3G iPhone rumours build

A June iPhone launch now appears almost inevitable, following stories that the iPhone is out of stock at apple.com and leaked memos suggesting that US mobile operator AT&T has cancelled staff leave between June 15 and July 15.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs will give his customary keynote at the Apple World Wide Developers' Conference on June 10.

Any new iPhone is almost certain to include a 3G wireless connection, following comments by Jobs that such a device would launch in the second half of this year.

Adding support for 3G will address one of the strongest criticisms of the original iPhone, while boosting its sales potential in European markets such as Italy where 3G coverage is strong, but where public WiFi is more sporadic.

Apple had previously said it had held back on delivering a 3G version of the handset, until power consumption and battery life issues were addressed.

However, analysts now expect any new model to offer more than just improved cellular data speeds. According to Carolina Milanesi, Gartner research director for mobile devices, Apple is likely to add GPS navigation and possibly, a physical QWERTY keypad.

"There is a lot of demand for GPS devices," she told IT PRO in an interview. "In Europe, the take up of GPS is being driven by services, whereas in the US it is being driven by regulation. So GPS would be a good tick box for the iPhone."

"We also expect it to be different, in terms of looks. Some consumers understand technology improvements such as 3G but others buy on looks and fashion. And there may be a QWERTY keyboard as well as the virtual keyboard; the virtual keyboard has been a barrier to heavy email users."

Gartner believes that Apple will now go after a broader market than the early adopters targeted with the first version iPhone, such as those looking for handset upgrades. Gartner calculates that Apple and its network partners sold 350,000 iPhones in Q4 of last year, but preliminary numbers for the first quarter of 2008 suggest lower sales.

"The handset market is more crowded in Europe than in the US. The iPhone has a high price tag and has to compete with devices that, although not the iPhone, have many of the features and are often available free," said Milanese.