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Conference call gives clues on future of iPod Touch, retail expansion

Reading through the transcript of Apple's conference call with analysts yesterday, I ran across several intriguing nuggets of information. Such as:

iPod Touch: On several occasions, Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer referred to the iPod Touch as "an entirely new type of iPod." From his opening remarks: "This new iPod had the potential to grow the iPod from being just a music and video player into being the first mainstream WiFi mobile platform running all kinds of mobile applications."

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Many pundits (and Touch owners) have declared the iPod Touch the ultimate PDA, but I don't recall Apple having been this emphatic about it before. This could be a sign that Apple plans a lot of future enhancements to the iPod Touch, both in the software and the hardware. Evolving the iPod line in the direction of a pocket computer is logical as well as a good business move. Despite its recent successes, Apple recognizes that it can't stand still.

Apple Retail Stores: Apple opened six new stores in the quarter, and now has 204. The company expects to add 35 to 40 locations in 2008, including more outside he United States. The average revenue per store was $8.5 million, up sharply from $6.6 million in the year-ago quarter. Traffic increased by 10 million visitors from last year, to 38.4 million, which translates to 14,700 visitors per store per week. No wonder it always seems like the Apple Stores are packed.

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On a similar note, Oppenheimer said Apple plans to expand its presence in Best Buy stores from 286 to 600 over the next six months. The total number of "storefronts" carrying the Mac has increased to 9,500 from 7,700 a year ago. "We have done that because of the momentum we see in the Macintosh business," explained Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook.

MacBook Air: When asked where the MacBook Air fits in Apple's product roadmap, Oppenheimer uncharacteristically responded with a general description of the target customer: "We think that the MacBook Air will appeal to travelers, to professors, to all different kinds of people who want to access the computer very quickly wherever they are."

He added that pre-orders for the laptop have been "very strong." The super-slim MacBook Air has been lambasted by critics who say it omits too many features to suit the needs of most customers. Steve Jobs and his deputies obviously believe otherwise.

Leopard: Sales of the latest version of Mac OS X have far outpaced that of its predecessor, Tiger. Leopard revenue was $170 million in the quarter compared to Tiger's $100 million in its first quarter. Oppenheimer attributed the growth to both a larger installed base of Mac users and that Leopard comes pre-installed on every new Mac, which sold in record numbers (2.3 million) in the December quarter.

One more thing: In a separate announcement yesterday, Apple added a new color to the iPod Nano line, pink. Available now, it's perfect for people "searching for a special Valentine's Day gift," according to Apple Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Greg Joswiak. Other than the color, the particulars are the same as the other Nanos: 8 gigabytes of storage for $199. Too bad I already bought my Significant Other a Nano for Christmas. Ahh, she hates pink anyway.

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