Analyst: Apple Almost Certain to Start iPhone Production in Jan.

The latest news from Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster indicates that Apple will unveil the iPhone plus improvements to iTV and the iPod at the Macworld Expo.

It is "almost certain" that Apple Computer will begin production of its long-anticipated iPhone in January, and the company will unveil improvements to its iTV and the iPod at the same time, according to one Wall Street analyst.

In his latest research paper to clients, Gene Munster, a senior analyst with Piper Jaffray, wrote that these three new offerings from Apple will make their debut at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Jan. 9.

Since September, the rumors and speculation that the Cupertino, Calif., company has started work on a cell phone that will debut in 2007 has grown. Munster wrote on Sept. 11 that Apple would produce an iPhone within four to six months.

On Nov. 11, another financial analyst wrote that Apple had started work on a second iPhone and a Nov. 30 application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office hinted at the iPhones design.

So far, Apple has not offered any comment about the iPhone speculation, although CEO Steve Jobs talked about iTV in San Francisco on Sept. 12.

These announcements appear to show Apple shifting more and more into home entertainment as a way to build on the popularity of its iPod music player and the resurgence of its Macintosh line of desktops and notebooks.

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"We believe the company is well-positioned to enter the phone market now that early music-enabled handsets have tested the waters. Apple will differentiate itself by offering iTunes integration on Macs and PCs, and by leveraging its expertise in software engineering for media playing devices," Munster wrote in his Dec. 5 report on Apple.

In his paper, Munster wrote about 11 different Apple products and labeled each as "almost certain," "likely" and "a stretch."

Under the "almost certain" category, Munster writes that Apple will start production of about 12 million iPhones in the next two to six months and the new phone will likely make its debut at Macworld. In addition, he writes that the iTV, with a list price of $299, will also be announced at the expo with improvements.

Munster writes that Apple will likely offer an internal hard drive for iTV to help download movies faster and offer more storage capacity.

Under the "likely" category, Munster includes the iPhone with a "candy bar form-factor," the iPod with a touch-sensitivity and wireless features, a second smart phone with an integrated keyboard, an iSight camera with either 4GB or 8GB of storage for the iPhone, and multiple carrier providers for its cell phone service.

These products could roll out in the next six to 12 months.

As for those products that Munster believes are less likely to roll out in the next year to 18 months, he includes the 12-inch MacBook Pro, radio-transparent material for the iPhone casing and a phone that uses the "iChat Mobile" video and instant messaging.

In addition, Munster believes that the Mac OS X, called Leopard, will likely not be released at the Macworld Expo. He wrote that Apple will likely roll out the latest update to its operating system later in 2007 as way to counter the consumer version of Microsofts Windows Vista operating system.

"While Microsoft has delayed the consumer launch of Windows Vista to January 30, 2007, Apple announced plans to release OSX 10.5, Leopard, in spring 2007," Munster wrote.

"These releases are not necessarily a race to the finish line, but we believe that Apple will work hard to ship Leopard close to the release of Vista."

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