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SAN FRANCISCO – Long-time Apple reseller Other World Computing and Axiotron, a manufacturing contractor, announced what it called “the One and Only Mac Tablet” computer at this year’s Macworld Conference and Expo here.

The Axiotron ModBook is not a Mac clone, but a stock Apple MacBook modified into tablet form. More specifically designed in a slate form—the ModBook does not include a keyboard or trackpad, though an Axiotron representative said that the ModBook will work with any USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

Instead, all input on the MacBook is made with a stylus. Axiotron replaced the standard MacBook screen with a high contrast ratio Toshiba screen, under a Wacom digitizer. When in contact with the screen, the stylus draws on it; when hovering, the stylus acts like a mouse, manipulating the cursor.

Text input is largely handled by Mac OS X’s Inkwell handwriting recognition technology. Inkwell has long been a source of speculation about Apple’s own entry into the tablet market.

Alternately, ModBook owners can use third-party applications such as Mage Software’s InkBook.

In quick use, the MacBook did a good job at recognizing even sloppy handwriting, which was used to name files for saving, as well as for taking notes. Axiotron representatives demonstrated that users can search for words even in handwritten text, and drag and drop handwritten text into word processing applications.

The ModBook will also include a built-in iSight camera. It has been aligned specifically for use when the tablet is held.

“We think the ModBook fills a niche,” said Rikki Lee Travolta, a public relations representative for OWC. He said that OWC expects to sell primarily to artists, people in the medical community and students, populations that have been the largest tablet computing demographic.

Travolta denied that offering the ModBook will endanger OWC’s relationship with Apple. “We’d never do anything we’d see as damaging our relationship with Apple,” he said.

Click here to read about the introduction of the iPhone and other products at Macworld Expo.

Travolta said that he could not give out numbers of pre-orders received, though he said there had been “significant response” in the first few days of the product’s announcement. “We intend to meet all demand,” he said.

Andreas Haas, the president of Axiotron, said that his company should be able to meet production demands. However, he said, “We may have to revise our production capacity” depending on the number of orders that come in.

Haas, who has previously worked at Apple as, among other things, the European manager of the Newton Business Unit, said that the ModBook would support booting into Windows through Apple’s Boot Camp software.

He noted that using the ModBook as a Windows-based tablet PC would require jumping through a few hoops.

Click here to read why Cisco Systems filed a lawsuit claiming that Apple’s unauthorized use of the iPhone product name violates its trademark.

First, he said, only a specific version of Vista would work on the ModBook. “There’s no retail version of Windows XP Tablet” for users to purchase, Haas said. “I’d have to buy it [as an OEM] and bundle it.”

As a result, Haas said, Axiotron will provide, but not support, drivers for Vista on the ModBook, which should provide the necessary functionality.

Haas claimed that the ModBook is price-competitive with Windows-based PC tablets, especially considering the ModBook’s SuperDrive, iSight and other specifications.

OWC is offering the ModBook in three configurations, called an Apple-like “Good”, “Better” and “Best.”

Prices are currently at a “pre-reserve” (before Feb. 1) special pricing, ranging from $2,199 for a 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo model with 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a combo optical drive to $2,699 for a 2.0GHz version with 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and a SuperDrive.

OWC will include the optional integrated GPS unit with early orders.

The MacBook will come with a one-year warranty through OWC. An optional three-year warranty will also be available.

This compares to $1,099 for a stock MacBook at the low end. The top-of-the-line MacBook retails at $1,499, but with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.

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