Is Apple planting seeds for a new iPod?

Apple Inc. plans to host a special event next week, feeding speculation that it may release updated models of the iPod media player and slash prices of existing models to spur holiday sales.

An invitation for the Sept. 9 event in San Francisco, sent Tuesday, is entitled “Let's Rock” and shows a silhouetted dancer holding an iPod below a “playing soon” banner. Apple shares fell to a three-week low after a Thomas Weisel Partners analyst trimmed his sales and profit estimates for this quarter.

Lower prices, smaller models and more storage may bolster Apple's product line in the December quarter, its biggest sales period. CEO Steve Jobs has held events each September for the past four years to introduce new iPods, which play music and videos. A year ago, Jobs introduced the iPod Touch, a touch-screen model that surfs the Web.

“It's critical that they introduce the latest and greatest” to stimulate holiday orders, said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis. “We just thought it was going to be an updated version of the iPod Touch, but they may have something even more interesting to show.”

Jobs, 53, may offer higher-capacity versions of Apple's slim Nano players and cut the price of the 8-gigabyte iPod Touch from $299 to $199, said Munster.

The $199 price would match the cost of Apple's new iPhone 3G, released in July. While the Touch has the same screen as the iPhone, it can only access shorter-range Wi-Fi networks, rather than mobile-phone connections. Apple also sells an iPod called the Classic and the low-priced Shuffle, which starts at $49.

“My guess is: new iPods at lower prices, given the cost of an iPhone is as low as $199,” said investor Romeo Dator, when asked about next week's event. He owns Apple shares as a portfolio manager for the All American Equity Fund at U.S. Global Investors Inc. in San Antonio.