John Markoff of the New York Times is reporting that a source from a search engine has shared log information showing hits from "an unannounced Apple product with a display somewhere between an iPhone and a MacBook."
By itself, that might not have attracted much attention. But during a rare appearance on Apple's earnings call this week, Steve Jobs commented that Apple didn't "know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk" and - far more positively - that Apple is watching the nascent market for netbooks (small, inexpensive, portable computers used primarily for Web and email access).
Combine Jobs's comments with the search engine logs, and it's easy to imagine an iPhone- or iPod touch-like device with a larger screen. Just because Apple can't build a sub-$500 computer that's not junk doesn't mean they can't build a sub-$500 device based on the iPhone software. Sounds an awful like the device I suggested in "Open Letter to Steve Jobs: In Support of an iPod reader" (2008-03-05), doesn't it?
However, much as I'd love to see an iPod reader and believe that it would be good business for Apple, I'm suspicious of the evidence as given.
A quick scan through my Google Analytics shows a wide range of screen resolutions: 393 in the last month, including a few hits from devices that report pixel counts from 0 by 0 (clearly an audio-only Web browser) all the way up to 65536 by 65536 (must be a custom screen used on the sly by Bill Gates's Mac-using housekeeper). There are tons of hits from devices reporting resolutions between an iPhone and a MacBook. Our traffic is infinitesimal in comparison with that of a search engine, but I can't see how more data would do anything but further muddy the issue.
There are two other things this anonymous search engine could do to glean more information about a particular screen resolution, which I can't do easily. First, they could limit the search to IP number ranges known to belong to Apple, and second, they could examine the user-agent strings for suspicious resolutions. Although it's conceivable that Apple would allow prototype devices out on the Internet from within an Apple-controlled IP range, I can't imagine seeing a user-agent string along the lines of "Unannounced Apple Product."
So, I have to say that I'm not buying the rumor, much as I would buy the device if it actually existed.