Apple tablet to come on monthly contract?

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With just six days to go until Apple's tablet makes its long-awaited debut, the latest rumours doing the rounds is that the company has approached a number of UK mobile networks to potentially offer the device on contract.

Apple sent out a press invitation to a widely predicted press event on 27 January earlier this week, where invitees will be able to "come see our latest creation". And while there continue to be arguments over whether the Apple slate will be called the iSlate or the iTablet or something else entirely there's no doubt that it will have taken a bow by this time next week.

The Guardian claims that various UK operators have been canvassed by Apple on the possibility of offering the slate on a monthly data plan over a 3G mobile network. O2, Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse are all named specifically, though all have refused to comment on what they call pure speculation.

Still, if the Guardian is to be believed and it does specifically point out that there is no hard evidence supporting the theory at this stage the contract model will be similar to the 3G laptop deals already offered by most networks, with the initial cost of the device discounted by signing up for a mobile data plan.

While the Apple tablet is expected to go on sale in the US immediately after next week's launch, it's only expected to arrive in the UK in the spring, giving networks plenty of time to strike and market the right deal.

With the tablet expected to carry a significant price tag the Wall Street Journal recently quoted a figure of $1,000, spreading it out over a fixed-term contract is seen as the most obvious way of reducing that cost, though it's unlikely that any deal at all will make the device totally free up front.

There's no definitive word as to whether Apple would seek a network exclusivity deal like it struck with O2 to bring the iPhone to market in 2007, though the Guardian claims this is unlikely.

In terms of the tablet's specification, predictions continue to vary wildly. Opinions are split between it being a conventional 7in touchscreen device and a more high-end 10in OLED edition some are saying both are in development but 3G networking and Wi-Fi are taken as a given considering how key the Apple App Store is likely to be to the slate's appeal.