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Applevine: The Latest iPhone and iTunes Rumors

applevine rumorsThe as yet still unscheduled premiere of iPhone 2.0 is getting closer and the frenzy is building.  With it, the rumors and speculation are picking up pace.  Two new iPhone whispers and one iTunes story have been passing down the AppleVine to start this week.

1. iPhone 3G Debut Date
Throughout April, iPhone product shortages fueled speculation Apple was thinning inventory in anticipation of the next iPhone product.  For the most part, the consensus was this channel inventory adjustments would build through June.  At that point, likely at Apple’s developer conference, the iPhone 3G would be introduced.   Occasionally, a whisper here or a rumor there has suggested an earlier (or later) delivery date could be the D (delivery) -Day too.

This weekend, news reports that Apple was no longer taking iPhone orders at their online US and UK stores brought the whispers of a possible day in May delivery (which were previously reported on Metue) to a louder volume.

Already, Apple had forecast shortages during their last earnings call.  Those shortages coupled with increased buying after price cuts in some European markets may be the sole explanation for the phone shortfall.  Some, however, think it’s evidence of a pending press release and world premiere.

To be sure, there’s nothing direct to indicate Apple is on track for an earlier roll out.  June remains the general consensus and partner O2, which had been showing shortages too, appears to have since refilled some of their shelves.

Anything is possible and no doubt, the Apple watchers will remain vigilantly on guard for any more hints.  (Rumor 3 listed below could fuel those conspiracy theorists among the crowd).  For now, just another iPhone rumor traveling the Applevine. 

2. HBO to iTunes
Apple has generally had an iron will when it comes to playing with the pricing structure on iTunes.  As a rule, iTunes pricing has been fixed and despite the wishes of more than a few content companies, variable pricing wasn’t an option.  Story two from the Applevine is a rumor this is changing.

According to a report published by Conde Naste’s Porfolio, Apple is on the verge of offering coveted HBO original programs in the iTunes digital store.  The programming, which would include hits like the Soprano’s and critical faves like Deadwood or In Treatment is expected to be offered a premium to the standard $1.99 an episode fee.

If true, the news will be a break in tradition as much for HBO as for Apple.  In the past streaming and downloads have been a real trouble spot for HBO. Due to contractual issues, both forms of digital delivery have been an almost constant “no fly” zone.  Except for a limited program called HBO on Broadband and an experiment with recent program, In Treatment, shows have largely bypassed digital distribution.

The nature of cable TV and related distributor/affiliate agreements have been a reason for that.   Estimates put HBO revenues at more than $3.5b a year but a large portion of that income comes from affiliate broadcasters that pay HBO a fee per each subscriber they redirect.  Those charges, which are thought to be about $6 to $7 a head, are offered in exchange for contractual terms that provide some protective covenants and a measure of exclusivity.   Navigating these agreements to take content online has been a minefield.  If HBO is going online to iTunes, then somehow, those mines have been diffused.

The pricing variations forecast for the shows have often been represented as a similarly unnavigable minefield for content companies.  In the past Apple wasn’t willing to budge.  Now, however, that reticence seems to be fading. 

Last week, iTunes UK began selling a selection of NBC Universal content under a variable pricing scheme.  New programs were running for 1.89 pounds and older shows dubbed classics were priced at 1.19 pounds.

If NBC and Apple, which publicly fueled and parted ways over these issues last summer, could reconcile and test the variable pricing waters, odds are favorable this HBO rumor has some veracity to it too.  Wouldn’t be outrageous, for example, if a premium pricing structure was introduced to give HBO better margins and the means to offer their cable affiliates a financial incentive too.

3. iPhone Black
Product specs for the 3G phone remain among the most popular forecast subjects; probably more popular even than the speculation about when the phone will arrive.   So far, debates have ranged from the possible inclusion of GPS, to WiFi functionality or the inclusion of dual (front and back) cameras that would allow some form of video conference functionality to how thick the phone’s case. 

The latest news flash in the iPhone feature category is that the phone will have a glossy black back in contrast to the current aluminum model.   Either that or there will be more than one body finish and at least one of the “flavors” will sport the black case.

Support for this rumor is coming from AT&T customers who reported an option to upgrade to such a black iPhone was a feature seen when logging in to their AT&T accounts.  The presence of these references on AT&T’s website has since been confirmed.

Does it mean anything?  Maybe, maybe not…..   Previously, rumors hinted AT&T might be setting up to offer the next iPhone at a lower price than the same phone at the Apple store.  One of the theories explaining that subsidy (which hasn’t been confirmed) was supposition Apple might finally allow customers in the US to legally unlock the phone. (the pricing discount would allow AT&T to have some competitive advantage).  Another prospect previously suggested is that Apple will introduce two Sku’s for the next iPhone. (Analyst Gene Munster is betting on 3 by 2009). The theory for two speculates AT&T will get one of them exclusively but the other will be sold from Apple’s outlets for use on any suitable network at a much higher price.   The existence of a separate black cased iPhone could lend support to some of these prospects. It could also just be the simple answer: a slight product design change. 


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