David Gelles Apple fans await new iPhone, healthy Steve Jobs

With Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference just days away, the technology community is eagerly anticipating the company’s next product launch, and puzzling over the fate of its founder.

The FT’s Joseph Menn reports that Apple plans to introduce a cheaper version of the iPhone as soon as Monday, in a move that could dramatically increase the company’s share of the smartphone market. Apple declined to comment, but the company typically introduces major products at its developer conference, which begins on Monday.

Chief executive Steve Jobs, who has traditionally introduced new products during the conference’s keynote, is not expected to be in attendance. He has been on medical leave since January after suffering from complications related to an earlier bout of pancreatic cancer, leaving analysts and customers to speculate about his health. In his stead, senior vice-president and marketing chief Phil Schiller is scheduled to deliver the speech.

Last week Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak said Mr Jobs sounded “healthy” and “energetic”, and said he expected Mr Jobs to return to work as scheduled on July 1. Today The Wall Street Journal reports that Mr Jobs “appears on track to return from medical leave this month.”

The Journal quotes a source who says Mr Jobs’ recovery is “coming along,” but the source adds that, “he was one real sick guy. Fundamentally he was starving to death over a nine-month period. He couldn’t digest protein. [But] he took corrective action.”

Investors are hoping for a triumphant return from Mr Jobs. Rivals in the smartphone market are gaining ground on Apple, which has found a breakout hit in the iPhone. This momentum has fuelled the company’s stock, which has nearly doubled in the last six months.

For this run to continue, Apple may soon need to show off not only a new iPhone, but a healthy Mr Jobs, as well.