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Thursday, February 09, 2006, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Analyst predicts iBooks, touch-screen iPod at event in April

Analysts for Needham & Co this week said they believe Apple will hold a special media event sometime in April to unveil Intel-based iBooks and a touch-screen video iPod.

"At the end of his Macworld keynote address in January, Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, noted that the company will celebrate its 30th birthday on April 1, 2006," analyst Charles Wolf wrote in a research note released to clients on Thursday. "While it’s possible that Jobs’ was simply pointing out the longevity of Apple, we interpret it as a signal that Apple will hold a major birthday party in the form of new product event around that date, most likely in early April."

In recent weeks, sources have told AppleInsider that Apple is preparing for a special event to introduce new products, but were short on specifics and did not provide a precise time-frame.

"The one sure-fire product Apple has to introduce is an iBook running on the Intel single core Yonah processor," wrote Wolf. The analyst notes that the K-12 school-buying season begins in May; and the iBook represents an increasing fraction of Apple sales in this market. "Failure to have an Intel iBook ready for the school-buying season could significantly jeopardize Apple’s education sales," the analyst added.

Wolf also believes that Apple will use the event introduce the "real" video iPod. "Apple was careful to call the iPod capable of displaying video that it introduced in October just that—an iPod that played music but also featured a video viewing capability," he wrote.  "According to our sources, the screen on the Video iPod will occupy the entire front of the current iPod with a touch-activated scroll wheel."

Assuming the iPod retains the fifth-generation form factor, this move will increase the size of the screen three-fold, the analyst said.

In supporting his predictions, Wolf said his conviction that a Video iPod will be introduced stems from two events. The first is that the company is rapidly increasing the video content available at the iTunes Music Store.

"In view of Apple’s increasingly cozy relationship with Disney, we would not be surprised to see ESPN’s Sport Center show up at the store in the near future," the analyst wrote. "In our opinion, the rapid increase in the iTMS’s video offerings is a strong signal that an iPod with a much larger screen is on the way."

The other event that could signal the imminent arrival of the video iPod, according to Wolf, are reports coming out of Asia that Apple has materially reduced its orders of the iPod with video viewing capabilities that it introduced last October.

"One hypothesis is that sales of this model have fallen below Apple’s previous expectations for the quarter," the analyst wrote. "An equally plausible hypothesis is that Apple is draining inventories of the iPod from the distribution channel in advance of its introduction of the new model."

In making his predictions, Wolf noted that products Apple might introduce at its April event could extend beyond the Intel iBook and video iPod. The analyst noted that an Intel-based Mac mini destine for the living room may also be in the cards.

Needham & Co maintains a "hold" rating on Apple shares.