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Thursday, January 14, 2010, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Next-gen Apple iPhone rumored to have Magic Mouse-like touch panel

Apple will introduce a new iPhone in 2010 that will employ a touch-sensitive plastic back casing similar to the one used on the company's new Magic Mouse, one analyst has said.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Robert Chen with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said the new iPhone will go into production as early as April, and will be available to customers in June or July. He said the plastic back panel of the phone could have a touch-sensitive solid shell, much like on the Magic Mouse.

Indeed, Apple in recent years has described the benefits of touch-sensitive enclosures for future handheld devices in patent filings like the one made in July of 2006 entitled: "Electronic Device Having Display and Surrounding Touch Sensitive Bezel for User Interface and Control."

The new hardware could also include an updated version of the iPhone operating system, Chen said.

"Apple’s going to put a lot of innovation, not just on the hardware, but also on the software of the new iPhone," he told Bloomberg.

Chen's predictions are more in line with conventional thinking than a report from earlier this week, in which executives at a South Korean wireless provider claimed a fourth-generation iPhone could see a limited debut in April with a dual-core processor and potentially a removable battery.

Contrary to that rumor, Apple typically announces new iPhone hardware at its annual Worldwide Developer's Conference. It is believed Apple could hold that event starting June 28, coinciding with Chen's claims of a June or July debut for the new iPhone.

The Magic Mouse, introduced in October, lacks any physical buttons on its solid acrylic surface. It allows multi-touch controls that are closer to that of a MacBook trackpad, allowing secondary clicks and finger-based gestures.

The new hardware accomplishes this feat with capacitive touch sensors that cover nearly the entire surface of the hardware. This allows the aluminum base to be covered by a smooth multi-touch panel. The Magic Mouse had a successful debut, doubling Apple's share of the mouse market in just 8 weeks.

It should be noted that several patent filings from Apple that preceded the Magic Mouse's introduction hinted a the direction the Cupertino-based company would take its future mice designs, like this one filed in March of 2006 and another one filed 8 months later.

As for an update to the iPhone software, recent rumors have said that a new software development kit for iPhone OS 4.0 could be revealed later this month. It was said that the new kit includes a "simulator" that allows developers to adapt their iPhone applications for different screen sizes and resolutions.

This week, one rumor claimed there has been a lack of updates to the current iPhone OS because the new build has multiple references to Apple's forthcoming tablet device that the company did not want to leak. Reports have said Apple will unveil the tablet at a media event to showcase new hardware scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 27 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.