Apple Signals iPhone

included a link last week about Apple’s recent patent Trademark filing around Mobile Me. Closer examination reveals that the patent trademark covers a wide range of possibilities, including “digital music,” “cellular” and “telecommunications.”

My first prediction for 2006 was that Apple would launch a mobile phone this year, as opposed to the iTunes phone cop out they cooked up with Motorola. The Mobile Me patent trademark seems to be the first real signal that I’m on-track with the prediction.

Strategically, I don’t think Apple have any choice if they’re continue to enjoy their rampant resurgence, as much of the success is clearly down to the iPod. 14 million were sold in quarter 4 last year, which was way over what most analysts were predicting, but still a tiny, tiny fraction when compared to the mobile phone sector.

In fact, to put this in perspective, 42 million iPods have ever been sold, compared to the current penetration of mobiles at 2 billion. Even this exaggerates iPod’s success, as many of their 42 million will have expired and replaced by now.

So the first reason why they’ll be looking at the mobile is opportunistic – the market size is so much greater and that has to be attractive.

Secondly, the sector for stand alone MP3 players will implode shortly – next year at the latest, but I would say that it may well have peaked already. Outside of a few die-hards, we’ll be listening to our mobiles as our main source for a music player. This implosion will happen frighteningly quickly – quicker than the demise of the camera and it only took the mobile 5 years to massacre the stand alone camera sector.

So Apple must move defensively to protect their hardware market. Don’t forget that even though they claim 83% share of (legally purchased) music in the US via iTunes, they don’t make money from these sales. ITunes exists solely to promote hardware sales.

Finally, another reason why Jobs will make his mobile move is that a mobile phone from Apple will be a thing of beauty and should knock seven shades of shit out of the clumsy UI and handsets that we’ve grown used to. Apple can start from the point of view that if we were to invent a mobile phone today, from scratch, what would it look like? Probably not a futuristic version of an old analogue dial phone “receiver” (yep, that’s what we used to call ’em).

Post Script One: It was amusing to be reminded of Michael Dell’s one-time Apple prognosis in the New York Times this week. In 1997, Dell was asked how he would fix Apple, just as Steve Jobs was making his famous prodigal return.

“What would I do?” Mr. Dell said to an audience of several thousand information technology managers. “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

This week saw Apple’s share value exceed Dell’s. Oh how they must have laughed.

Post Script Two: My sixth prediction was that Gizmondo would tank this year. Our Links from yesterday indicate that the death rattle is in the ill-fated company’s throat. Beats me how such shite attracts investment, when so many better ideas never get out of the funding starting blocks.

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