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Friday, May 30, 2008, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Analyst: Atom-based Apple in months, Chinese iPhone in 2008

A new research note by Lehman Brothers calls for an Apple device with an Intel Atom processor within 12 months, and expects the iPhone to reach more than one billion potential customers before the end of 2008.

Analyst Ben Reitzes makes the prediction based on Intel chief Paul Otellini's talks at a Lehman-hosted telecoms conference, where the semiconductor company head notes that he has been "positively surprised" by the take-up of the Atom by the market.

The statement contributes to an existing sentiment at Lehman that Apple may release an ultra-portable device within a year that Reitzes speculates would be oriented towards sharing media. This likelihood grows even further with statements by Otellini that future iterations of Atom will be efficient enough to fit into iPhone-sized devices as early as 2009; having this technology at the smartphone level could have significant implications for Apple, Reitzes says.

"We believe any product using Intel architecture in terms of an ultra-portable or iPhone could be met with orders in the multiple millions, making our estimates for Apple conservative," he elaborates.

The financial researcher also notes that Apple's steadily growing number of carrier deals now gives it access to a potential 650 million subscribers as of the TeliaSonera deal, or about four times as many subscribers that can be reached today. The rapid expansion is characterized as evidence that Apple is pushing for sheer volume in terms of sales and that the company may be counting on added iPhone numbers to compensate for reduced or absent carrier payments.

That number may also be poised to explode before the year is over, the analyst notes: Lehman anticipates the signing of a Chinese carrier by the end of 2008 that would push Apple's total potential customer base to one billion, or more than six times the current range. Such expansion will not only help Apple reach targets but could see any success spill over into other categories.

"We believe higher phone volumes mean that Apple will experience an enhanced halo effect that could drive millions of upside to Mac units," the researcher states.