Can Apple repeat itself? Again?
The computer and iPod maker has sparked buzz in the tech world by e-mailing media invitations for an event in San Francisco next week in which it promises a momentous, music-related announcement: "1,000 songs in your pocket changed everything," reads the invitation. "Here we go again."
Apple Computer Inc. has a tradition of tightly guarding its announcements, but the prevailing expectation among industry observers is that the event will be the unveiling of a long-awaited cell phone from Motorola Inc. that will contain built-in support for Apple's iTunes software, with a connection to Apple's popular online music store.
Motorola chief executive Edward J. Zander told analysts at a conference in July that such a phone will be on sale by the end of September; Motorola first indicated it was working on such a phone more than a year ago.
The Federal Communications Commission has posted documents granting approval for such a device on its Web site, which includes product shots and a user manual for an iTunes-compatible phone from Motorola.
Despite such evidence, analyst Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research said he has seen speculation on Apple fan sites that the company is unveiling a video iPod or an iPod that includes the functionality of a personal digital assistant.
"There are already plenty of music-capable phones on the market -- including other models from Motorola -- and nobody is paying all that much attention to them," said Gartenberg. "It just underscores the market's fascination with iTunes and anything iPod-related."
Competing products have failed to stem the iPod's success in the consumer marketplace, but Apple has lost a few patent battles recently. Microsoft Corp. beat Apple to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to patent a rotational wheel interface like the one used on the iPod. Creative Technology Ltd., a small competitor in the digital music player market, said yesterday that it won a patent for a system to display music in scrollable lists like the one used in the iPod. Neither company has announced plans to enforce those patents, or said whether they will attempt to collect royalties from Apple.
Tim Bajarin, analyst at the research firm Creative Strategies Inc., said the Motorola announcement, whenever it comes, will be "significant because it represents the iPod on a whole new platform," though the number of songs such a dual-use device could hold would probably be limited.
But Apple fan Bill Morocco seemed unimpressed by Web chatter about such a product. "I have a Motorola phone and I like it," he said, "but I like the iPod for what it does and I like my phone for what it does."