A September surprise from Apple?

Is Apple planning a special event for September? Analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray seems to think so.

In a research note published last week, Munster predicts that Apple will have a special event next month that will focus attention on new iPod and MacBook models.

That sort of speculation isn’t without some basis in reality. During Apple’s recent quarterly conference call with financial analysts to discuss third-quarter results, chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer indicated that Apple would, in this current quarter, experience a “significant product transition.”

Munster suspects that Apple will increase the capacity of the iPod shuffle—the music player doubled in size to 2GB in February—and may even redesign the iPod touch. But he doubts that Apple will radically redesign the entire iPod line.

An Apple event in September focused on the iPod wouldn’t be unprecedented. In fact, if recent history is any indication, that seems to be Apple’s month of choice for introducing dramatic changes to the iPod line. After all, the event and its resulting product launches are timed to stir interest in Apple’s consumer electronics products just before the holiday shopping season.

In the last three Septembers, Apple introduced the iPod nano in 2005; overhauled the shuffle, nano, and video-capable iPods in 2006, and rolled out the third-generation iPod nano in 2007. Other September surprises in recent years have included partnerships with Motorola, car makers, the NFL, and Starbucks.

Laptop speculation was originally spurred by the launch of Centrino 2, Intel’s latest mobile platform, and the subsequent musings over what chips might power future Mac laptops. (Apple updated both its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines in late February, adding updated Core 2 Duo “Penryn” chips to both products.)

Munster suspects Apple will probably wait until next year before making any significant changes to the enormously popular MacBook laptop. MacBooks have been hugely popular with high school and college students; Apple often refreshes those products in winter and spring in preparation of the academic buying season.

In his note, Munster predicts that Apple will introduce a touch-screen enabled MacBook, but doubts it’ll see the light of day until 2010. He also says that a “full touch-screen MacBook” is coming, but probably not for another two or three years.

Multi-touch, the technology Apple incorporated into the iPhone and iPod touch, is a “core differentiator of Apple products,” said Munster—one that Apple wants to protect going forward.

What all this means for a future Apple event—if there is a future Apple event—remains to be seen. But we shouldn’t have to wait too long—September is just three weeks away.

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