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Steve Jobs seen returning post-WWDC brandishing new iPhones

While all eyes are on Apple's annual developers conference as a likely forum for new iPhone hardware announcements, one Wall Street analyst is advising clients that better bets may be placed on an event a few weeks later that may also mark the return of Steve Jobs.

In a note to clients, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he believes a press release from Apple on Wednesday regarding its WWDC keynote plans suggests the event will largely focus around software and may have even been drafted as such to reset expectations for the conference.

"As indicated in today's press release, we believe Apple will focus on the new version of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard at WWDC," he wrote. "While some investors may be expecting Apple to launch redesigned iPhones at WWDC, we do not anticipate the launch in early June."

Instead, Munster is placing his money on a surprise media event that would take place sometime in late June or early July following Jobs' return. He believes the event will be used to usher in a new "family" of iPhones, including a cheaper model that he sees playing into Apple's strategy for the Chinese cell phone market which could materialize by September.

"We continue to expect multiple models, possibly a high-end iPhone with improved specs from the current version and a low-end version with lower capacity and fewer features along with a reduced pricing plan," the analyst wrote.

With Phil Schiller announced as the keynote speaker for this year's WWDC, some investors may have renewed concern that Jobs may never return to the company, according to Munster, who maintains his belief that co-founder is on track to return later in the month, per comments from other members of the company's leadership.

"This is consistent with our expectations as well as Apple's indications that Steve Jobs is still planning on returning to the company 'at the end of June' (emphasis added)," he wrote. "In order for Jobs to deliver the keynote on June 8th, he would likely begin preparations well before his intended return date."

Munster's presumptions may carry some weight given that new iPhone hardware will require advancements present in iPhone Software 3.0, which is unlikely to be ready for public consumption as early as WWDC. Only last week did Apple issue a mandate requiring all developers to certify that new and updated app submissions are compatible with the upcoming software update.