Apple Can’t Escape Steve Jobs’ Shadow

What could possible be bigger news than a new iPhone? If you’re an Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) fan, the status of the company’s iconic CEO trumps all.

Reports have surfaced that Steve Jobs has been spotted back on the Apple campus from his medical leave and is on track to resume his duties later this month.

The news comes on the eve of Apple’s big WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) in San Francisco next week and speculation the company might unveil a new iPhone model. Even without a new phone, the five-day event is a key one for Apple developers, as the company will provide more details of the upcoming Snow Leopard release of the Mac operating system and the latest 3.0 software release for the iPhone, which is slated to be released soon.

Apple staffs WWDC with a thousand engineers involved in a range of technical sessions for the 5,000 attendees at the sold-out conference.

The Web site TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog), reports that a tipster claims the AT&T support Web site will soon feature “iPhone Video” as one of the model choices. The addition of video recording features to the iPhone has been a long-standing rumor and has even been implemented by third parties, though in ways not sanctioned by Apple. A further report in BusinessWeek speculates that Apple aims to make home movie-making mainstream by bringing such capabilities to the iPhone.

The Financial Times Web site reports that Apple is likely to show off a cheaper, $149 version of the iPhone that would almost certainly boost Apple’s share of the smartphone market.

If Jobs’ health has indeed improved, it’s possible he could make a cameo at WWDC. Apple VP of marketing Phil Schiller is set to headline the keynote along with several other Apple execs. The Monday event kicks off just two days after the release of the much-anticipated Palm Pre on Saturday. If a new iPhone is released, that could be a major buzzkill for Palm and carrier/distribution partner Sprint.

But Gartner analyst Mike McGuire says the mobile race is a longer-term issue than what happens over the course of a few days. “I assume Palm had some forethought when they scheduled their release date,” McGuire told “Palm has a lot more to prove at this point than Apple. For Palm, this is more like a do-over or a relaunch. We already know it’s a neat device, now they have to build an ecosystem and show there are compelling apps. Apple’s already done that.”

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