Analyst Assesses the Latest Apple Rumors

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster on Thursday took a look at the top 10 rumors swirling around Apple right now, assessing them as "almost certain" (will happen in the next 6 to 12 months), "likely" (9-18 months) or "a stretch" (12-18 months). Each one also received a score between one and ten.

An Intel-based Power Mac and Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard" with Windows integration led the "almost certain" list, each scoring a 10. Mr. Munster expects both to be unveiled during Apple CEO Steve Jobsi Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote on Aug. 7, with the successor to the Power Mac likely called "Mac Pro," based on a recent trademark filing by Apple and a comment by Mr. Jobs that Apple was "kind of done with iPower.i"

On the Leopard front, many Apple watchers expect the company to integrate Boot Camp as a virtualization technology enabling users to run Windows XP and Mac OS X side-by-side, instead of having to reboot their computers to switch between the operating systems, as they have to do now. The analyst agreed with that assessment.

"Apple could also make it possible for users to install Windows Applications directly into OSX without a copy of Windows XP installed on their system," Mr. Munster speculated. Noting that installing Windows via Boot Camp is currently "difficult and time-consuming," the analyst expects Apple to make that process easier, "which will result in more substantial market share gains as a result of the iBoot Camp Effect.i"

Feature-length movies on the iTunes Music Store and the fabled "iPhone" rounded out the "almost certain" list, each with a 9 score. Of the former, Mr. Munster wrote: "We expect this new initiative to be announced along side a iReali iPod Video featuring a larger screen for video-viewing by the end of CYi06."

Regarding the latter, the analyst ran down the various rumors pointing in that direction, including the domain, which was registered by Apple in 1999, recent company patents that show an iPod with a cell phone interface, and the recent trademarking of the term "Mobile Me." Despite the patchwork nature of the rumors, Mr. Munster said that "it is certainly logical to expect Apple to continue exploring the combination of iPod+iTunes and mobile phones that they began with their partnership with Cingular and Motorola."


Moving on to the "likely" category, the integration of telephony in iChat 4.0 received an 8 score. The software will be part of Leopard, and Mr. Munster sees Apple adding the ability to call land-line phones to iChat AV, as well as the option to use a space for sharing and manipulating documents, which he called "whiteboarding."

The so-called "real video iPod" was next with a 7 score. Like many, the analyst sees Apple adding such a device to the iPod line-up, rather than replace the current top-end MP3 players. He cited recent speculation that the new iPod could have an LCD screen that takes up its entire front, with a touch screen in place of the click wheel.

In a separate report, Mr. Munster also touched on the recent news that Microsoft is getting ready to release an iPod competitor with wireless capability. He said that he expects such functionality to arrive in a sixth-generation iPod released this fall, thus countering Microsoftis efforts. Given the fact that Apple has released no new iPods this year and has historically issued two new ones annually, the analyst sees at least one new iPod introduced this fall.

The possibility of an Apple media hub, which some have called "iHome," earned a 7 score. Such a product would connect to a TV and could use WiFi to receive audio and video content from other computers on a home network, according to Mr. Munster. Noting that the rumors around it are "purely speculative," he doesnit see Apple making such an announcement in the next 12 months.

A Stretch

Dropping down to a 4 score was the possibility of iTunes content being offered during airline flights. Mr. Munster cited a recent trade publication article in which a representative of Panasonic Avionic, which recently received approval for an in-flight broadband system, said that such a possibility had "a lot of airline interest." Passengers could potentially listen to music and buy it from their seats, downloading it directly to a laptop or an iPod.

The long-fabled tablet Mac received a 3 score. Some pundits have speculated that Appleis recent touch-screen patents, along with their increasing NAND flash orders, could point toward the development of a tablet Mac that uses NAND flash to achieve fast boot-up speeds.

Rounding out the list was the likelihood of ads in iTunes, which Mr. Munster rated a 2. While reported plans by content partners to include ads in iTunes, the analyst said that "Apple would not likely want to taint the iTunes site with advertising." If the company did make such a move, however, it could tailor the ads to customersi musical tastes, much the same way the iTunes Mini Store operates.

Mr. Munster retained his "Outperform" rating on Appleis stock, with a US$99 price target. At 1:21 PM EST on Thursday, the companyis shares were selling for $56.25, down 1.32% for the day.

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