Analyst: Apple's iPhone Ready in Four to Six Months

As part of a major announcement scheduled in San Francisco on Sept. 12, Apple (APPL) CEO Steve Jobs is expected to talk about moving his company further into digital entertainment with a movie distribution deal and a high-capacity video iPod.

One item not expected to make the agenda is the long-rumored debut of the iPhone, the Cupertino, Calif., computer maker's effort in developing its own brand of cell phone and music player.

Regardless, one analyst believes that Apple's iPhone will hit the market within four to six months and that there is the potential for the company to sell between 8 and 12 million phones in the first year.

"We continue to expect Apple will announce its iPhone sometime in the next four to six months," Piper Jaffray Senior Analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research paper on Sept. 11. "That said, we have not seen any concrete evidence that the product is near completion or launch."

Munster is basing his conclusions on four pieces of evidence that Apple will enter the cell phone market by 2007. He points to the company registering the domain name in 1999 and then trademarking "Mobile Me" in January 2006.

Munster also cites media reports that Japanese cell phone provider Softbank and Apple have agreed to jointly develop the new device. Lastly, he cites comments made by Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer on June 19 concerning the music phone market.

In his paper, Munster said expects the cell phone to hit the market sometime in 2007. The announcement could come during Macworld Expo, which starts on Jan. 8, 2007, or at some special marketing event at the beginning of the year.

Munster puts the price of the iPhone at about $300. That pricing puts the new device at a price between Apple's 2GB iPod Nano, which sells for about $199, and the high-end 60 GB iPod at $399.

"We believe the most likely iPhone buyers would be those who have previously owned a higher ASP HDD [hard disk drive] iPod," Munster wrote.

Apple's iPhone will also likely have about a 10 percent operating margin, which is about the same as Palm's (PALM) Treo devices.

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