New iPhone Might be a BlackBerry Killer

Analyst predicts iPhone could soon have a hardware keyboard

Imagine one with a slide-out keyboard

This could be the best of all worlds: an iPhone with a BlackBerry-like keyboard. That's the prediction of a leading Apple watcher, who says the do-all handset could appear early next year.

Not only that, it might be the elusive, Bigfoot-like cheaper iPhone that is claimed to be lurking in the woods. This according to Gene Munster, an equities analyst at Piper Jaffray:

Specifically, we believe Apple could introduce a lower-end model that is slightly thicker due to the inclusion of a slider keyboard for students (texting) and business use (email) between $99 and $149.

There has been all kinds of talk of a discounted iPhone, including speculation that Wal-Mart would have a $99 model by now. Turned out that was a $197 model, a startling $2 off the going price.

A $99 model did show up this week at AT&T stores. But those are refurbished iPhones. Hardly a big deal.

Munster says the new iPhone he's expecting won't come at Macworld next week but later in the quarter. And it could just be a fancier version to continue justifying a $199 pricetag. Maybe something other than cheap plastic for the case, or a slimmer case.

I'm more excited about an iPhone with a real keyboard. After all the talk about the BlackBerry Storm taking dead aim at the iPhone, it's fun to think Apple will shoot back.