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Apple's iTV may extend "beyond streaming video"

Apple Computer's forthcoming iTV set-top box may include features beyond streaming content and could have an impact on video similar to what the iPod has done for music, Bear Stearns analyst Andy Neff told clients in a research note Wednesday.

Neff said he recently emerged from a meeting with Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer and Vice President of iPod Product Marketing Greg Joswiak feeling "optimistic about the company's "continued innovation and twin drivers," referring to the company's competitively priced Intel Macs and compelling new iPods.

"Ultimately, Apple's goal is to create a product that customers would want (as opposed to creating new technology merely for the sake of technology), while focusing on areas where it can differentiate," he wrote. "Apple noted that it has a number of products currently in development that are likely to be introduced over several years."

Although Apple would not disclose additional specifications of iTV, Neff said the company highlighted that the device fits within its vision of simplifying consumers' use of content.

"Though details remain sketchy, Apple emphasized [the] focus of iTV [is] to improve user experience by leveraging its software expertise and implied that there may be features beyond the mere streaming of video content," the analyst wrote.

Apple has already acknowledged that the device will also be capable of streaming photos, music and podcasts. But during the meeting it also hinted at additional features such as an "internal hard disk drive for storage" and "advanced user interface software."

In his note to clients, Neff also said that Cupertino, Calif.-based company has now expanded its Mac presence at Best Buy to 60 retail stores and is "evaluating further opportunities for expansion."

The analyst maintained his current estimates of $0.78 in earnings per share on revenues of $6.42 billion for the December quarter, but increased his price target on Apple shares from $94 to $100 through December of 2007.

"We are maintaining out Outperform rating given numerous growth opportunities ahead, favorable consumer seasonality, and potential new product introductions which we reflect in our valuation," he wrote.