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Mac fans buzzing about expected Apple 'iPhone'

Written by: Staff
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SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 21 The long-rumored arrival of a hybrid mobile phone and iPod music player from Apple Computer Inc. has morphed from a question of ''If'' to ''When'' among fans and analysts.

Since Apple's introduction of the iPod five years ago, the company has sold more than 67 million of the devices and more than 1.5 billion songs from its iTunes online music store.

Now, Chief Executive Steve Jobs and Apple are poised to roll out what has been dubbed the ''iPhone,'' perhaps as soon as January next year at the Macworld conference that kicks off every new year, analysts say.

''From a technical standpoint, the phone is pretty much done,'' said American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu. ''It's a big endeavor and we believe it's beyond speculation.'' Speculation has simmered since even before the introduction of the ROKR phone from Motorola Inc. that uses a slimmed-down version of the iTunes digital music jukebox to play 100 songs. But sales were lackluster as users complained the phone did not hold more songs.

In recent weeks, blogs that cater to Apple fans have been buzzing insistently that the iPhone is coming. Just this week, the Taiwanese financial daily, Commercial Times, reported that Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. is building the iPhone.

''There is a lot of buzz,'' said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire.

''But there are also a lot of things in the way that make it difficult. Which carrier and the like they use are not trivial challenges.'' An Apple spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

Jobs and Apple are famously tight-lipped about unannounced products. But company Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer did hint about a possible mobile phone with iPod-like functions during a conference call with analysts in July to discuss third-quarter financial results.

'NOT SITTING AROUND DOING NOTHING' Asked to comment on how Apple would compete with offerings such as Sony Corp.'s popular Walkman phone, Oppenheimer said he believed Apple would do just fine.

''We don't think that the phones that are available today make the best music players,'' he said. ''We think the iPod is. But over time, that is likely to change. And we're not sitting around doing nothing.'' Analyst Wu believes the iPhone would be a candy-bar-shaped phone, rather than a flip phone like Motorola's huge hit, the RAZR mobile phone.

And he believes the iPhone would not be too bogged down with all the bells and whistles often crammed into today's smart phones.

''I think it'll be pretty simple with functionality probably similar to an iPod Nano,'' Wu said. ''It's going to be very similar to the Sony Walkman phone, which is very media-centric and that's Apple's strength.'' The now-widely-expected iPhone is also a way for Apple to add yet another line of revenue to its business. Sales of the iPod, still far and away the No. 1 digital music player, have moderated somewhat recently and sales of Mac computers, now powered by Intel Corp.

chips, have set records.

But with about a billion cell phones expected to be sold next year, if Apple can break into that market and be half as well received as its iPod was, it adds up to serious dollars.

Wu estimates that a 1 percent share of a billion unit market, with the iPhone carrying an average price tag of 0, could mean about

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 21 The long-rumored arrival of a hybrid mobile phone and iPod music player from Apple Computer Inc. has morphed from a question of ''If'' to ''When'' among fans and analysts.

Since Apple's introduction of the iPod five years ago, the company has sold more than 67 million of the devices and more than 1.5 billion songs from its iTunes online music store.

Now, Chief Executive Steve Jobs and Apple are poised to roll out what has been dubbed the ''iPhone,'' perhaps as soon as January next year at the Macworld conference that kicks off every new year, analysts say.

''From a technical standpoint, the phone is pretty much done,'' said American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu. ''It's a big endeavor and we believe it's beyond speculation.'' Speculation has simmered since even before the introduction of the ROKR phone from Motorola Inc. that uses a slimmed-down version of the iTunes digital music jukebox to play 100 songs. But sales were lackluster as users complained the phone did not hold more songs.

In recent weeks, blogs that cater to Apple fans have been buzzing insistently that the iPhone is coming. Just this week, the Taiwanese financial daily, Commercial Times, reported that Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. is building the iPhone.

''There is a lot of buzz,'' said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire.

''But there are also a lot of things in the way that make it difficult. Which carrier and the like they use are not trivial challenges.'' An Apple spokesman said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

Jobs and Apple are famously tight-lipped about unannounced products. But company Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer did hint about a possible mobile phone with iPod-like functions during a conference call with analysts in July to discuss third-quarter financial results.

'NOT SITTING AROUND DOING NOTHING' Asked to comment on how Apple would compete with offerings such as Sony Corp.'s popular Walkman phone, Oppenheimer said he believed Apple would do just fine.

''We don't think that the phones that are available today make the best music players,'' he said. ''We think the iPod is. But over time, that is likely to change. And we're not sitting around doing nothing.'' Analyst Wu believes the iPhone would be a candy-bar-shaped phone, rather than a flip phone like Motorola's huge hit, the RAZR mobile phone.

And he believes the iPhone would not be too bogged down with all the bells and whistles often crammed into today's smart phones.

''I think it'll be pretty simple with functionality probably similar to an iPod Nano,'' Wu said. ''It's going to be very similar to the Sony Walkman phone, which is very media-centric and that's Apple's strength.'' The now-widely-expected iPhone is also a way for Apple to add yet another line of revenue to its business. Sales of the iPod, still far and away the No. 1 digital music player, have moderated somewhat recently and sales of Mac computers, now powered by Intel Corp.

chips, have set records.

But with about a billion cell phones expected to be sold next year, if Apple can break into that market and be half as well received as its iPod was, it adds up to serious dollars.

Wu estimates that a 1 percent share of a billion unit market, with the iPhone carrying an average price tag of $200, could mean about $2 billion a year more for the Cupertino, California-based company.

But Apple needs to learn from the ROKR and introduce a real phone, not just a music player with a phone jammed in almost as an afterthought, analysts said.

''The key challenge here is if they were doing it, it has to be a very good phone and a good extension or subset of the iPod and iTunes software,'' McGuire said. ''It's not just music. It would have to be a good media device.'' One other not inconsiderable decision is what cell phone standard -- CDMA or GSM, for example -- the phone would use and whether Apple would link up with one mobile phone company to provide the service.

Some Mac watchers, such as site ThinkSecret, have mentioned Cingular as an early, exclusive winner. Still others say the phone will be sold with an Apple-branded MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, in which Apple effectively leases excess capacity from other mobile service providers and resells it to customers.

''The other thing is finding a set of carriers or an ecosystem where they wouldn't need to be dependent on the carriers,'' McGuire said. ''But they've won over tough audiences before, like the music labels.''

REUTERS

billion a year more for the Cupertino, California-based company.

But Apple needs to learn from the ROKR and introduce a real phone, not just a music player with a phone jammed in almost as an afterthought, analysts said.

''The key challenge here is if they were doing it, it has to be a very good phone and a good extension or subset of the iPod and iTunes software,'' McGuire said. ''It's not just music. It would have to be a good media device.'' One other not inconsiderable decision is what cell phone standard -- CDMA or GSM, for example -- the phone would use and whether Apple would link up with one mobile phone company to provide the service.

Some Mac watchers, such as site ThinkSecret, have mentioned Cingular as an early, exclusive winner. Still others say the phone will be sold with an Apple-branded MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, in which Apple effectively leases excess capacity from other mobile service providers and resells it to customers.

''The other thing is finding a set of carriers or an ecosystem where they wouldn't need to be dependent on the carriers,'' McGuire said. ''But they've won over tough audiences before, like the music labels.''

REUTERS

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