Chasing the iPhone

As a reporter who’s covered the Mac beat for years, I’ve found few things as challenging as keeping tabs on Apple. The company is one of the most secretive out there, almost never providing any insight about what it has planned for the future. And nowhere is that more evident than this rumored iPhone device that everyone is seeming talking about as a done deal. What’s worse, in this case, it looks like Apple’s infamous reticence may be hurting it a bit.

See, Apple hasn’t actually announced a phone, but that hasn’t stopped the press, Wall Street analysts, or any average person on the street from opining about Apple’s entry into the phone market. It’s even gotten to the point where Apple’s stock price has been affected by the rumors.

If I were Steve Jobs, I’d not be getting much sleep lately, because no matter what Apple does with an iPhone, some people are bound to be disappointed. Cell phones are as uniquely personal items to most people, just like MP3 players, and Apple didn’t build its iPod line overnight: It took the company several years to flesh out a line of iPods that suited a wide variety of consumers, from people looking for maximum capacity to those who wanted maximum portability.

The same is true with cell phones—some people want slim, sleek-looking devices that offer limited multimedia or connectivity functionality, but look and sound great as phones. Others, like me, prefer a BlackBerry-like device, with a big screen and full keyboard. Others are interested in devices like the Motorola Rokr or the LG Chocolate—phones that can double as a stylish and functional music player. Others want a device that plays lots of games.

In my straw poll of the people I think are most likely to be interested in an iPhone—avid iPod and Mac users alike—I suspect that nothing less than as well-developed a product line as the iPod would make the bulk of them happy. So no matter what Apple does with an iPhone—presuming it does anything, that is—some people are bound to walk away from any potential Apple announcement in this space feeling disappointed.

I listen to the conference calls Apple has with financial analysts every quarter. For the most part, I don’t find the Wall Street analysts to be any more insightful or knowledgeable than anyone else who follows Apple news. From some of the clunkers I’ve heard analysts ask Apple’s CFOs over the years, I’m willing to bet that they’re not privy to any inside information not available to the rest of us mere mortals. But because these analysts considered financial and market experts, stockbrokers, day traders and others consider their advice to be sage wisdom.

Incredibly, even though Apple hasn’t said a word to anyone about whether an iPhone is in the works, rumors of the iPhone are having a tangible effect on the company’s stock price. Why? Because Wall Street financial analysts have been talking about the iPhone like it’s a matter of fact. One even went so far as to speculate that Apple won’t be able to ship it when he first expected it to. As a result, Apple’s stock price fell last Thursday.

So Apple’s stock price fell because an analyst said the company would miss its target ship date on a product it hasn’t even confirmed to exist, much less specified a release schedule for.

It’s enough to make you crazy.

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