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What's Apple's Big Mystery Product?

Apple has already proved that it can successfully monetize most of its iPhone breakthroughs in another hand-held, noncellular product -- the iPod Touch. But what about the next size up?

What about (and I hate to call it this) an iPhone-based tablet computer? Physically, it could be a little larger. Users might be able to input via a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse product if they don't like an on-screen keyboard. They would be able to control all the music from their iPods, computers, Apple TV boxes which would communicate with iTunes and operate through Apple's clever AirPort Wi-Fi system.

Think about it: It's not only good for consumers (it would tie a number of bleeding-edge Apple products together and bring the brand solidly into the living/family room) but if priced right, it could be an answer to all those new Linux/ Windows (MSFT - Get Report)-based mini-laptops that are all the rage.

It would also be a product that would let Apple control the environment and the entire experience -- something that the company's founder likes very much.

Plus, all of this would come together just as this country's analog TV system switches to digital broadcasting next February. This could begin to give cable and satellite companies fits if it catches on.

Tablet computers are like a dirty word to the industry. Microsoft and many, many others have failed to change that perception. If anyone can, it's Apple.

And, if Apple bases it on its proven winners, the iPhone and iPod Touch, I wouldn't be surprised if next year's earnings results reflected a boost in everyone's confidence.
Gary Krakow is's senior technology correspondent.
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