Forgive me if this has been mentioned already. I don't recall seeing this in the course of this discussion, but mental lapses are always possible.
A good friend was telling me yesterday that there is speculation in the Danger forums about an Apple-branded hiptop (T-Mobile calls it SideKick, IIRC). My knee-jerk reaction was to poo-poo the idea, but the more we talked about it, the more it made lots and lots of sense to me.
Look at the evidence:
From the Danger website (<a href="http://www.danger.com/products.php
" target="_blank">Products Page</a>)...
Danger provides an end-to-end mobile applications platform which includes a back-end service, a framework that uses standard development tools, and hiptop hardware designs. The integrated solution provided by Danger enables wireless service operators to enter the market quickly with compelling products and services.
The hiptop communicator is a live device that seamlessly connects to wireless networks, providing consumers the freedom to browse the Internet, exchange instant messages, and send and receive email with attachments. Additional hiptop communicator features include a full-featured phone, personal information management (PIM), entertainment applications, and a camera accessory. <hr></blockquote>
So, the hiptop is basically an OS, an online service, and a set of hardware designs. Danger provides the OS, some services, and basic hardware designs, Apple supplies their always amazing industrial design and some major marketing muscle. Sounds strikingly similar to Apple licensing the Pixo software for the iPod's interface, IMO (note the clever insert of a precedent).
Look at what this thing can do: instant messaging (mobile iChat), email (mobile Mail), web browsing (mobile iBrowse), pictures (mobile iPhoto). And that's just what it can do RIGHT NOW, in its current T-Mobile incarnation.
Just think how many ways this could tie into Apple's other technologies. Give it Bluetooth and/or AirPort ability and Rendezvous support, and it can wirelessly iSync with Address Book, iCal, your iPod, your Palm, and your .Mac account. Make that ability available over a 3G cellular network (killer app alert!), and you've got the ability to iSync from anywhere in the world. Add some Sherlock channels (movie times, flights, stocks, eBay, yellow pages), and you've got an incredibly flexible and useful tool. Add in Apple's newly released TCP/IP over FireWire functionality, and some additional interesting possibilities present themselves.
Or, maybe instead of a completely different device, this could be the next generation iPod. Let that one sink in for a minute. Imagine an iPod with all the functionality just mentioned. Conceivably, Apple could even add a color screen and the ability to play QuickTime videos, and you've got a mobile video player as well, but I'm getting far ahead of myself here (I'm trying to say in realistic speculation mode, but it's too easy to go pie-in-the-sky).
All that, AND it's a phone. I'd buy one of these.
Problems? Of course:
Cost - Lord only knows how much one of these would cost, considering that Apple charges $500 for an iPod alone. T-Mobile is selling theirs for $200-250, I think. This is about right. If Apple releases one for $800, no matter how good it is, I don't think it will fly. Not to mention the fact that you'd have to pay for BOTH a .Mac account AND a monthly wireless provider. It could get pricy QUICKLY.
Wireless Provider - Apple still has to work with one or more wireless providers (T-Mobile, Cingular, SprintPCS, etc.) to provide phone and data services for this device. Not to mention the problem of providing different devices for different networks (discussed in much detail earlier in this thread).
Product Overlap - MP3 ability would be a natural for this device, especially if Apple decided to put a hard drive into it. But if this product is distinctly different than an iPod, what's to keep it from cutting into iPod sales, unless this new device were priced significantly higher. Which leads us back to cost (see above again).
Product Focus - Its current foray into calendars and contacts notwithstanding, the iPod is a tightly focused device, and benefits from that focus. It is well suited to what it does, and it matches up nicely with a single iApp (and don't forget that each iApp is tightly focused as well). This new device would be a Swiss Army Knife, and that kind of goes against Apple's current philosophy. But, philosophies change.
Windows Support/Marketshare - If .Mac is a reason to have a Mac (yeah, I know, not much of a reason, but a reason nonetheless), and tight integration with .Mac and the iApps makes the Mac platform and this new device appealing, what about our Windoze cousins? Windoze users screamed for the iPod because it was a great piece of hardware. Apple delivered for them. I'm not really sure how Apple could deliver a Windows-compatible version of this, at least with enough differentiation to make it appealing. Which means that, much like the iPod at the outset, they've built an expensive, appealing device that can only be bought by ~3-5% of the computer buying public. Of course, it's up for debate as to whether or not this is a bad thing.
Well, that's it. Take it for what it's worth, which may not be much, and I'm sure others here can imagine uses I haven't dreamed up. Remember, this is all utter speculation, so I reserve the right to be incredibly wrong.