Apple iPhone rumors multiply

Rumors that Apple plans to launch a new music-enabled mobile phone next year gained momentum on speculation of rich profits, and company statements.

Rumors that Apple Computer plans to launch a mobile phone next year are gaining momentum, although the company's Taiwanese manufacturing partners are giving little away.

A Taiwanese newspaper reported Wednesday that Apple had already ordered 12 million iPhones from contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Apple plans to launch the music-playing device in the first half of next year, the Commercial Times newspaper reported, without identifying its sources.

Component makers are not confirming the news, however.

Tripod Technology, a big maker of circuit boards for cell phones and other devices, declined to comment Thursday on what it called customer-related issues, citing nondisclosure agreements. Hon Hai Precision, which makes Apple's iPod music player, also declined to comment for the same reason.

Investment bankers have been quick to jump on the iPhone idea.

Bear Stearns Co. analyst Andy Neff believes the iPhone could ring in US$6 billion in new sales for Apple. He based the large revenue figure on the assumption Apple would ship 29 million iPhones next year, and said the iPhone would steal some users from the iPod, reducing its sales.

Apple could not immediately be reached to comment on the latest rumors. The company has yet to confirm any plans for an iPhone.

Analysts believe an iPhone would be a great move for Apple since it would fend off competition from mobile phone makers, which are putting music playing functions in handsets in a bid to take market share from the popular iPod.

Earlier this summer, Hon Hai was the focus of allegations that it mistreated workers at a factory in China that produces iPods. Apple investigated the claims and largely exonerated the company, despite a few minor violations of its supplier code of conduct.

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