Despite its usual brevity, Apple's event invite this morning leaves a lot to chew on.
It goes without saying that the tag line "Let's talk iPhone" spells out that we'll be seeing the new phone from the company. The question is if there will be two new phones, something Apple's never done.
Also unclear is whether Apple plans to skip an update to its iPod line ahead of the holiday season, and if the "let's talk iPhone" tag line might also be talking about the much-rumored enhancements to Apple's Voice Control technology.
We'll know all there is to know come a week from today, when Apple's even kicks off at 10 a.m. PT sharp. In the meantime, here are some things to glean from the invite.
One phone, two phone?
On the invite, there's a missed call/voice mail icon, but it's just a number one. That would suggest we'll be getting just one new device, as opposed to two--a rumor that's been kicking around for years, but has picked back up in recent months in the lead up to a new device.
A Deutsche Bank analyst in June said that Apple was working on a two-phone configuration that would include a new, high-end model, along with a slightly improved iPhone 4 model for release this year. Evidence suggesting that might be the case surfaced a few days later, with a screenshot of a white plastic iPhone 4 model on Vietnamese site Tinhte--the same outlet that got ahold of the iPhone 4 ahead of its official unveiling.
More recently, there have been murmurs of two iPhone model offerings as part of deals being worked out with Chinese carriers, which are expected to stock the new iPhone when it's released. Confusing matters, there was also a high-profile report from J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz saying a new iPhone would be joined by a lower cost, souped up iPhone 4 model, and last year's iPhone 4 model, which would be sold alongside one another, giving Apple a three iPhone lineup. And former Vice President Al Gore certainly didn't help things last week, making mention of "new iPhones" arriving next month.
Following the invite send-out, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster weighed in on the matter, stating that the firm did not believe Apple would release two devices, and instead would be launching an iPhone 5, while selling older devices at a discount.
"We do not expect a low-end iPhone," Munster wrote in a note to investors. "Rather, we expect Apple to continue with a lead device (iPhone 5) that carriers sell subsidized for $199/$299 along with a previous generation device (iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S) for $99."
That matches up well with Apple's past iPhone sales strategy, which includes selling the 3G and 3GS alongside newer models of the device.
Of special note is the complete lack of mention about the iPod. Over the past several years Apple has held an event in September to take the wraps off a new line of devices, though the star of the iPod line continues to be the iPod Touch, which is effectively an iPhone without the phone.
The truth of the matter is that the iPod took a backseat to the iPhone as soon as it was announced, and the downward sales trend as a percentage of Apple's total revenue hasn't shown any signs of turning back up in the other direction.
Nonetheless people are still buying the media players, with the company selling 7.54 million iPods in its third quarter (the most recently reported quarter, Apple finished up its fourth quarter last week), a 20 decline from the same quarter the year before. That's compared to the 20.34 million iPhones it sold during the same quarter, which was a 142 percent gain year over year.
What more can Apple really do with the iPod though? Its models have gotten whittled away each year with slight tweaks and improvements, however in recent years Apple's been stuck juggling designs. That includes a return to button form with the iPod Shuffle after it's awkward buttonless design, and a complete overhaul of the Nano to move to a touch-screen design, while cutting features like video recording that were once highly-touted.
Apple's also run up against a wall with the iPod Touch, trickling down features from the iPhone as it gets its updates, but not enough to make the device more appealing than the iPhone itself. There's also the issue of having to time those iPod Touch releases with the iPhone's release, something that could be easier if a Touch update is simply rolled into next week's event.
Voice Control 2.0?
The double entendre du jour, the "Let's talk iPhone" tagline can be read beyond the obvious to suggest Apple plans to take the wraps off its long-rumored reboot of Voice Control. That's the voice recognition software that's shipped on the iPhone since the iPhone 3GS, and made its way into iPods as well.
The rumor mill's gone into overdrive about this in recent months, with reports from TechCrunch earlier this year that claimed Apple was working on a partnership with Nuance that would build advanced voice technologies into iOS 5, and presumably some extras for the next iPhone. Yet when iOS 5 debuted in June, the voice features were nowhere to be found.
More recently, reports from 9to5Mac have posted screenshots of a microphone icon sitting in the iOS software keyboard, while suggesting that the feature will let users launch apps, and navigate around the phone with their voice.
The rumor was of special interest given Apple's acquisition of Siri in April of last year, a company that mixes natural language processing, semantic Web search and speech recognition to translate voice queries into Web search based tasks. Before being acquired by Apple, the company created an application that could make use of voice commands and do things like book a taxi, or make restaurant reservations.
The move is highly expected given that Apple's been left in the dust by Google when it comes to advancing the voice-recognition technology on its mobile devices. As part of an update to its Android OS last January, Google added voice-recognition technology into Android's keyboard to let users transcribe voice into messages and Web searches, as well as use specific commands to launch applications. By comparison, Apple's Voice Control has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 2009.
Stay tuned for details of our live coverage of the event next week. We'll be there and will be bringing you the news as it happens.