Big Buzz for Another Apple Surprise

Steve Jobs, as usual, won't give a hint to what Apple's new product will be.
Steve Jobs, as usual, won't give a hint to what Apple's new product will be. (By Justin Sullivan -- Getty Images)
By Sam Diaz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007

When Apple said it was going to make an announcement at the Moscone Center in San Francisco next week, it triggered an elaborate and familiar guessing game.

Could it be the iPhone Nano, the subject of speculation in a financial analyst's report this summer? What about a WiFi-enabled iPod that some bloggers are buzzing about?

C'mon, Steve Jobs, how about a hint? No, Apple remains tight-lipped.

If documents prepared by an Apple partner and obtained by The Washington Post are to be believed, both of those products are in the works and slated for release in the coming months. One would be an iPod with WiFi and a touch screen like that on the iPhone; the other would be an iPhone Nano priced lower than the cheapest iPhone, which sells for $500.

Such speculation not only moves markets, it also prompts action from companies, from retailers to analysts and accessory makers, for whom every Apple launch creates new business opportunities.

A J.P. Morgan analyst in Taiwan scrutinized patent applications and probed overseas vendors, concluding in a July report that an iPhone Nano -- a version smaller than the iPhone launched in June -- would be released this year.

The report caused such a stir that another J.P Morgan analyst issued a subsequent report clarifying the firm's position. "We have been unable to independently confirm . . . so we are not yet convinced this is a likely event" before year's end, the analyst, Bill Shope, wrote.

There are other clues bloggers are trying to imbue with significance. One is that Apple's retail channels apparently have not received new iPod inventory in recent weeks, a possible sign that a new iPod will come sooner, rather than later, bloggers said. A second: The image on Apple's invitation features album cover art used in its iTunes jukebox software.

In the end, it's all a guess, with some guesses more educated than others. But they're also making a few bucks for Apple investors. The buzz generated by Tuesday night's announcement has helped push Apple's stock up 9.2 percent, closing yesterday at $138.48 a share.

It's fun to get excited about a new gadget, but, alas, there is a potential downside for Apple, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.

"If it brings out a product that doesn't capture the excitement . . . I wonder if people will be disappointed because it doesn't come up to the levels of what's expected," Enderle said.

Apple declined to comment, and Kasper Jade, publisher of the AppleInsider blog, isn't surprised.

"Obviously, it's Apple's job to keep a tight lid on things," he said. But it's his job to try to uncover the news, so he talks regularly with retailers, many of whom are also in the dark on Apple's plans, he said.

Some of the biggest sellers of Apple products, including Circuit City, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, declined comment.

"It kind of goes both ways with the retailers," Jade said. "We talk to them about what's going on, how the inventories are doing. They give us status updates. We share information we have."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company