I don't believe in prognostication, but the Apple market is unique in its capacity to generate rumours, sometimes years before an event.

As a case in point, just look at the five-year-long string of reports which claimed Apple to be considering a move to Intel processors - rumours which were commonly circulated before the company revealed its plans last year.

Today, every Mac available runs on an Intel processor.

Clearly, Apple did an able job of preparing the market for the move - by the time it was announced, Mac users were pretty well prepared to part with their cash in order to buy into the Intel Mac generation, and its performance boosts.

This may not have been so easy a task without the pre-announcement rumours, which prepared us Mac users to look at the move with a balanced viewpoint. Surely Apple's challenge to convince us all to migrate from PowerPC processors to Intel ones would have been more problematic without that raised awareness.

Admittedly, PowerPC partners IBM and Motorola's inability to put sufficient pep into their processors also helped Mac users grapple with the notion of the migration. Whether you are a professional or a consumer Mac user, you still want plenty of performance for your money.

Now the hottest rumour in town is all about the iPhone. A device that combines features from the iPod with those taken from mobile phones. And also most likely offers hard as nails integration with Mac OS X and (possibly) Windows systems - and all without an ounce of Windows Mobile.

That last thing means Apple may even find it has an opportunity to license any mobile technologies it may develop to handset manufacturers, who tried to resist Windows for their devices until it became clear there was little choice. Apple may break Microsoft's tenuous hold on that market, if it licenses its technologies, though given the company's track record on this, that's pretty unlikely.

Thing is - all these market rumours are serving a similar purpose to those preceeding the Intel switch - preparing the market, building anticipation, and putting the notion into many people's minds that should such a device ship, they will want to be among the first to own one.

I don't disbelieve the iPhone rumours. The fact of the matter remains that mobility is one of the key advantages that helped spur MP3 player sales in the first place.

We like to carry all our songs in our pocket. And we also carry a mobile phone.

Converging technologies mean you can watch TV on your phones today, with deals between manufacturers, networks and broadcasting channels suggesting an all-in-one device in future.

Whether iPod users will actually want to rush to replace their player is another thing - for many of us, the separation between our phone (as a disruptive communication device) and our iPod (as a device that maintains a sense of personal space and freedom) is to be desired.

But for others, the introduction of a perfectly-integrated, easy-to-use and technologically advanced mobile that combines a little of both worlds would be something to be welcomed.

There's regional differences, too - take the Far East market, there, mobile phone downloads eclipse the iTunes-type music sales services.

The Far East is a strong market, highly lucrative, Apple boss Steve Jobs would be a fool to ignore it. History shows he isn't a fool.

In the past, consumer activity in Japan has been seen as a bellweather for the future of technology, and in Japan they're mad for mobile download services.

With QuickTime-based technologies already in use in the mobile industry, and with an iPod and iTunes empire to nurture and protect, there's ample reason - and opportunity - for Apple in the launch of an iPhone.

Telecoms, technology and digital music analysts I've been speaking with recently all believe that the time isn't yet right for mobile services, but point to existing market inhibitors, such as battery life, expensive music, data charges, storage and the inability to archive tracks bought from some services to a PC.

Despite these reservations, they all think it likely that mobile phones will eventually emerge as music playback devices.

iSuppli analyst Mark Kirstein believes: "Time favours mobile. Mobility is part of what spurred MP3 player sales. To succeed, operators must provide a unified solution."

Can Apple ignore this opportunity?

(And will one of the mobile music networks please get it together to create a way independent labels can work with them directly, rather than through aggregators, as the present mobile music market structure is almost wholly major label-based, leaving even the world's largest independent, Beggars Group, at a market disadvantage).