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Friday, December 15, 2006, 05:00 pm PT (08:00 pm ET)

Apple to answer the Street's iPhone call on time

Contrary to sentiments recently expressed by some analysts, Apple Computer's much-rumored iPhone device is very real and will not fall victim to further delay.

People familiar with the matter tell AppleInsider the first of the iPod maker's music-enabled cell phones will begin shipping on time next quarter, regardless of when the company plans to first unveil the device to the media.

Those same people say that, thus far, delays have stemmed from the Cupertino-based company's self-imposed challenge of perfecting a scaled down variant of the Mac OS operating system that will run on the embedded device.

While AppleInsider awaits confirmation of a specific launch date, recent rumblings coupled with a lack of other significant Apple product developments suggest that industry watchers may be in store for an iPhone-tinged Macworld Expo early next month.

An introduction during the conference or shortly thereafter would allow chief executive Steve Jobs to preempt the garden variety of necessary public disclosures — such as FCC filings — that would be required of the device and threaten to spoil some of its pizzazz.

Based on a flurry of analyst checks, it appears that initial iPhone offerings will arrive in two standard configurations — a 4-gig and 8-gig — leveraging severely discounted flash memory allotments secured by Apple in recent years.

Rebecca Runkle, an analyst for Morgan Stanley who retains reputable industry contacts, recently corroborated evidence of a dual-model strategy through her own proprietary checks. She told clients in a research note this week the phones will sport a metal-clad enclosure and feature a virtual click wheel touch interface when they arrive during the first half of next year.

Runkle added that the body of the phones will be about one-fourth of an inch thick, a bit wider than an iPod nano, but also thinner than a video iPod. She said the devices will pack a "full screen LCD; 3.5 inch (28x21)" display.

Potentially bolstering the analyst's claims is a report on Broadcom released thursday by BMO Capital. In it, analysts for the firm said they believe the broadband chipmaker has recently secured a noteworthy design win for an "upcoming stealth phone," about to be "offered by a major consumer device company."

The firm's checks suggest the specific design win was for an SoC that will enable an onscreen touchpad feature for a new type of user interface for the phone. It added that the interface is likely to show up in next-generation media players as well.

In recent weeks, speculation regarding Apple's iPhone has reached absurd levels, making it nearly impossible for the company's shareholders to decipher fact from rumor from fiction. In one rampant rambling last week, an analyst for CIBC speculated that the device could see delays into the second quarter of 2007. The scare shook some investors, sending shares of the iPod maker on a multi-day skid.

That report, sources say, does not hold water.