Analytics firm Flurry says it has tracked down 50 devices that it believes are Apple's tablet, which the firm is expected to announce on Wednesday at an event in San Francisco.
The evidence, though, is a bit circumstantial, although it's a lot of circumstantial evidence. The devices' IPs and GPS data indicate they are at Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) Cupertino campus, but not leaving the campus, which leads Flurry to believe these are prototypes being tested.
"Testing of this device increased dramatically in January, with observed signs of life as early as October of last year. Apple appears to be going through its cycle of testing and polish, which is expected from any hardware or software company as it nears launch," the company wrote in its most recent blog post.
Flurry provides analytics for developers of mobile applications and provides its customers with usage stats, what applications are being downloaded to what device and where they are located. Because it monitors App Store applications, it knows where they are being downloaded and used, which is why it was able to get such a clear look into Christmas day sales.
But here, Flurry is making a bit of a stretch, saying the app tracking matches the "characteristics of Apple's rumored tablet device," even though the analytics don't provide any data about the characteristics of the devices. They could just as easily be new iPhones or iPod Touches, and Flurry is only tracking 200 apps, which is a drop in the bucket for the App Store, which boasts more than 100,000 apps.
"[We] identified approximately 50 devices that match the characteristics of Apple's rumored tablet device. Because Flurry could reliably 'place' these devices geographically on Apple's Cupertino campus, we have a fair level of confidence that we are observing a group of pre-release tablets in testing," Flurry wrote in its blog post.
Flurry concludes the devices being tested are tablets because games, entertainment and book apps are being used the most, which would seem to back the belief that the device would be used for gaming and e-reading.
Another unusual observation is that the devices in question are using iPhone OS version 3.2. The current iPhone runs OS 3.1.2. Why the tablet, which has never been rumored to have a phone component, would use the iPhone OS is a bit strange.
Flurry did not respond to inquiries for comment. Apple has not acknowledged the long-held rumor of the tablet, which is expected to be introduced this Wednesday and ship later this year.
In a letter to the Mac enthusiast site 9 to 5 Mac, Flurry vice president of marketing Peter Farago did answer some of the questions around his analytics.
"1) If this were an iPhone we were looking at, the hardware would tell us when we ask it (via the software). So we can rule out that this is an iPhone. Also, we already see verified iPhone devices testing OS 4.0 and these leave (Apple's Cupertino, CA) campus, whereas this device does not. This makes sense given the secrecy around the new tablet device as the launch event nears.
"2) The apps being tested match up to what the devices is supposed to feature (e.g., news, books, etc.). We cannot share further detail here due to Terms of Service agreements we have with customers that use our service, but feel that if you were able to see the data we see, at the level of granularity, it would be clear to you as well."
Late last week, Apple submitted a patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) "for implementing circuitry that can be used to control multiple solar cells to generate power for a portable electronic device." So perhaps some day your iPhone will be solar powered.
In the application, Apple proposes adding a layer of solar cells underneath a display. Given the need for screen real estate, this would benefit the larger-screen tablet than the smaller iPhone and iPod Touch.
9 to 5 Mac also has a tidbit that the tablet "isn't going to cost anywhere near $1000 as has been reported elsewhere." Rumors of the price have ranged from as low as $600 to as high as $1,000.
Finally, the sarcastically-titled The Jesus Tablet blog dug up evidence that Apple has been battling with Fujitsu over the trademark of the name "iPad." Fujitsu had such a device, running Windows CE, used in conjunction with point-of-sale systems.
Fujitsu filed for the iPad name in March 2003, the trademark was never assigned and the PTO considered the name "abandoned" in April of 2009. In June, Fujitsu resumed efforts to get the trademark passed, but Apple has since filed its challenge and three requests for extensions to the challenge.
This has driven the blogosphere crazy, since they had recently uncovered that Apple owns the domain "iSlate.com."