Will the ‘iTablet’ run iPhone OS or Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard?

As “iTablet” (Macbook Touch? iPhone Cinema?) rumors have reached a fever pitch in recent days thanks to several disclosures and leaks by third parties privy to late-stage prototypes of the device, speculation has mounted as to which variant of OS X it will run — will it be an iPhone (ARM CPU, iPhone OS) or a Mac (Intel processor, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard)?

The most difficult part of answering this question, for even the most well-informed and -connected of insiders, is that Apple has explored both possibilities and has been extensively revamping countless elements of the Snow Leopard interface to make multi-touch input more practical. One way or another, Macs will eventually adopt multi-touch displays; it’s just a matter of when and what models, at what price ranges.

Earlier this year, as Mac OS Rumors has reported previously, even more dramatic interface tweaking experiments were conducted at Infinite Loop as proposed elements of Snow Leopard and prototype hardware for both Tablet and “Netbook Touch” designs was developed.

However, the final decision came down — as it nearly always does — to a small group of people sitting down in the Executive Suite with Steve Jobs present. Jobs’ opinion isn’t the end-all-be-all that it once was, but it still carries considerable weight and in the end, it was Jobs’ gut reactions to the various prototypes which decided “Scaled up iPhone vs. Scaled-down Mac” debate.

Although work continues on several new ARM/iPhoneOS based “iDevices” (including two with larger, HD-capable displays at 1280×720 and 1920×1080) and the iPod Touch “S” is ready to roll at the mid-September Apple Event where we expect to see the iTablet unveiled, some of our oldest and most reliable sources at Infinite Loop reported this week that the company’s answer to both the Netbook and Tablet PC markets will indeed use Intel Processors (possibly Atom, but this is not confirmed because many reports indicate a very powerful CPU) and an unmodified version of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Referred to by many sources as “Macbook Touch,” the device would come in three variants: One with 7.2Mbps 3G support for AT&T’s network, one with a different 3G chipset for other providers including Verizon(!), and a third version with only 802.11n Wi-Fi for those who don’t want to be tied down to a cellular plan.

The cellular-data chipset equipped versions could be purchased at subsidized prices (no more than $800, and quite possibly less), whereas the Wi-Fi Only version would sell for somewhat more, lacking said subsidies from the cellular providers. However, due to the lack of cellular chipset, the difference may be under $200 and possibly only $100 depending on which model (at least two different models with different CPU speeds, amounts of built-in RAM, and storage space are strongly rumored to exist) one chooses.

There are many details still left wide open to speculation and debate; also, the convergence of iPhone OS and Mac OS X (which are already more or less the same operating system except for high-level APIs and user interface designs specific to their input methods/display sizes) continues at a blistering pace internally at Infinite Loop….so drawing distinctions between iPhone and Mac products will become increasingly irrelevant in the coming year.

One element that helped make the decision for Infinite Loop was the need for a large-screen device to be pluggable into a “normal” (physical, non-touch) keyboard for stationary use and faster text input, as well as the ability to run both App Store (which would expand into both Touch and non-Touch Mac applications with this announcement) and independently distributed applications. A stylus/pen-input option will also reportedly be available for those who want to interact more precisely with objects too small for finger-input or who want the option of handwritten text entry, screen-drawing and so on.

We will be reporting on many more details of the September Apple Event and the products we expect to see announced there, which may not be limited to the “S-class” iPod Touch and the Macbook Touch/iTablet, in the near future so stay tuned. Things are about to get very interesting in the Apple world; we haven’t seen excitement reach these levels in Cupertino since the days leading up to the announcement of the original iPhone itself.

Things are evolving rapidly at Apple, and here at Rumors as well; if you haven’t already, don’t forget to Follow MacOSRumors on Twitter for all the latest including bite-sized updates you won’t find anywhere else. And as always, we welcome your emails and your Web comments which can be submitted simply by using the form below.

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