AppleInsider reports that Apple Retail has issued a freeze on employee vacations beginning the last week of this month. The freeze reportedly bars any Apple Retail employee without seniority from taking vacation during a three-week period. The vacation freeze is expected to expire by the beginning of the third week of February.
So what could this rumored vacation freeze mean? It's possible there will soon be an announcement from Apple introducing a new product, and Apple wants its stores fully staffed to handle the flood of customers.
On the Mac front, Apple's MacBook Pros are overdue for an update, last being revamped in April 2010. However, it's unlikely that new MacBook Pros would cause a stampede of customers to the Apple Store. The most likely scenario is that Apple is planning on announcing the next generation iPad or a Verizon iPhone in the next few weeks, either of which could go on sale by the end of January. Lending further credibility to a major launch in the upcoming weeks is that Apple has reportedly retained its temporary holiday staff through mid-February.
[One point of clarification: Though AppleInsider's report notes that "Apple is also said to have retained its overstaffed holiday personnel at many retail stores, even with the annual shopping season now concluded," TUAW's retail sources suggest that the company has not brought on seasonal/temporary staffers in several years. –Ed.]