Among analysts, predicting what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) will do next is like sport. Everyone weighs in but most are wrong, usually to the benefit of investors who profit from a muscular Mac maker beating up on flimsy expectations.

Analyzing Apple's product strategy is an equally passionate pastime for the tech press. And no device is subject to more scrutiny than the iPhone, which now ranks as the top-selling smartphone in the U.S., according to NPD data.

What's the rumor mill say now? Let's turn to CNET's, which helpfully organizes projections by the date they were made. Among the more recent ruminations:

  • Touch-panel shipments will fall at least 15% over the next several months as Apple prepares to ship a new handset sometime in the fall. (Source: DigiTimes.)
  • iPhone 5 will be taller and thinner, mimicking fashionable Android handsets from the likes of Samsung and HTC. A new dock connector may also be in the works. (Source: iLounge.)
  • Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is planning fall releases for both the new iPhone and HTC's latest handset. (Source: Boy Genius Report.)

Earlier rumors suggest that the iPhone's SIM card design will change little from what's already in the 4S, while others say Version 5 will be made from the composite material Liquidmetal, created and marketed by tiny Liquidmetal Technologies (OTC: LQMT.PK).

Yet while design rumors vary, there's near universal agreement on the shipping date for iPhone 5: sometime in October. Given Apple's history of strategically leaking product details to favored reporters in exchange for favorable press -- a staple of the Steve Jobs era -- I suspect at least a plurality of the rumors come from internal sources.

The implication? While most of Apple's team agrees there's going to be a new iPhone in the fall, they've yet to decide the design or feature set. And that could be a problem, especially since the new iCandy will be competing with the highly regarded Lumia handset from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK), which is now available in 48 markets. Distribution should improve even more by the time the holiday shopping season rolls around. Apple needs to get organized, soon.

Or does it? My read of the tea leaves is just as likely to be inaccurate as any other. Either way, next month's Worldwide Developers Conference is an important time for Apple. Consumers, developers, and investors alike will be anxiously waiting details of the new iPhone -- the stock could tumble if CEO Tim Cook and his team fail to provide them.

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