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Monday, July 09, 2007, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Jobs' London appearance fuels European iPhone speculation

A surprise appearance by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in London this week is leading to speculation that Apple may be on the verge of inking a deal with at least one European iPhone carrier.

The Apple co-founder on Sunday could be seen browsing the company's flagship shop on Regent Street, according to ifoAppleStore. This immediately lead "to speculation that he’s in town to finalize an exclusive iPhone contract with an undisclosed UK cellular carrier," the site reported.

ifo added that the Regent Street Concierge bar will be closed next Monday, July 16th, providing Jobs & Co. the perfect opportunity to announce a UK iPhone deal at the store.

Following an extremely successful iPhone launch in the United States, prospective European carriers are reportedly torn between the additional revenue the Apple handset would generate and the strict set of concessions Apple is demanding in return.

In particular, a report issued by Current Analysis last month singled out Orange as a likely shoo-in for the iPhone contract in Europe given it's significant EDGE coverage in the region. The report, however, went on to cite unnamed sources from several European carriers who said that they had spoken to Apple and found the company "unbelievably arrogant,” making demands that “simply cannot be justified, no matter how hot the product is."

For its part in the ongoing speculation, American Technology Research has cited its own sources in saying Vodafone — with a vast subscriber base in excess of 200 million — stands the greatest chance of landing a full-blown European iPhone contract. A recent peak into the resource files of Apple's latest iTunes update appears to confirm that consensus, having revealed pre-placed "default carrier" images for both Vodafone and T-Mobile.

Last week, the Rheinische Post confidently stated that Deutsche Telekom's mobile phone unit T-Mobile had clinched a deal to bring the Apple handset specifically to Germany. At the same time, a report by the Times Online claimed that O2 had secured the exclusive rights to offer iPhone in the UK.

O2, however, quickly denied the Times' report, leaving Vodafone as a potential candidate to provide iPhone to parts of Europe.