Apple on Monday is expected to unveil a next-generation iPhone and possibly provide a glimpse at long-absent chief executive Steve Jobs as it kicks off a software developers conference in San Francisco.
The northern California maker of iPods, iPhones, and Macintosh computers has remained tight-lipped as usual about what announcements it has in store, but speculation and rumor are rampant.
"My gut tells me we are going to see a next-generation iPhone and Snow Leopard be the two stars of the announcements," Gartner analyst Van Baker said, referring to Apple's smartphone and a new Mac operating system.
"Steve may do a cameo, maybe, because there is strong evidence from multiple sources he is getting back to good health," he said.
However, "it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't show up; he doesn't want to upstage Phil (Schiller)," Baker added.
Schiller is a senior vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple and is filling in for Jobs at the keynote presentation opening the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).
Schiller went on stage in place of Jobs at a Macworld conference in San Francisco in January after Apple's renowned 54-year-old chief went on a leave of absence for health reasons.
Apple has been notoriously secretive about Jobs's health since he underwent an operation in 2004 for pancreatic cancer but has been adamant that he is returning to the company's helm this month.
"Steve Jobs is coming back, but he is not coming back for long," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
While claiming no inside information, Enderle said he believed Jobs would soon step aside and turn the reins over to executives who have shown they can capably run the company in his absence.
Apple's keynote on Monday is to be tailored to an audience of software developers interested in crafting programs to work with the iPhone or Macintosh operating systems.
Talk that Apple might delay the release of Snow Leopard has heightened speculation that Jobs might make a keynote appearance to divert attention from the setback.
"Rather than have the news of the day be that Snow Leopard is slipping, bring out Steve Jobs and get people focused on the iPhone," Enderle said, theorizing about a potential Apple tactic.
Even if Snow Leopard's release is delayed, its features will be outlined because it is, after all, a software developers conference, according to Baker.
"Whether Apple ships it that day or a few months later is immaterial as long as they stand up and show what it can do," Baker said of Snow Leopard.
The annual conference provides software developers with technical information about Apple operating systems and opportunities to get hands-on lessons from the company's engineers.
The third-generation iPhone is expected to have improved processor, camera and video capabilities and to allow users to run multiple applications simultaneously.
The ability to run multiple programs at once is the much-touted feature of the Palm Pre smartphone which went on sale in the United States on Saturday and has been praised by reviewers as a worthy competitor to the iPhone.
There has also been unconfirmed speculation that Apple is working on a low-price iPhone.
"I would be pleasantly surprised if I actually saw a line of iPhones," Baker said. "They need a span of low to high-end models."