Apple tablet rumors get interesting with scavenger hunt, lawyering

Gawker on Wednesday offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who could provide access to an Apple tablet before its release. Today, they got a cease and desist letter from Apple's legal team.

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    Newton 2.0? Apple tablet rumors got a boost Thursday when Apple's lawyers sent Gawker a letter demanding it call off a contest that would have paid people for sending in pictures or photos of the device (if it exists).
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As Apple product speculation tends to, tablet rumors have become a sort of sport.

Last year, gossip began to surface that Apple would be rolling out a larger-format portable device without a keyboard – dubbed at times the iTablet, Apple Tablet, and any of a handful of other monikers.

Revelations of various levels of credibility have leaked out along the way, from "confirmed" Taiwan parts orders and San Francisco venue reservations to media exec slip-ups, cryptic URL registrations, and obscure Apple ad filming reports. Our take on the likelihood of an Apple Tablet being released later this month is here, but a little back-and-forth between Apple and the folks over at Gawker has thrown fresh gasoline on the debate.

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Tired of speculation, conjecture, and "people familiar with the matter," Wednesday Gawker Media threw down the gauntlet. It offered a bounty, up to $100,000, to the reader who provided it with exclusive photos, video, or face time with the Apple tablet before its unveiling. They called it their "Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt."

Apple has said absolutely nothing about its tablet, but everyone expects it to be unveiled in San Francisco on Jan. 27. So, that gives you to two weeks to play in Valleywag's Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt: If you can find the first genuine photos, video or — the holy grail — the actual messiah machine itself before then and they're exclusive to us, we'll give you a cash prize.

An entertaining proposition, no? Apple's lawyers didn't think so.

On Thursday morning, a letter arrived at Gawker's SoHo headquarters from Menlo Park law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. It alleged that Gawker was encouraging illegal activity, and asked the company to call off the contest. The firm's Michael Spillner wrote:

While Apple values and appreciates vibrant public commentary about its products, we believe you and your company have crossed the line by offering a bounty for the theft of Apple's trade secrets. Such an offer is illegal and Apple insists that you immediately discontinue the Scavenger Hunt.
... Apple reserves the right to seek any and all remedies against you, your company, and anyone who makes an illegal submission to you in response to the offer.

What Apple apparently didn't realize (or did it? – conspiracy theorists: ready, go!) is that by clamping down on the contest, and referring to the up-till-now mythical tablet as "an unannounced and highly confidential Apple product," it is, by some accounts, confirming the existence of the very device it was trying to keep secret.

For its part, Gawker remained unmoved, and insists that the contest is still on, but cautions would-be winners to submit their entries from anonymous email addresses.

As for the existence of an Apple tablet, and the likelihood of its being unveiled in less than two weeks at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center, we're still unconvinced. And until Steve Jobs holds it up, Lion King-style for all the world to see, that's how we'll remain.

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What's your take? Is an Apple tablet coming? (And do you have any proof?) Does Apple's legal department letter strengthen or weaken the case for one? Leave a comment, and follow us on Twitter for the latest in tech.

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