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Thursday, January 04, 2007, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Apple seen launching new iPod, iTV and iPhone at Macworld

New Apple product announcements at next week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco could include iTV, a new iPod, and the iPhone, according to a Macworld Rumor Roundup issued by research and investment firm PiperJaffray on Thursday.

"Despite all of the talk regarding new product announcements, or lack thereof, at Macworld, we continue to believe that the announcement of an iPhone would be positive for Apple shares and no sign of this product would be a negative," analyst Gene Munster told clients in the report.

The analyst went on to say that it's his belief that Apple has not missed the boat in the music-enabled handset market. "Apple waited several years to enter the MP3 market, we believe the company is well-positioned to enter the phone market now that early music-enabled handsets have tested the waters," he explained. "Apple will differentiate itself by offering iTunes integration on Macs and PCs, and by leveraging its expertise in software engineering for media playing devices."

Munster also offered his take on several Apple product rumors, including a ranking of certainty and some expected release dates. His analysis on each of the rumors is being published in full for reader appreciation:

Almost Certain (in the next 2-6 months):

1. iPhone entering production phase of 12m units (Certainty rank: 9 out of 10). In Nov-06 two separate reports came from Asian news sources indicating that Taiwanese manufacturer Hon Hai's subsidiary Foxconn had received a 12m unit contract for the iPhone. According to Commercial Time the manufacturer signed the contract with Apple to produce 12m units for a scheduled release in 1H07. Additionally, China Times reported that the manufacturer will produce between 500,000-600,000 units per month starting in early CY07.

2. iTV ($299) release at Macworld with some improvements from September debut (10 out of 10). At a Sep-06 event, Apple introduced the iTV, a wireless media streaming device to view iTunes content on a TV. At the show, the device was simply streaming media (but did not store it locally); we believe Apple could release an improved model with an internal hard disk drive. Downloadable movies average about 1.5GB each on iTunes and one way that Apple can ease capacity restrictions is to add hard drive space to the iTV. We believe Apple will eventually improve on the iTV shown in September, but the improvements may not come until after the initial release.

Likely (in the next 6-12 months):

3. iPhone with candy-bar form factor (9 out of 10). Given the fact that the iPhone will be Apple's first dip into the mobile handset pool, it is likely that the phone will come in a candy-bar form factor. Clamshell devices are often more prone to bugs and glitches, so when Apple releases its first phone, it will probably be a candy-bar style with limited moving parts and simpler software engineering.

4. Widescreen iPod with touch-sensitivity and wireless features (7 out of 10). According to several Apple patents, along with word from component suppliers, Apple is working on a 6th generation widescreen iPod that could feature touch-screen capability. We believe that the new iPod will be a significant improvement to the 5th generation iPod, as the device becomes more video-centric. As such, the iPod line would feature small music-centric and "wearable" players as well as a larger music player with more video-centric features. Eventually, Apple will also likely add wireless syncing technology to the player, but battery drain remains a critical concern before such a feature is added.

5. Second smartphone iPhone model with integrated keyboard (7 out of 10). Indications from component suppliers point to the possibility of a second iPhone model featuring an integrated keyboard. We believe the initial iPhone release will include a single model, but Apple will likely expand the iPhone line to include a smartphone device for instant messaging and emailing at some point.

6. iSight camera, 4GB or 8GB storage on the iPhone (7 out of 10). Recent rumors point to an initial release of two iPhone models: a 4GB version for $249 and an 8GB model for $449. Both models are rumored to feature two separate batteries in the handset, one for the phone and one for the music player. Also, Apple has successfully branded the iSight cameras on the MacBook and MacBook Pro portables and it is likely that they will eventually extend the brand to the iPhone line. With music, photos, and video from iTunes, the iPhone will be a media-rich device and an iSight camera would add to the eco-system of media/communications on the device.

7. Multiple carriers as iPhone providers (vs. Cingular only or MVNO (6 out of 10). We believe Apple will target as broad an audience as possible with the iPhone. Accordingly, the company will likely sell the handset through most or all of the top wireless service providers (Verizon, Sprint, Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S.). That said it is possible that Cingular could obtain exclusive vending rights for a limited time. Early CY07 could be the ideal time for the release of the iPhone through Cingular. January and February 2007 will include the Macworld keynote on January 9, CES from January 8-11, and key marketing opportunities during the Cingular-sponsored American Idol Premier on January 16 &17 and the Super Bowl on February 4. This may be the "perfect storm" for the release of the iPhone, especially as a Cingular exclusive. An additional option would be for Apple to use a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) system. We have not seen any hard evidence that indicates whether Apple will choose to go with an exclusive provider, several providers, or the route of an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).

A Stretch (possibly in the next 12-18 months):

8. Ultra-portable 12" MacBook Pro (4 out of 10). With the Intel transition successfully completed, Apple is ready to innovate the product line with the possible addition of an ultra-portable addition to the MacBook family. With the release of the 15" and 17" MacBook Pros, Apple decided not to carry the 12" PowerBook model into the MacBook Pro lineup. If a 12" MacBook Pro is released, we believe the product will address the need for extreme portability; not simply a smaller MacBook Pro. Another possibility is that of a touch-screen tablet Mac. Rather than marketing the tablet computer to business users (like tablet PCs), we believe that a tablet Mac would be targeted at home users desiring to wirelessly control media content. Again, this rumor is 'a stretch' because we have not seen any hard evidence, other than several patent applications, that point to the release of a tablet Mac.

9. Radio-transparent material used for iPhone casing (3 out of 10). Since current iPod casings would serve as poor mobile phone casings, Apple is looking into new casing materials. Specifically, the material must enable radio-waves to penetrate the device's exterior. In a Nov-06 patent application Apple describes a computing device with radio-transparent material like zirconia used as the casing. We see this patent application as evidence that the iPhone is coming, but we hesitate to draw conclusions on the specifics of the device based on such patents.

10. iPhone to feature 'iChat Mobile' video and instant messaging (2 out of 10). Again, we believe that the iPhone will be a media-centric communications device and messaging features would work nicely with such an ecosystem. While it is unlikely that the first iPhone will feature video conferencing, this is certainly a feature the company could add to future models, including a possible smartphone model.

11. OSX 10.5 Leopard release at Macworld (3 out of 10). While Microsoft has delayed the consumer launch of Windows Vista to January 30, 2007, Apple announced plans to release OSX 10.5, Leopard, in "spring 2007." These releases are not necessarily a race to the finish line, but we believe that Apple will work hard to ship Leopard close to the release of Vista.