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Monday, January 08, 2007
Many Expect iPod Phone at Macworld

Apple may announce a much-anticipated iPod phone and will likely unveil revamped iPod music players next week during the annual Macworld conference in San Fransisco.

Apple co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address on Tuesday and analysts say they also would not be surprised to see more deals with movie studios like the one recently signed with Walt Disney to let Apple sell films for online download on its iTunes Music Store.

Last year was busy for the legendary Silicon Valley company and Jobs. Apple adopted chips from Intel used in most Windows machines, rolled out new versions of its market- leading iPod digital music player and gave a sneak preview of Leopard, the next version of its Mac OS X operating system.

There also has been a lot of speculation the telephone- enabled iPod -- dubbed the iPhone by many -- would be introduced at this year's Macworld. But even if Jobs takes a pass on that for now, there will be plenty to feast on.

Apple's week-long confab for the first time in recent memory falls on the same week as the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where a key theme will be how digital content such as TV shows, photos and music is becoming ever more portable.

An obvious example is the iPod, which Apple first introduced more than five years ago. Although digital music players had been around since the late 1990s, it was Apple's iteration that created a mass consumer market.

Apple has sold more than 70 million iPods since they were introduced and consumers have bought more than 1.5 billion songs for about 99 cents each on Apple's online digital music store iTunes. More than 220 television shows, in addition to full-length films from Disney, are also available on iTunes.

Gartner analyst Mike McGuire expects more details on the device Apple has so far called iTV, which will cost $299 and go on sale by the end of the first quarter of this year. The device will let users stream movies, music, photos, podcasts and TV shows to their home entertainment systems.

But most Apple watchers are waiting for an announcement on an Apple smartphone, which could play music, make calls and perform other functions.

Wall Street analysts, including Charlie Wolf of Needham & Co., Chris Whitmore of Deutsche Bank and American Technology Research's Shaw Wu, have mentioned the widely anticipated iPhone in notes to clients.

But iPhone or not, analysts expect Jobs to have a surprise or two in store. He has in the past often appeared to conclude his speech, pausing, then adding: "Oh, one more thing."

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