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The iPhone by Linksys

The iPhone has finally arrived, but it didn't come from Apple .

Linksys, Cisco's consumer networking division, today unveiled a series of dual-mode phones able to use either traditional telephone connections or the Internet. And it did so on the buzz already generated around the non-existent Apple phone.

In a statement, Linksys said the iPhone includes seven handsets, such as one for use with Skype and one bundled with Yahoo Messenger with Voice.

iPhone
The Linksys iPhone on Yahoo Messenger.
Source: Linksys

For months, talk of a phone from Apple, to be called the "iPhone," has circulated on the Internet with little confirmation or denial coming from the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker known for its secrecy about new products.

"We felt right now was the right time to launch our iPhone family," Karen Sohl, a Cisco spokeswoman, told internetnews.com. Sohl denied it took advantage of the iPhone controversy, saying the trademark was bought from Infogear in 2000.

Apple did not return repeated requests for comment.

Sohl said there was no ulterior motive to the announcement's timing. "We didn't want to wait until after Christmas," she said.

The Linksys announcement comes just two week before the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, a traditional platform for new device launches, and Macworld, a frequent venue for Apple. The timing is a brilliant example of what analyst Rob Enderle termed "ninja marketing."

Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, said the announcement took advantage of Apple's insular behavior to reap plenty of publicity.

But it didn't come as a surprise to Mike Wolf, analyst with ABI Research, who was briefed by Cisco on the iPhone. While the mythical device was always linked to Apple, Cisco actually held the copyright to the brand since 2000, Wolf said.

Although Apple isn't commenting, the computer maker also probably received some advance warning of the Linksys move, according to the analyst.

The Linksys announcement could make Cisco, long involved in VoIP in the enterprise market, more of a player in the handset area, In-Stat's Neil Strother said. "It gives them a window into voice and data."

However, that window could quickly be shut by consumers upset Linksys rode the "specter of a phantom device" in order to promote Wi-Fi handsets rather than a cell phone with the Apple aura, he said.