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Apple's Blackout Confirms Something Big About to Happen

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Stock up on canned goods. Bring in the patio furniture. Throw the chains on the tires. A storm's a-brewin', and Apple is getting itself prepared.

According to sources familiar with the matter, AppleInsider has learned that Apple has issued a three-week blackout period. Beginning the last week of January and continuing until mid-February, employees without seniority at Apple retail stores will not be permitted to take vacation days. This official company measure comes after Apple managers were allegedly "reluctant" to allow days off throughout January.

Additionally, many Apple stores have retained their overstaffed holiday employees, despite the fact crowds have died down with the new year.

If history tells us anything, this means something big on Apple's horizon. Past Apple blackouts have preceded major releases, like a new iPhone or the iPad launch. The company's retail outlets must remained fully staffed in order to handle customer lines wrapped around the block.

Exactly what will be launched in the coming weeks has yet to be determined. But we have some ideas.

Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Fortune all reported an early-2011 launch of a Verizon iPhone -- more likely on its 3G CDMA network than its 4G LTE network. On the other hand, the blackout could be in preparation for the second-generation iPad. AppleInsider learned last September that Apple would be pushing for a rapid turnover on the device to introduce FaceTime video chat with the camera-equipped followup.

And considering the litany of Android devices introduced this week at CES -- along with capable entries from Microsoft, Samsung, and Asus -- it would behoove Apple to introduce a revamped and highly anticipated smartphone or tablet.

Who knows? Maybe it's both.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.