunes Album initiative.  

Jobs has a longstanding strategy of devising new ways to access and pay for quality content, instead of reinventing the content, Kane and Smith point out. The iTunes Store, for instance, became the world's largest music retailer partly by making it easy for people to buy music, while Apple TV was also designed so people can buy and rent movies and TV shows.

Jobs is "supportive of the old guard and looks to help them by giving them new forms of distribution," says a person who has worked with the CEO. "What drives all of these changes is technology, and Apple has an ability to influence that."

Jobs's effort to repackage and resell more media content is not without obstacles. He has already faced resistance from television companies and cable network providers over Apple's desire to license just their best content rather than all of it. At a meeting in New York with one network in October, an Apple executive said the company was specifically looking to access four to six shows per channel.

“There’s a battle going on for what is the value of a digital book,” an unnamed publishing executive told the N.Y. Times. “In that battle, Apple has put an offer together that helps publishers and, by extension, authors.” Some publishers warn that Apple’s terms can be restrictive in other ways, and that a model that looks good in theory may not be as attractive in practice.

Apple's tablet foray faces several obstacles, note Kane and Smith. Analysts say demand will depend on its price, which some believe will be about $1,000. Apple must also convince consumers the product is worth buying in addition to an iPhone and a laptop. And Apple faces competition from cheaper netbooks and other devices such as the Amazon Kindle.

Holding a 10-inch screen in your hands is similar to holding a hardcover book, and doesn’t feel too much bigger than a Kindle or netbook, notes N.Y. Times tech writer Nick Bilton, speculating about the tablet in tactile terms. “Although this screen doesn’t fit in your pocket, it does feel surprisingly natural in your hands—much smaller than a traditional magazine and a little larger than a paper book.” It’s also thought that the tablet will come with a virtual keyboard.

In other Apple news, the company is said to be in serious discussions with Microsoft to incorporate Bing into the iPhone as its default search and map technologies.

The company has also been planning a revamp of iTunes by creating a Web-based version of it that could launch as soon as June. Tentatively called iTunes.com, the service would allow customers to buy music without going through the iTunes app. Reportedly a central part of the new strategy is to populate as many websites as possible with 'buy' buttons.

Despite speculation that Apple acquired Lala so that it could launch a subscription service to complement downloads at the iTunes Store, digital music veteran Michael Robertson (remember him?) opined in a guest post on TechCrunch that the company is actually planning a cloud-based service. Among Lala's assets is a personal storage service, which loads a user's personal music library into an online locker, so that users can stream their collection from any connected device.

"This technology plus the engineering and management team is the true value of Lala to Apple," Robertson said. Such a service would allow Apple to expand the iTunes software for its 100 million+ users without having to pay additional streaming licensing fees. "Because users are in possession of the materials, no new licenses are required from the record labels or publishers," Robertson added. "Record labels are wary to give Apple even greater dominance, which is why Apple's new strategy is designed to sidestep new licenses from the major labels."

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