Apple Verizon iPhone Launch at 95% Probability: Analyst

Apple's Verizon iPhone is almost a lock for a launch this year, according to Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster. Also, expect an iPhone 5, iPad 2 and iTunes streaming service in 2011.

A year ago at this time, the world was wondering whether Verizon Wireless would launch Apple's iPhone on its leading network.

Now, it's not a matter of if--but when--as Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster put the probability that Verizon would launch a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) version of Apple's iPhone by the company's March quarter at 95 percent.

Munster further expects Verizon will activate 9 million iPhones in 2011, comprising 36 percent of Verizon's estimated 25 million smartphone activations.

That long-anticipated launch--the iPhone has been on AT&T in the U.S. since its inception in 2007--will lead a number of key Apple announcements. Many of them will directly compete with Google's own Android ambitions in the mobile computing space.

While Munster does not expect Apple to enter any new product categories this year, he believes the company will unveil new versions of all its major products.

Munster, who likes to put probability figures on his predictions, expects with 100 percent certainty the Mac App Store launch to happen Jan. 6. He is less certain about new Mac computers.

"We have moderate confidence that Apple will release redesigned MacBook Pros in 1H11 [the first half of 2011] and redesigned iMacs in 2H11 [the second half]," Munster wrote in his Jan. 3 research note. However, Munster does forecast that the next-generation Mac OS X Lion version will surface this summer.

The iPad, which Munster believes shipped 14.5 million units in the U.S. in 2010, is currently sold in 30 countries. He expects the device will roll out to more than 100 other countries at a 100 percent likelihood.

He, like the rest of the world, also expects an iPad 2 coming in the spring. The iPad 2 is expected to be thinner, lighter and will sport front and rear cameras to enable FaceTime video chat.

The analyst has a 90 percent probability rate on the iTunes cloud services, which would likely compete with any Google Music offering the search rolls out for Android smartphones this year.

Further borrowing from Google's cloud playbook, new Apple Web services could include expanded support for document storage in the cloud (like Google Apps), or remote computing capabilities for Macs and iPads via the cloud (like Chrome OS).

Looking forward to summer 2011, the analyst expects Apple to introduce the iPhone 5 with NFC (near field communications) technology to rival Google's recent Samsung Nexus S device.

The Nexus S sports an NFC chip and runs Android 2.3, which has native NFC support to enable short-range wireless communications between gadgets and contact terminals.

"We believe the new Nexus S, like the Nexus One, will set the standard for new high-end Android devices, suggesting NFC chips could be included with growing frequency," Munster wrote.

In the near future, the market will see applications that enable payments via the simple swipe of smartphones within inches of a checkout appliance. Google and Apple will effectively be in a mobile-payment arms race by the end of 2011.

Polishing his crystal ball some more, Munster said Apple could enter the television market in earnest by the end of 2012.

The new Apple TV has shipped 1 million-plus units in a short period of time, but Munster expects an Apple TV set with a full Mac OS X operating system and a Safari Web browser.

"While Apple's commitment to the living room remains a 'hobby,' we continue to believe the company will enter the TV market with a full focus, as an all-in-one Apple television could move the needle when connected TVs proliferate," Munster noted.

This means even tougher competition for Google TV, Roku, Boxee and others trying to meld the Web world with the TV world. It also means more choices for consumers.