San Francisco: Apple Inc`s next-generation iPhone, which CEO Steve Jobs is widely expected to unveil on Monday, will have to really set new standards in multimedia content and function to wow Wall Street and consumers.
Apple`s challenge may be to dream up game-changing innovations, since the iPhone is already an unqualified blockbuster that is the company`s main profit growth driver, and its share price hovers near record highs. The bid is made tougher with the early success of the iPad tablet computer, which many say has already created a new market.
Competition from a host of well-received smartphones based on Google Inc`s Android operating system is also growing, pressuring Apple to raise the bar even higher.
The "iPhone 4.0 will keep them ahead of the game. Is it as easy as last year to stay ahead? No. I think Android has made huge progress," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Only last year, Research in Motion Ltd was seen as Apple`s top rival. While the company`s Blackberry remains the smartphone of choice for many corporations, Apple has made strides in that market as security concerns addressed by the Blackberry have eased.
More than 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies have deployed or piloted the iPhone, according to Apple.
But the iPhone`s prime target -- for now -- remains the consumer, in a market where it increasingly goes head-to-head with Android phones from vendors like HTC, Motorola Inc and Samsung Electronics.
Longer-term, investors are squarely focused on the iPhone`s spread into international markets including China, Apple`s pricing strategy, and when the device will be available through another US carrier besides AT&T.
Jobs takes the stage at Apple`s developers conference in San Francisco on Monday following a hectic public schedule of late, where Wall Street is expecting to get its first formal look at the fourth-generation iPhone.
The phone will likely be faster, have more capacity, a better screen and battery life, and a front-facing camera -- all nice additions, but none of which move the competitive needle very much.
"There will be some pretty cool things on stage with Steve, but at the end of the day we know the general functionality," said Broadpoint AmTech analyst Brian Marshall.
Some features that iPhone users have long clamored for, such as multi-tasking, will also be added.