Shares of Apple Inc reached their all-time high on Thursday, as excitement builds over the expected release of its tablet computer.

Although Apple itself has never acknowledged the existence of such a device, anticipation is peaking as the company enters the new year.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported on its blog that the company has rented a stage at a venue in San Francisco and is expected to make a major product announcement on January 26.

The report, which cited people familiar with the plans, did not say whether Apple planned to introduce the tablet at the event. Apple has declined to comment.

The tablet is believed to be a touch-screen device that resembles a larger iPhone or iPod touch and could cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, analysts have said.

On Wednesday, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note there is a 50 percent chance Apple will announce the tablet in January, with a shipping date by the end of March.

Earlier this month Oppenheimer & Co analyst Yair Reiner said the tablet could be released in late March or April.

Although most analysts have not yet included the tablet in their financial estimates, many expect it to be significant growth driver for Apple, complementing its portfolio of iPhones, Mac computers and iPods.

Reiner said the device could add 25 cents to 38 cents to Apple's earnings per share.

The median price target on Apple is $242.50, roughly 20 percent higher than its closing share price on Wednesday.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose 3 percent to $208.83 on the Nasdaq, beating its all-time high of $208.71

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Derek Caney)