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Will Apple's tablet transform the way we read?

Three Januarys ago, when Apple announced the launch of its iPhone, the news was mostly taken sitting down — at desks and kitchen tables reading computer screens and printed newspapers.

Today, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs walks onto a San Francisco stage to presumably announce an Apple tablet computer, the news will be arrive in real time with tweets and live blogs available on the now ever-present smart phone.

That announcement, scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern time, has regular folks and techies buzzing not only about what features this supposed super e-reader might have, but what the technology might mean in our everyday lives. As consumers make the bumpy transition from print products to online, will a tablet be a new leap toward changing the way we read?

"I think it could be a behavior changer," says electronic media veteran Shelly Palmer, an author and commentator on technology and society. "I think a lot of people are going to take a run at this."

Not that we know exactly what behavior Apple wants us to change. The company has expertly stoked speculation by declining to acknowledge that a tablet even exists, but leaks and reports have sketched an outline of what it will be.

The product will likely resemble the iPhone, but with a 10-inch touchscreen — about the size of last year's rage, netbooks. Almost certainly, the tablet will offer Internet access via wireless signal or a phone carrier's cellular network. The cost? Expect $700-$1,000 up front, less if a carrier subsidizes some of the price in exchange for, say, a two-year data contract.

From there, less-specific speculation takes over — with much of it centering on how Apple's tablet might deliver old media, such as newspapers and magazines. Apple has been in talks with book and magazine publishers, according to reports, and The New York Times is developing a version for the device.

"I believe these are the first steps (in tablet technology)," said Chris Hendricks, vice president of Interactive Media for McClatchy, owner of the Observer. Hendricks declined to say if McClatchy has spoken with Apple, but he said the company has been in contact "with several vendors in that space."

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