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Apple Goin' Mobile?

Apple Computer (AAPL) may be getting into the mobile phone market after all.

The company last week filed a series of applications to trademark the phrase "Mobile Me" to cover, among other uses, the sending and receiving of "data, images, audio, video and documents ... over local or global communications networks." The filing suggests that the company is getting ready to dip into the mobile-phone business, said American Technology Research analysts Shaw Wu and Albert Lin in a note issued Thursday.

"We believe this is further indication of AAPL's strategic direction to extend its iPod + iTunes and Mac franchises into new business areas including smart phones, value-added mobile content services, and the broader consumer electronics space," according to the analysts.

An Apple representative did not return a call seeking comment.

Rumors have been swirling for months that Apple would launch its own mobile phone and, potentially, its own mobile phone service. The company dominates the digital music space with its iPod players and iTunes store. But many analysts believe that other companies' music-playing mobile phones will eventually threaten the company's pre-eminence in digital music.

Last September, Apple took a step toward meeting this challenge when Motorola (MOT) unveiled the ROKR phone , which uses Apple's iTunes software. But the phone has been a dud with critics, who have complained about the paucity of songs it can hold -- about 100 -- and its inability to download songs over the wireless networks.

The feeling among critics and analysts has been that Apple intentionally hobbled the device so that it wouldn't cut into sales of iPods. But many analysts have argued that Apple would eventually come out with a successor device, potentially one of its own making. That expectation has been fueled by the fact that the company owns the iPhone.org Internet address.

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