Those persistent rumours of an Apple 'iTablet' style device just refuse to go away, with the latest news from 'un-named manufacturing sources' in the Far East suggesting that Apple may be preparing to launch a 9.7-inch touchscreen device for launch in October at around the $800 mark.

The latest reports emerged from the usually fairly respectable China Times - via Macrumors - with Apple unsurprisingly refusing to comment on rumour or speculation.

"Taiwan's high-tech supply chain companies said Apple will debut its first netbook in October; Apple will pose itself to tackle the Christmas shopping season. Three corporations – Foxconn, Wintek, Dynapack have received direct orders from Apple," reads the original report.

"During the past several years, there have been countless rumors about Apple competing the netbook market, but this year, Apple formally finalized orders for netbooks," the report continues, intimating that a finished product launch is likely to be planned for October later this year.

Instead of following the "current market trend (by producing netbooks with screens about 10.2 or 10.1 inches in diagonal length)" the report instead suggests Apple "will produce screens with about 9.7 inches in diagonal length. Touch screen will be installed. Wintek will be the main manufacturer of the touch screen."

China Times is also adamant that "Foxconn will be the main manufacture for Apple's new netbooks, since Foxconn cooperated with Apple on designing and ultimately manufacturing iPhone" and that "Apple will not target low-end consumers, avoiding direct competition with Acer, Asus, as well as their less-than-500-dollars netbooks. Apple's netbook (or a "tablet" as many call it,) will probably be sold at around $800 USD each."

Is the market ready for an iTablet?

Not everybody is convinced that Apple will finally launch a (comparatively) low-cost, small form-factor netbook or 'iTablet' this year.

The Apple netbook has been rumoured for around two years now, and it never seems to emerge," says Ian Osbourne, Reviews Editor on MacFormat.

"I'd love to see it happen, but I doubt this rumour is any more reliable than previous ones, especially given that price."

A recent Gartner report noted that "mini-notebook units posted their first quarter-over-quarter decline in the first quarter of 2009… reflect[ing] increasing competition between mini-notebooks and low-end mainstream mobile PCs as the former evolve toward larger screen sizes, and the latter continue to drop in price. In effect, mini-notebooks are becoming just another value-based mobile-PC offering.

That report continues: "Mobile-PC units are forecast to total 149 million units in 2009, a 4.1 per cent increase over 2008, but spending on mobile PCs is expected to decline 12.8 per cent as mobile-PC average selling prices (ASP) continue to drop at an unprecedented rate.

"The drop in mobile-PC ASP reflects a pronounced market shift to lower-priced mobile PCs, driven in part by mini-notebooks but also by performance-for-price improvements in low-end mainstream mobile PCs. Desk-based PC units are now expected to total 125 million, a 15.7 per cent decline compared with 2008; spending is expected to decline 26.6 per cent."

TechRadar will be keeping our beady eye on these latest Apple rumours and bringing you updates as and when we get them.

Update: VentureBeat speculates that the new netbook could use ARM-based chips designed in-house as part of Apple's acquisition of PA Semi last year.

It notes that Apple got some serious chip-designing talent as part of the deal and says that PA Semi's team was split into two parts, one designing portable ARM-based processors for iPhones and iPods, and another designing a processor for the tablet device.

Via Macrumors.com