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Friday, January 07, 2011, 09:20 am PT (12:20 pm ET)

Evidence points to Apple launching Verizon iPhone Feb. 3 - rumor

With Apple quietly issuing a retail employee vacation blackout period in the coming weeks, a new rumor suggests the Verizon iPhone will coincide with a debut on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Citing a source "close to Apple," Boy Genius Report said on Thursday that Apple recently narrowed its blackout date for employee vacation requests to between Feb. 3 and Feb. 6, suggesting a product launch on Thursday, Feb. 3. The report also referenced AppleInsider's exclusive scoop this week that Apple has prohibited vacation days for some retail employees in a three-week span covering the last week in January and the first two weeks in February.

Last year, the iPhone 4 was also released on a Thursday, becoming available on June 24, 2010. The report noted that it is not "confirmed" that the Verizon iPhone will launch on Feb. 3, the apparent employee vacation blackout dates suggest it is a likely event.

Rumors of a Verizon iPhone have persisted for years, but numerous dates suggested for a product launch have come and gone while the iPhone has remained exclusive to AT&T in the U.S. But last June, Bloomberg reported that the iPhone would debut on Verizon in January 2011.

In the months following that report, numerous mainstream publications — including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Fortune — also provided independent confirmation of an early 2011 launch timeframe.

This week, photos and video of a redesigned stainless steel frame claimed to be for a forthcoming iPhone were released online. The video showing the part was removed from YouTube after a legal complaint was filed by Apple.

The metal frame, which also serves as the antenna via the perimeter of the phone, has new placement of black "gaps." The current iPhone 4 has three gaps — two on the side, one on top — while the new parts spotted online have four gaps — two on each side, and none on top.