Is Apple iWalk for Real?

The SpyMac rumor site has posted a series of video clips that purportedly portray a new handheld device from Apple it calls the "iWalk."

In a series of slogans on its home page this week, Apple Computer Inc. vowed to go "way beyond" the predictions of Mac-focused rumor sites when CEO Steve Jobs unveils the companys latest products during his keynote speech on Monday morning.

Now, one of those rumor sites claims to have pulled back into the lead with a series of digital video clips that purportedly portray a new handheld device from the Mac maker.

Is the footage for real or a cleverly designed hoax? Apple isnt talking, but the Mac community certainly is.

The site, SpyMac, on Wednesday posted the footage of the device, which it calls the "iWalk." The gadget appears to share design niceties with Apples recently introduced iPod MP3 player, including a sleek white chassis and a "jog dial." It accepts handwriting input across the screen, and SpyMac notes the presence of Firewire, audio-in and audio-out ports. "In the center is a relatively large unmarked port which we speculate as being a port for Apples new Gigawire," the site says.

If the footage is authentic, the iWalk would represent the latest effort by Apple to leverage its technologies in new consumer directions. The companys AirPort technology already provides extensive wireless networking capabilities to its Mac lines, for example, and the iPod features a high-speed FireWire connection to speed the exchange of files with users Macs. In addition, sources report that Apple has devoted considerable energy to handwriting recognition code-named InkWell and based on the Rosetta software first created for Apples discontinued Newton PDA.

Reaction across the Web, on sites ranging from the Mac-centric MacSlash to open-software bastion Slashdot, has run the gamut from enthusiastic to highly skeptical.

Those proposing the iWalk footage is genuine cite the completeness of the footage, noting that even reflections of the users face is visible on the iWalks screen. If it is a fake, most say, it is a most impressive one.

Others, however, look at slight shakes in only part of the product as hints to its composited origins. And some note that SpyMac has previously reported on and posted photos of an "iWalk" device, claiming that this was what would be announced at the Apple event that, instead, turned out to be the debut of the iPod.

The SpyMac site, in addition, which resides on German servers, is registered to one Holger Ehlis. Ehlis also runs a German design office and has previously prepared rendered versions of fanciful Apple products. (The European origin of the SpyMac site would also explain why it has not removed the images to comply with a cease-and-desist letter from Apple, as so many U.S.-based rumors sites have in the past when they revealed details of future Mac wares.)

In addition, the "iWalk" name has yet to be trademarked in the United States; the iPod name was trademarked months before its public debut.

Perhaps most damaging to the prospect of a new Apple-branded PDA is the companys own hands-off attitude toward the handheld market. As recently as a November 2001 interview with Fortune magazine, Jobs downplayed the market for such devices. "I started asking myself, How useful are they, really? How many people at a given meeting show up with one?" Jobs said. "Whether I was here or at Disney or at Pixar, the percentage peaked about a year ago at 50 percent, and its now dwindled to less than 10 percent. It kind of went up really fast and then went down."

Apple did not return repeated calls for comment on the SpyMac footage.

While it hasnt provided details, the Cupertino, Calif., company has been unusually outspoken about the magnitude of Mondays announcements, which Apple watchers also expect to include significant enhancements to the companys professional and consumer desktop lines. Jobs presentation--which in a break with tradition falls the day before the show floor opens--is scheduled to run two full hours starting at 9 a.m. Pacific time. Apple said it will offer a live Webcast of the event.