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Friday, March 17, 2006, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Apple reserves room for changes atop iPod line

Without explicitly stating so, Apple has taken measures to allow itself room to make changes at the top of its iPod product line this spring, if it chooses to do so.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company recently informed some of its partners and big box retailers that it has placed the top-of-the-line 60GB fifth-generation iPod on its 60-day "at risk" list. The 30GB iPod was not placed on the list.

According to sources, when Apple makes note of an item being placed on an "at risk list," it could mean one of many things, or nothing at all. Simply, it's the company's way of warning resellers that it may make changes to that product, replace it with a newer model, offer a price reduction or discontinue it, among other things. Therefore, resellers should keep a close eye on their inventory management of such products.

With several analysts — and the tech sector in general — expecting Apple to soon introduce a video iPod with a larger display screen, people familiar with the company's operations say nudging such a product into the iPod line through the highest price point would pose the least risk. Since it's unclear how such a product will initially fare with consumers, a single and high-end entry point would allow Apple to cautiously assess real-world demand without jeopardizing an entire line of iPods that continue to sell fairly well, these people said.

Still, it's unclear if and when Apple will make the jump from its current fifth-generation iPods to a model with a larger screen and additional video features. Sources can only confirm that the company holds several iPod designs with displays larger than today's models and is very excited about the prospect of iPods with wireless capabilities a little further down the line.

The 60GB iPod was placed on the 60-day at risk list about a month ago.