Jobs headlines Apple event, new iPhone in the wings

Jobs headlines Apple event, new iPhone in the wings

San Francisco: Apple Inc is widely expected to unveil its latest iPhone on Monday, as the company aims to stay a step ahead of rivals in an increasingly competitive smartphone market.

Chief executive Steve Jobs will take the stage at Apple’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco, with investors and consumers alike anticipating their first glimpse of a fourth-generation handset.

But the bar is set high and it will be a challenge to wow Wall Street. Apple’s stock has already gained more than 20% this year, and the company overtook Microsoft Corp to become the world’s most valuable technology company.

Few are expecting major technological advancements from the current model, known as the 3GS. The new iPhone is expected to be faster, sport a front-facing camera for videoconferencing, boast longer battery life and a better screen.

Although no game-changing innovation is anticipated, the iPhone remains the gold standard in the smartphone market, and Apple’s product launches are the most closely watched events on the technology calendar.

The iPhone has been a huge success since it debuted in 2007, boosting Apple’s margins, transforming it into one of the world’s leading mobile device makers and setting the competitive landscape in a smartphone battle that will play out for years.

Although the iPhone is gaining share globally, it faces a slew of new competitors, including Motorola Inc and HTC, designing high-powered handsets based on Google Inc’s Android software.

Only last year, Research in Motion Ltd was seen as Apple’s top rival. While the company’s BlackBerry remains the smartphone of choice for many corporations that need fast email, Apple has made strides in that market as security concerns addressed by the BlackBerry eased.

But the iPhone’s prime target — for now — remains the consumer.

Investors are monitoring the smartphone wars closely, particularly in international markets where the iPhone’s penetration is relatively small.

In the United States, Wall Street and consumers alike are eagerly anticipating an iPhone on the network of Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 telecoms provider.

But that announcement is not expected to come Monday. Most analysts expect to see a Verizon iPhone some time next year, or perhaps as early as this fall.

Wall Street will also be following the iPhone’s pricing closely. The iPhone 3GS currently starts at $199 with a subsidy from exclusive carrier AT&T. Many analysts expect Apple to cut that price to $99 and tag the new iPhone at $199.

The second-generation iPhone, known as the 3G, is expected to be discontinued. On Friday, it was not available for sale on Apple’s website.