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iPod Updates Expected at Apple Event

Fri, 09/04/2009 - 4:38am
Gabriel Madway, Edwin Chan, and Richard Chang
Editor's Note: How much more can Apple tweak the iPod?

appleSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc's media extravaganza next week is being greeted with unusual calm, as it is uncertain if charismatic CEO Steve Jobs will appear and investors have nothing much to bet on apart from new iPods with cameras.

Apple's stock has often swung wildly and rumors have swirled about game-changing products ahead of such events, but this time the stock has held steady in the two weeks leading up to the September 9 event.

Few expect any surprises, but the potential is always there, given the host's track record.

Apple has traditionally held a September gathering where master showman Jobs showed off new iPods for the holiday season and trumpeted new content for iTunes.

Revamped iPods are again on tap this year. But much of the focus has been on whether Jobs will make his first public appearance since taking medical leave in January, and what new partners or services Apple may bring into its booming online store.

Rumors also continue to rumble that the Beatles catalog may finally be coming to iTunes, but such speculation is not new and many are doubtful.

Some analysts think Jobs is unlikely to show up, as other members of Apple's management team have become more visible in his absence.

"It would be great if he (Jobs) does appear, but I'm not expecting it," said Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu. "Most investors have moved beyond that."

"It shouldn't have a material impact on the stock if he doesn't," he said, noting that it could edge higher.

Apple's stock, which is up more than 90 percent so far this year, has been relatively tame this week as expectations have been subdued. But analysts don't foresee a bold new product announcement at the event, such as the long-rumored tablet device, that would immediately boost the stock.

REFRESH

The iPod nano and touch models are widely expected to be updated with digital cameras, while the iTouch may also get a video camera.

"A non-event," predicted Broadpoint Amtech analyst Brian Marshall. "We're going to see the focus on iPods and iTunes and then leave it at that."

Apple's invitation for the event was typically cryptic, featuring a dancing figure, an iPod and the tagline, "It's only rock and roll, but we like it."

Apple has acknowledged that its dominant iPod business is changing as growth has slowed. IPods accounted for less a than one-fifth of the company's revenue last quarter.

"The key here is what Apple ultimately sets for pricing and storage capacity for these new iPods," said Wu.

Apple has said it expects sales of its traditional iPods such as the shuffle, nano and classic to decline as they are cannibalized by the newer iPod touch and the iPhone.

Beyond iPods, many are still talking about Jobs, who joked openly about his health issues at last year's event.

Jobs' last appearance at an Apple event was in October of 2008. He returned from a 6-month medical leave in June, during which time he underwent a liver transplant.

In his absence, marketing chief Phil Schiller, who has led other events this year, may again be master of ceremonies.

However, FTN Equity Capital analyst Bill Fearnley Jr. said it is "likely" that Jobs will make an appearance.

"There is no other fall event that we are aware of that would present a keynote-type address or presentation opportunity for Apple or its CEO," he wrote in a note.

While an appearance by Jobs might dominate media coverage of the event, an announcement that songs from the Beatles -- the most high-profile iTunes holdout -- were headed to the online store would also be headline-grabbing.

However Tim Bajarin, president of consulting group Creative Strategies, called the Beatles chatter "wishful thinking."

"This rumor does come around every year at this time and I am afraid that we will be disappointed again," he said via email.

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