IPod Or iPhone, Keep An Eye On Apple Next Week

Aug 31, 2007 (10:08 AM EDT)

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Will Apple announce a wide-screen iPod or a European partner for its iPhone next week? The Macintosh maker isn't saying yet. But recent revelations suggest there are more reasons to keep an eye on Steve Jobs and company.

Front and center was an announcement this week by Deutsche Telekom's Hamid Akhavan, just before at the IFA Consumer Electronics Show in Berlin on Friday, that T-Mobile Germany has been talking with Apple about distributing the smartphone in Europe. The iPhone is currently only available in the United States, where AT&T is Apple's exclusive wireless provider.

Akhavan, who is CEO of Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile mobile phone unit, said he believes Apple will announce its European partners well before the holiday shopping season. T-Mobile Germany, Telefonica's O2 in the United Kingdom, and France Telecom's Orange reportedly have been hammering out deals with Apple to distribute the iPhone in their respective countries.

Anticipation is still high that Apple might use the IFA event to time an unveiling of its European partners for the iPhone. The show ends Wednesday.

That's the same day that Apple is expected to reveal more about its iPod music device. Apple has already rented space and sent out invitations to an event next Wednesday in San Francisco, where it's expected to unveil upgrades to its iPod line.

Even if Apple focuses solely on its music business next week, one important feature of the iPhone is its easy connection with Apple's iTunes online music store. Apple is reported to be planning to exploit the connection at the scheduled iPod announcements by unveiling a ring tone service in which subscribers can download music from Apple's music store and play it as a ring tone on their iPhones. Currently, iPhone users are not allowed to use their music collections as ring tones.

The ring tone feature is likely to be unveiled as an enhanced download at the iPod announcement next week, according to the New York Post.

"IPhone users will have the ability to choose any part of the song they want as their ringtone," the Post said, observing that previously purchased iTunes songs will also be able to be converted.

In addition, Apple will allow users to convert songs they have previously purchased through iTunes, the newspaper said.

If the reports come to fruition, it could represent a new revenue opportunity for Apple, its telecom partners, and the recording industry as some 230 million wireless subscribers in the United States bought a total of $4.1 billion in data services in the third quarter of 2006, according to IDC.

The research firm found $7.27 was spent per customer on data services during that time, of which ring tones were the most popular paid download. IDC expects more than a third of all U.S. wireless subscribers to purchase at least one ring tone each quarter.