Speculation that Apple is readying an 'iTablet' type device for release later in 2009 has now reached fever pitch. Now the company is apparently in talks with the four major record labels regarding plans to revitalise digital album sales with new interactive content .

Apple's own format is expected to work with its new tablet-style device as well as with currently available Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPod.

As is always the case with Apple, nothing has been officially announced. All reports on the device and on the talks of new digital music album features have to date emerged from 'unnamed sources close to the project/deals' – although the combined weight of numerous respected online and national newspaper sources in the UK and the US strongly suggests that there is substance to the rumours.

Reuters notes that a number of the major labels - EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner - had their own plans to roll out a "new album format to all digital retailers this November" but it now emerges that Apple has "decided to design its own version of an interactive album" (code-named 'Cocktail').

Forbes is a little more circumspect than most, arguing "if Apple is working with EMI, Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music Group on an effort dubbed "cocktail" to put more of their content on Apple's devices - it's a wonder the news hasn't already gotten out."

After all, music industry execs are not known for their ability to keep secrets as well as Apple!

"What we're hearing from the Financial Times, then, that isn't what the device is about. Instead we're hearing Apple's sales pitch, to the record industry, regurgitated," adds Forbes. "The real power.. will remain with whoever distributes all of this stuff: Apple. And all that content? It will be just another feature on Apple's latest, greatest gizmo."

The physical experience of an album

But what does all of this mean for the hardcore music fan? NME News Editor, Paul Stokes, for one, is excited about the possibilities, telling TechRadar that, if the rumours are on the money, "it's great to see Apple and the labels involved looking at the physical experience of releasing records.

"For too long online music providers seem to have got caught up in things like DRMs and sample rates – all important to the audio experience, but not necessarily something a true music fan will prioritise," adds the NME Editor.

"While I can't see the 'iTablet' competing with vinyl for that complete physical experience, the possibilities and different avenues the iTablet could offer fans – photo albums, making of clips, music videos and more – certainly seem worth investigating and the approach should be applauded."