Covering Apple's corporate activities is similar to watching the Vatican cardinals select a new pope. You're reasonably certainly something is happening, but it's hard to know exactly what or when.
One of the consequences of Apple's notorious secrecy is that the slightest change to its Web site can spark rampant speculation about future developments. A good example is the latest microscopically examined (and microscopically sized) event: With little fanfare, Apple put an electronic discontinued sticker on Web sales of its Bluetooth headset for the iPhone.
The news that the $99 accessory (which originally debuted for $129) has been taken off the shelf has raised speculation that Apple is planning to do one of two things: Get out of the Bluetooth market altogether or introduce a new stereo version of the Bluetooth headset with the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0.
When the Apple Bluetooth headset first debuted a couple of years ago, it received only mixed reviews. Some praised its hallmark Apple design elements of simplicity and elegance, its lack of garish lighting, and a thoughtful charger design that allowed both an iPhone and the headset to be charged at the same time. Others, however, complained that the device had poor battery life and range, and lacked controls for voice dial and volume.
The lackluster performance demonstrated by Apple's headset created a great opportunity for third-party manufacturers, who were able to step in with lower-cost products that offered better performance and more features. Those manufacturers may be playing catch-up this summer if Apple does release a new model with stereo capability.
Michael Gartenberg, vice president at Interpret, said the Bluetooth headset is an example of Apple's periodic efforts to enter the accessories market, and the discontinuation has more to do with software changes than a disinterest in selling add-ons.
"Given the new BT capabilities in iPhone 3.0," Gartenberg suggested, "it's possible Apple is looking to introduce new products that could better take advantage of the new features. It's not surprising that we're seeing a nearly two-year-old BT headset end of life, since there's been a lot of advances in that space and it might well be just a precursor to a product refresh."
A New iPhone?
Of course, Apple smoke watchers are not satisfied with the explanation that the headset change is solely related to the iPhone OS update. The real speculation centers on whether the product shift is a sign that Apple is planning new iPhone hardware as well.
For weeks now, bloggers have been scouring the new Apple iPhone software development kit for clues about new hardware. Many are convinced that an announcement of the next-generation iPhone is imminent, and argue that Apple is dropping older accessories to clear inventory for add-ons that will be compatible with new hardware.
Few companies manage the expectations game better than Apple. Even the Vatican could learn a few lessons.