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Tuesday, December 30, 2008, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Outside chance of new consumer device at Macworld - analyst

While acknowledging that expectations for next week's Macworld Expo are running relatively low, one Wall Street analyst believes there's an outside chance Apple will surprise show-goers with a new consumer oriented device.

Speaking to clients in a research note, Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu said his latest round of supply chain checks lead him to believe Apple's announcements at the conference will center around new Macs and "potentially a sneak preview of Mac OS X 10.6 Leopard."

However, the analyst also cited "sources" as he echoed a pair of speculative reports (1, 2) from Apple bloggers this week, indicating the remote possibility that the Cupertino-based company may introduce a new "consumer device" that may be "an updated version of AppleTV and/or Time Capsule with enhanced capabilities including the ability to access personal content from anywhere on the Internet."

"Frankly, we would be a little surprised if there is a major announcement as we believe it would make better sense for Steve Jobs to do so himself at an Apple event," he said. "However, there is always the likelihood that Apple may surprise and send a message that Apple is a much broader and deeper company than one person, even if he/she is a living legend."

Wu continues to believe that Apple is also hard at work on new, lower-cost iPhones and other larger form factor touchscreen devices, but doesn't expect those products to see daylight until sometime in the future.

"Our sense is that investor expectations [for Macworld] are fairly modest since it was announced that CEO Steve Jobs wouldn't be the keynote speaker," he added. "Nonetheless, we view new Macs as a positive catalyst as Apple's desktop business (iMac, Mac mini, Mac Pro) needs a refresh to re-ignite sales."

Meanwhile, the Kaufman Bros. analyst said his sources indicate that the recently refreshed MacBooks and MacBook Pros continue to experience robust demand. That said, he still called upon Apple to loosen its grip on premium pricing and introduce lower price points on some of its products given the macroeconomic environment.

"We continue to believe Apple is one of the better names to own in this tough macroeconomic environment, given its strong fundamentals," he said.

Wu maintains a Buy rating and $120 price target on shares of Apple.