The neverending speculation over Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rumored tablet device is getting white-hot, and this time, there's more than reports of Apple talking to music industry executives or back-channel rumors from Chinese suppliers. Apple has supposedly booked a date to unveil its next wondergadget.

According to Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider: "Apple is preparing to show off a new, larger mobile device with a higherresolution display in January -- probably a version of the Apple tablet we've been hearing about for months -- according to a plugged-in source in the mobile industry."

Throw in The Financial Times report that Apple has booked the Yerba Buena Arts Center in San Francisco for a product announcement in late January, and there's a pretty clear picture of where Apple's headed.

The popularity of netbooks forced major U.S. computer manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) to scramble to keep up with low-cost Asian peers such as Acer. Given the race to the pricing bottom in small-form-factor computers, it's no surprise Apple stayed out of the segment. It's just not the company's style.

However, the convergence of mobile computing devices and PCs has opened up quite a few creative opportunities in the low-end computing market. It's given companies an opportunity to build their own niche, and created platforms that can actually command a degree of premium pricing. Now there's an area where Apple can mint a fortune.

But the company's not alone: Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is rolling out a new concept for a small mobile computer that exists between netbooks and mobile phones. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has its surprisingly innovative Courier concept lurking in the shadows.

So let's see what you've got, Apple. If the January announcement materializes, the company will likely be among those debuting competitive platforms in early 2010. Given Apple's history and pole position, I wouldn't bet against it in this race.

Excited about the Tablet? Have something on your mind about Apple? Sound off in the comments section below!

Eric Bleeker owns shares in no companies named above. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation, while Dell is a former recommendation. Motley Fool Options recommended a diagonal call strategy on Microsoft. The Fool's disclosure policy is pleased with itself.