The release of an Apple-branded iPod mobile phone is "logical and inevitable", according to the analysts at Visiongain.

Analysts there believe that 2006-2007 will see Apple's product offerings accelerate, reflecting its focus on convergence technologies. They also believe Apple will open for business as a virtual mobile phone network operator, hiring bandwidth from existing network operators.

The findings are contained in Visiongain's latest report: 'Apple in Wireless: Strategic options in a converged marketplace'.

The report looks at Apple's failed partnership to deliver a mobile handset (the ROKR) with Motorola, which the analysts called a "lowest common duct that compromised all of Apple's strengths".

They predict that Apple will embrace mobile more fully and pose a greater threat to the mobile phone industry itself as a virtual network, challenging carriers and a mobile phone handset makers.

The analysts re-present the persistent rumour that soon-to-launch US network, Helio, will be part of an entry strategy for an 'iPhone'.

In 2006, Visiongain expects over 40 per cent of all cars sold in the US in 2006 to offer iPod connectivity, stressing this will "not be MP3 player connectivity, but iPod only".

"The iPod capitalised on and redefined the emerging digital content market that has thus far proven elusive to other industries and iPod competitors," said Visiongain analyst Pam Duffey.

"iPod's story, however counter-intuitive it may appear, does prove innovation is key to seizing the lion's share of the market. The incredibly simplistic user interface encourages greater usage, and has been Apple's greatest gift to the computing masses," adds Duffey.

"Beyond solid pricing strategy, Apple is expanding its distribution methods and network to grab and maintain leading market share," concludes Duffey.

The analysts also think it's possible Apple will add Voice over IP to the iPod iPhone, which poses massive implications for the industry.