With a huge Christmas-eve surge in its stock Thursday, Apple Inc. has almost reached market parity with Google and Wal-Mart.

The 3.4 percent or $6.94 rise in Apple’s stock during the day took its market value to $188 billion. The Apple stock sold for $209.04, surpassing the previous high of $207 last month.

The stock surge brought Apple within striking distance of Google Inc. ($196 billion) and Wal-Mart ($204 billion).

The Cupertino-based (California) software manufacturer is already ahead of IBM Corp. ($171 billion) and General Electric ($164 billion) in market valuation.

The spurt in its stock has been fuelled by the speculation that the company is set to unveil an Apple tablet computer next month.

The new device, which could be called iPad, will be a cross between the iPhone and the Kindle reading device.

The New York Times said Wednesday that “there are too many signs that point in this direction” of the Apple tablet.

The San Francisco Chronicle also said Thursday that the tablet device “will likely be similar to an iPod Touch but with a 10-inch screen.”

The tablet will run a version of the iPhone OS software made to handle larger applications, the newspaper quoted a software analyst as saying.

The newspaper said “Apple’s tablet would compete well in the netbook category even though it would not be a netbook. Rather, it would focus more on apps, entertainment content (from the iTunes Store) and web surfing.”

According to a gadget blog, Apple is may launch a 7-inch tablet alongside or in place of the speculated 10-inch tablet.

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