| SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK
SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK Apple Inc CEO Steve Jobs leaps back into the spotlight next week to showcase the iPad maker's latest software and is widely expected to unveil an online music storage and streaming service.
Apple shares rose 3 percent on news that Jobs, along with a team of executives, will deliver the keynote speech at a June 6 conference showcasing the iPad-maker's latest software and products. But it was unclear if the CEO, who has been on his third medical leave since January, is returning full-time.
An appearance by Jobs, who survived a rare form of pancreatic cancer, would mark only the second time he has shown up in public for a company event since going on medical leave for an undisclosed condition.
In March, a thin but energetic Jobs took to his now-familiar platform at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center to unveil the iPad 2, drawing a standing ovation after months of frenetic speculation about his health.
Jobs plans to unveil a new cloud-based service called iCloud, offering computing and data over the Internet, the company said in a statement. The CEO will also unveil a slew of software upgrades at the conference, including Lion, its Mac OS X computer operating system, and iOS 5, the next version of its mobile operating system.
The conference will be the first time in recent years that Jobs will be joined by his executive team during the keynote speech. The Silicon Valley icon typically takes the stage alone at most new product or service launches.
Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund, was "very surprised but happy" to see that Jobs appeared to be taking a more active role in strategic planning, although he was encouraged other executives will share the spotlight.
"The biggest overhang on Apple's stock is the health concerns surrounding Steve Jobs and the move to show a united front from the management team is overdue," Smith said. "There is an excellent management team behind Steve Jobs and this is a move to say there is more to (Apple) than Steve Jobs."
Wall Street speculation has centered on the launch of a cloud-based multimedia service that will let consumers store and stream music and pits Apple against Google Inc and Amazon in online content.
Apple has struck deals with three of the four major record labels, sources said.
The move to the cloud is crucial to help Apple stay competitive with the increasing popularity of open-sourced software, such as Google's Android operating system, investors said.
"It's absolutely critical," said Michael Yoshikami, Chief Executive of YCMNET Advisors, who expects iCloud to include a scan-and-match technology that scans a user's hard drive and provides access to music found there from the company's own servers.
"Eventually, people are not simply not going to tolerate a hard drive crashing on a local basis and having all their information lost," Yoshikami said.
It would be just like Apple to enter and dominate an established market with new technology. Its iPod, launched in 2001, quickly dominated a market of MP3 players; the iPhone was hardly the first smartphone and the iPad came after Microsoft Corp tried repeatedly to sell tablets.
An aggressive move would help the technology icon capitalize on a lucrative market opportunity and sustain its torrid growth, but some investors see it as a defensive play.
iCloud -- expected to also include a revamped version of its little-known MobileMe storage service -- comes as rivals Google, Amazon.com Inc and even Netflix Inc vie to become an online hub for Web video, music and pictures.
Apple -- which has so far only provided content through its iTunes store -- geared up for the launch of cloud services by building a half-million-square-foot data center in Maiden, North Carolina.
Apple typically unveils a new iPhone this time of year, but some sources told Reuters they did not expect the new model to appear until September.
One thing is sure -- the developers who depend on Apple for much of their livelihood will welcome the return of the man who pulled the company back from the brink in the 1990s.
Jobs, 55, a high-tech visionary who has come to embody Apple's turbulent history and some of the industry's most cutting-edge products, is credited with rescuing Apple from near death in 1996 after a 12-year absence from the company he co-founded.
Under his leadership, the launch of the iPhone, a smartphone with a touchscreen in 2007, and the iPad, a tablet computer in 2010, forged new business lines for the company that created the personal computing category.
In January, he took his third medical leave in seven years, but executives say he has remained involved in strategic decision-making. Apple's fortunes had once been linked inextricably to his vision and leadership, but many Wall Street analysts believe the rise of other executives such as COO Tim Cook ensures a deep bench for the future.
Apple shares closed up 3.09 percent at $347.83 on Nasdaq.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Dave Zimmerman, Maureen Bavdek and Andre Grenon)