Apple's maverick leader CEO Steve Jobs is an IT ninja, using surprise, intuition and innovation to benefit the company, reports the New York Times.

As April 28 approaches – a year to the day since Apple launched iTunes Music Store – industry watchers speculate at what Jobs' next move may be, as the company continues its transformation.

Will the company launch a Mac-style interactive TV system for the living room to compete with Media Center PCs, the report asks?

Or does Jobs, "legendary for being idiosyncratic and unwilling to follow industry trends", have other plans?

"Wouldn't Apple's co-founder want to avoid the crowded market for digital entertainment products and turn his laser focus on a mobile digital communications product?"

Phone call

The report looks at QuickTime's support for 3G standards 3GPP and 3GPP2, alongside the Macs existing facility to create content for 3G networks using QuickTime. It observes Apple's experience in wireless networking with AirPort, and speculates that it may be working on a new phone "that would take the company into the fast-growing voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) market".

Apple won't say anything, "surprise is at the heart of all the company's marketing campaigns."

The report explains that speculation in Silicon Valley predicts that Apple’s leader may intend to launch an effort to create "a string of digital consumer product categories" at the upcoming WWDC event in July.

Looking at Apple's market-leading iPod, the report adds a little history. Product development began in 2001 with a team led by engineer Tony Fadell (whose work experience includes stints at Apple spin-off General magic, Philips and RealNetworks).

Development took just six months, and the company may have trounced RealNetworks in the move. It seems Fadell and RealNetworks leaders didn't see eye-to-eye. "Real may have allowed an iPod-like product to slip through its fingers."

On Jobs' working methods, the New York Times says: "People who know Jobs well say he disdains strategic thinking as it is practiced by large corporations."

Apple's strategic moves are being reflected at its Cupertino HQ, where posters and graphics about Macs have been replaced with iPod info. "In the main lobby is a striking three-storey high billboard celebrating Jobs' brand-new billion-dollar consumer electronics business – iPod."

The report looks at the incoming competition in the market for the digital home, and asks if the company will be overwhelmed – but adds that Jobs' reputation in the industry supplies an answer: "Never underestimate Steve Jobs".

Today's Apple is a "fusion of fashion, brand, industrial design and computing" – less a computer company that a big-brand multinational.

"Jobs, if he is to successfully revamp Apple, will ultimately win not by taking on PC rivals directly, but by changing the rules of the game," the report concludes.