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iMac with TV functionality seen as stepping stone to Apple television

Apple's first step toward building a full-fledged television set could be an all-in-one iMac with built in TV functionality, one analyst believes.

Brian Blair of Wedge Partners issued a note to investors on Wednesday in which he said he believes Apple will eventually build a true television set in the future. But before that happens, he thinks the company will take a step in between, and add television functionality to its iMac desktop.

He expects that Apple will redesign its iMac lineup in the first half of 2012, and that TV capabilities will debut in that product before Apple builds a full television set. In this way, Apple could integrate its Apple TV software and iCloud features into a slim all-in-one PC.

"We think this makes sense because while we typically think about the newest TVs hanging on the wall in large form factors," Blair wrote, "Apple could effectively start with what they already have on the manufacturing line and slowly push their offering from 27 inches and scale up from there to 32 inches and then move on to the 42, 50 and 55 inch market."

Blair correctly predicted in September that Apple would introduce just one new iPhone model this year with a design largely the same as the iPhone 4. That forecast came at a time when a number of other analysts were suggesting Apple would release a new low-end iPhone model geared toward emerging markets like China.

Rumors of an Apple television have persisted since the release of the authorized biography of Steve Jobs. To biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs hinted at a completely new product that would feature "the simplest user interface you could imagine."

That's led to reports claiming Apple plans to release a full television set at some point in 2012 featuring Siri voice recognition technology, allowing users to control their TV set without a remote. Rumors of an Apple television are said to have sent existing TV makers "scrambling" to find out just what Apple's plans are.