Apple announced the upcoming event on Wednesday in an invitation emailed to journalists and analysts. With the title "Back to the Mac," the invitation made it clear that Apple would introduce the next major version of the Mac OS X. Beyond what's in the invitation, everything else is speculation, and Apple's policy of not commenting on upcoming products means the company won't be providing any more information. Nevertheless, taking a look at what Apple has and has not done recently provides fodder for educated guesses.
Apple announced a refresh of its iMac desktop line in July, and given the company has never announced upgrades to its desktops and laptops at the same time, the focus of industry observers have been on the latter. The last MacBook refresh was in April, exactly six months ago. In addition, given all the attention Apple has given the iPhone and iPad recently, it makes sense that it would plan a flashy event for its MacBooks, particularly as the holiday shopping season approaches.
First up on possible announcements is a refresh of the MacBook Air, where the current 13-inch model is replaced with a lighter version with an 11-inch display. Such a move has been in the rumor mill since at least the summer, and would make sense, given there isn't enough differentiation between the Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. While the Air is thinner and lighter, the MacBook Pro starts at $1,199, which is $300 less for a more powerful laptop. "The Air lost momentum relatively soon after it was introduced," Ezra Gottheil, analyst for Technology Business Research, told InformationWeek. "Later, when the (13-inch) MacBook came out, it was left with a lot less distinction."
And speaking of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, Apple could give the system a badly needed processor upgrade. The system today comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and upgrading the laptop to at least the newer Core i3 would bring it in line with the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, which are available with Core i5 or Core i7 chips.
Interestingly, Gottheil believes Apple could introduce a hybrid hard disk drive to the MacBook Pro line. Such drives integrate a solid state drive, where the operating system and frequently used applications and data are stored for faster access and higher performance overall. "This is one area where noticeable performance boosts are coming from these days (in laptops)," Gottheil said.
Aside from hardware, Apple could include some software upgrades that appear to be commonsense. One would include integration between video calling on the MacBook and the iPhone 4, which currently uses incompatible software called iChat and FaceTime, respectively. Finally, a new version of the Mac OS X is a sure thing. One change could be a new big-cat name. The invitation shows the familiar Apple logo with the partial picture of what looks like a lion embedded along the edge. So "Lion" could end up being the follow to today's Snow Leopard.