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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) --

Apple

(AAPL)

may not debut any new hardware at its Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC) next week, but the tech giant still has enough weapons in its arsenal to fend off gadget rivals such as

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

and

HP

(HPQ)

.

"Apple has been pretty clear that they are not preparing to release new hardware -- it will be a software story

at WWDC, and that's ok," Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst at tech research firm Forrester, told

TheStreet

. "The iPad 2 was an incredibly successful launch."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs will keynote next week's WWDC event.

Of course, Apple's gadget challengers are few and far between right now, and many of them are still getting their act together. HP CEO Leo Apotheker said Wednesday that his company will not launch the TouchPad tablet

until the device is perfect

, a nod to the recent tablet problems at RIM, which was forced to

recall 1,000 of its PlayBooks

shortly after launch.

Set against this backdrop, Forrester estimates that Apple will hold a massive 83% of the U.S. consumer tablet market in 2011, a figure that will dip only slightly, to 70%, in 2012.

Other analysts are also untroubled by Apple's break with tradition to not -- apparently -- launch a new iPhone at WWDC. "Apple remains the best technology company on the planet with numerous catalysts on the horizon, for example, iPad 2 sales and CDMA iPhone ramp," wrote Brian Marshall of Gleacher & Company in a note Thursday.

"Apple is

the

mobile internet play, while legacy players struggle," added Brian White, an analyst at Ticonderoga Securities. "For example,

Microsoft

(MSFT)

completely missed the recent ramp in the tablet market, while Apple has invented the category with the iPad."

Apple has also built up a phenomenal head of steam in the smartphone market, which should offset the impact of a delayed iPhone. Record iPhone sales laid the foundation for the company's stellar second-quarter results. Apple's iPhone shipments leapt a massive 113% during its fiscal second quarter, accounting for half of the firm's total revenue of $24.7 billion.

Last month, tech research firm IDC reported that Apple had

slashed the gap

on smartphone market leader

Nokia

(NOK)

, boosted by its deal with

Verizon

(VZ)

to sell a CDMA iPhone and recent partnerships with

South Korea Telecom

and

Saudi Telecom

.

The delayed iPhone nonetheless prompted Gleacher & Company to lower its 2011 iPhone forecast from 80 million to 75 million units and its 2012 projection from 100 million units to 95 million units.

Brian Marshall maintained his Apple buy rating and $450 price target, adding that new hardware is on deck. "We do expect a '4S' version in the second half of 2011, followed by the widely anticipated LTE (Long Term Evolution) iPhone 5 in the first half of 2012," he said.

The biggest question mark hanging over Apple, though, remains the health of CEO Steve Jobs, who has been out on medical leave since earlier this year. Apple confirmed earlier this week that its famous chief will helm the WWDC keynote speech Monday, marking his second public appearance of 2011.

TheStreet

will be live-blogging Jobs' presentation from San Francisco.

Apple shares crept up 58 cents, or 0.17%, to $346.10 on Thursday as the Nasdaq slipped 0.17%.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

http://twitter.com/jamesjrogers

.

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