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iPhone Rumor Gnaws at Apple

Chatter about a possible delay in the anticipated launch of Apple's (AAPL) iPhone spooked shares of the computer company Thursday.

Apple stock recently shed $1.79, or 2%, to $88.04, but it was off as much as 2.7% earlier in the day.

"Based on our checks, we believe the timing of Apple's iPhone commercial launch is around late first quarter 2007 to early second quarter 2007," CIBC World Markets analyst Ittai Kidron wrote in a Thursday note. CIBC does and seeks to do business with the companies it covers in its research reports.

"We have no exact details on the form factor or functionality of the handset, yet we believe Apple could be designing as many as three different models (real or decoy)," Kidron added.

Apple has not confirmed the launch of iPhone, but some analysts have expected that its debut could come as early as Macworld in January.

"This is a product that Apple is not even acknowledging exists at this point," says Richard Stice, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor's who follows the company.

Still, if the expectation was that the device was to launch at Apple's annual gathering, "that would explain (the stock's) move."

Stice does not own shares of the company, and his firm does not do banking.

"These rumors are a dime a dozen at this point, and I think Apple knows what they're doing," says Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. "We're 90% confident that they will show it by Macworld. It may not be in full production, but they'll show it."

He says that the company has a history of showing a product, shipping it soon after, but not having immediate availability. Munster's firm makes a market in the stock, and does and seeks to do business with the companies it covers.

"Speculation about new Apple products is always a great form of entertainment, especially around December," says Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg. "We're seeing people react to rumor.

"At this point, it's simply idle speculation."

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