Apple rumor season: High on speculation, low on details

Opinion – Yes, it is the time of the year again. Just about one month before Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference we are seeing “industry sources” shifting into high gear to provide media with ideas what Apple may reveal at the conference. Even Microsoft and a few carriers managed to become part of the feeding frenzy. Let the games begin.

You knew it was coming and you knew you would be able to hide from the wave of rumors, part interesting and part plain silly. If you are following IT news and what makes the tech industry tick, you will simply have to accept that you will be bombarded with speculation, mock-ups and industry sources claiming to know all about the next Apple sensation.
So, what is the current status?

There is plenty of coverage that Steve Jobs has secretly been working on a netbook, which, given the state of the economy and the fact that netbooks are expected to reach unit sales of about 20-30 million this year, would make sense for Apple – even if Apple would be a bit late to the party. However, Apple always has been a bit late with every product category it entered and conquered, so we would expect Apple to have taken a close look at netbooks and what works and what does not.

Early rumors suggest that the Apple device may look much more like a mix between a UMPC and a tablet PC. Even the Wall Street Journal, which seems to have secret sources deeply planted into Apple and Steve Jobs’ private home, was present at the very beginning of this rumor, so you just know that the Apple netbook must be taking shape in one way or the other.  
The more interesting rumor, however, is a new iPhone and Microsoft’s Pink. Speculation began when Verizon confirmed that Steve Jobs had met with Verizon’s C-level executives, which prompted a wave of reports that that news either relates to netbook broadband coverage or a new iPhone that Apple will use as leverage against AT&T in order to squeeze more money out of the carrier – which is said to be negotiating with Apple an extension of its current iPhone deal. But then we heard that Microsoft is actually in talks with Verizon about a “Pink” device, reportedly a souped-up Windows Mobile smartphone designed to challenge the iPhone.
The touchscreen phone is reportedly scheduled for a 2010 launch. Yes, the Microsoft iPhone is a rumor that simply won’t go away – and Microsoft enjoys the attention. “Microsoft’s strategy has not changed,” a spokesperson told PC World. “It is and has always been to provide a software platform for the industry. We work closely with many mobile operators and device makers around the world because customers want different experiences on a variety [of] phones.”   

Take the Microsoft phone and the Apple netbook with a grain of salt at least for now. What we can be somewhat more certain of is that Apple will have to update its iPhone in June and possibly roll out more iPhone versions – including the rumored “iPhone junior”. BusinessWeek, citing those “sources familiar with the negotiations”, mentioned Apple already has working prototypes of this new phone. The publication said it will be a “stripped down” version of the current iPhone with a lower price tag. Businessweek also chimed in on the netbook, which it describes as a tablet-like media pad that can play music and videos, view photos, browse the Web with mobile Safari, and make calls over a Wi-Fi connection.

You know the drill. Sit back, relax and enjoy the Apple wave of rumors that will be hitting you over the next five weeks. However, keep paying attention to AT&T and Verizon as well: Is Apple playing Verizon against AT&T? How much is AT&T willing to give up for iPhone exclusivity? We will know for sure in about a month, if those industry sources are right.

Wolfgang Gruener is the founder of TG Daily. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.