Apple's biggest rumor: iPod or Jobs?

The Apple rumor mill is back in action - and this time the bloggers are calling the date: Sept. 9.

The Apple rumor mill is back in action - and this time the bloggers are calling the date: Sept. 9. That's the day the company is expected to announce a new look for the iPod Nano, a new version of iTunes, an OS X update and more.  Apple, of course, hasn't confirmed any of it and rumors in the past have been off-the-mark. Still, during last month's earnings call, the company made several references to a "future product transition" that it couldn't discuss at the time and it has a history of announcements in September.

So what exactly will happen on Sept. 9? Who knows? If the news is incremental, it could be a press release and an updated home page. If it's a big splash - and a revamping of the nano line, along with a new iTunes would likely qualify - then we expect to see Steve Jobs on stage and under the spotlight, selling us on the latest and greatest from Apple.

Normally, putting Jobs under the spotlight wouldn't be a big deal, but you may recall that Jobs' health became a topic of concern when an (apologetic) analyst asked about it during the earnings call last month. Back in June, Jobs looked unusually thin and haggard during a keynote speech at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Then, the New York Post reported that Jobs was suffering complications from, or a reappearance of, the pancreatic cancer cured by surgery nearly four years ago. The analyst asked the company to comment and the reply was a simple " Steve's health is a private matter." But is it?

A few days later, Jobs reportedly called the New York Times to discuss his health. What he said is unknown, though, because the interview was granted on the condition that it be off-the-record. The piece - while absent of any details - did delve into the larger debate of whether a company is obligated to share information about a CEO's ailing health? This excerpt from the NYT piece:

No company has ever been held to account by the S.E.C. for failing to disclose information about its chief executive’s health, and I’m not suggesting that the S.E.C. should go after Apple for keeping mum about Mr. Jobs’s health. Indeed, I found plenty of people who felt he had every right to keep the information to himself. “As long as he is healthy, he doesn’t have to disclose,” said Charles R. Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Company. Roger McNamee, the well-known technology investor at Elevation Partners, said, “Because Steve Jobs has been appearing in public regularly, investors are getting a valuable form of disclosure.”

But if ever there was a chief executive who ought to feel some responsibility to tell shareholders about his health, it is Steve Jobs. First of all, he is not like other chief executives — he is, instead, the single most indispensable chief executive on the planet. As Mr. Wolf nicely put it, “Apple is Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs is Apple.” He added, “I think the stock would drop 25 percent or more if he were to leave the company unexpectedly.” When investors whisper about Mr. Jobs’s health, it’s not just gossip they are indulging in — his health really matters to Apple’s future.

Like everyone else, I'll be waiting for the big announcement, whether it's on the 9th or some other day, and I'll be anxious to see the new Nanos, if that's really what's coming. But I'll also be waiting for some details on the announcement itself. Where? How? And, more significantly, who?

I understand that a person's health is his own business and I really don't want to invade that space. But if Jobs takes that stage looking less-than-healthy the way he did at the WWDC, you can pretty much bet that the matter will come up again - and there might even be a reaction on Wall Street.