An analyst believe there's a 50-50 chance that Apple will unveil its first tablet-sized device next month. See: Steve Jobs launches Apple iPad: full details

Gene Munster, who tracks Apple for Piper Jaffray & Co, said it's an even bet that Apple will unveil a tablet in January 2010.

In research cited by several online sources, including AppleInsider and 9to5Mac, Munster told investors that assuming Apple does introduce a tablet next month, he would expect the hardware to start shipping by the end of March.

"We expect the tablet hardware to be similar to an iPod touch but larger (about 10in); we expect the key differentiator of the device to be its software," Munster said.

"While there are several options ranging from a touch screen Mac OS X to an iPhone-like OS, we expect the tablet to be driven by a new version of Apple's iPhone OS that runs a new category of larger apps alongside all the current apps from the App Store."

Munster's commets, along with a slew of other rumors about the long-anticipated tablet, threw the Apple rumor mill into high gear.

"Our connect [sic] said there is 100 percent [chance] a 73 Apple tablet, to be announced in January," added a report from Boy Genius.

Previously, reports had pegged an Apple tablet with a screen at or close to a 10in. size, with other analysts betting that the device would debut as early as February 2010 .

Analysts and others have bandied about prices ranging from a low of $600 (£375) to a high of $2,000 (£1,250) for an Apple tablet.

Munster also said there was a 75 percent chance that Apple would host some kind of product announcement event next month.

If true, that would take the place of Apple's usual presentation at Macworld Conference & Expo, which is slated for February 9 to 12, 2010. Last year, Apple said it would no longer exhibit at Macworld, and would instead focus on its own events to launch new products.

Munster did not reply to a request for additional comment today.

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See also: Patent suggests Apple Tablet will use stylus