Apple Macworld Speculation Goes Into A Frenzy

Apple watchers are predicting iTunes movie rentals, a new subnotebook, a tablet computer, and more at the Macworld conference. Some of the predictions will be wrong, some will be dead-on -- decide for yourself.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

January 11, 2008

6 Min Read

Apple fans think different about product announcements than Windows users do. Windows users want the facts, and want them fast. By the time Microsoft announces something big, it's already been leaked. The announcement is kind of like a ceremony to describe what everybody already knew.

Apple's major announcements are usually surprises. Mac fans don't know ahead of time -- and they don't really want to know, because that would take the fun out of solving the puzzle. Apple fans like the mystery. In the weeks leading up to a major announcement, they like to scrutinize clues, scour the Net for rumors, and talk and talk and talk.

The Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco is the site of the biggest announcements of the Apple year. Macworld starts Jan. 15, kicking off with Steve Jobs' keynote address, and the Apple blogs and tech journalists have been running wild trying to predict what Jobs will unveil when he turns around and says, "One more thing." Last year's "one more thing" was the iPhone, the year before, Intel-based Macs.

We've gathered up the best rumors and speculation from the most reliable Apple blogs and news outlets. From iTunes to a subnotebook to a 3G iPhone, here they are:

iTunes Kicks Up Movie Offerings

Disney is the only Hollywood studio selling new releases on iTunes (Jobs is a major shareholder), but Apple will announce deals with all the major studios at Macworld to offer movies through iTunes.

Apple signed with Fox to allow consumers to rent movies from iTunes -- download digital movies that are playable for a limited time only.

And Apple will, for the first time, license its FairPlay digital rights management technology, to allow purchasers of Fox DVDs to rip the media to a PC or video iPod.

Sources: Financial Times, BusinessWeek, New York Times

Probability: High. The sourcing on this one is pretty solid.

Analysis: The deals will boost demand for Apple TV, which was introduced at Macworld a year ago and has, until now, been a what's-the-point device. Cool gadget, but it doesn't really seem like it's worth $299 and the hassle of hooking up yet another box to your TV, just so you can watch iTunes video. Now, if you can get access a complete library of pretty much all major movies for the past couple of decades, that would be something.

Technology companies have been talking about movies-on-demand for decades, but the technology is really gaining momentum this year. In addition to Apple, Amazon and TiVo jointly launched a movies-on-demand service, and Netflix is working with LG Electronics on a set-top box.

iPhone SDK

Apple already announced this one, so it's kind of like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow. The software developer kit will allow developers to write native applications for the iPhone, not the Safari pages they're currently limited to. Applications will have to be approved by Apple and sold through iTunes. Expect demos at Macworld, and the SDK itself will ship (like Apple said it would) in February, although I think it's likely we'll see beta of the kit available at Macworld. Subnotebook

A smaller, lighter notebook for travelers, with solid-state memory instead of a hard drive, 13-inch display, external detachable optical drive, and multitouch track pad.

Sources: Macworld, MacRumors, and AppleInsider

Probability: Medium.

Analysis: What would be really interesting is if this were a sub-$500 device. Jobs famously said over the summer that Apple isn't interested in selling cheap PCs, because "we can't ship junk." Since then, though, the $399 Asus EEE demonstrated that a low-priced notebook computer can be well-made, even if it is low-powered.

Tablet PC

Kind of like an iPhone or iPod Touch, but without the phone bits and bigger. Use it to play media, including Office documents, PDFs, and e-books, with Flash storage and secure wireless networking access back to your main computer.

The tablet might actually be the same device as the subnotebook, with a hideaway keyboard like tablet PCs running Windows.

Sources: Macworld and too many others to list; it's all over the Apple blogosphere.

Probability: Zero.

Analysis: I don't care how cool it sounds, Apple was burned by the Newton and this just isn't going to happen. The demand is just too small.

Second-Guessing: This is the prediction that'll make me look stupidest if I'm wrong about it.

New Desktops

Midrange screenless Mac, somewhere between the Mac Mini and Mac Pro, for people who don't want an all-in-one desktop system like the iMac, who don't want to pay a premium for the MacBook Pro, but who need more juice than the low-end Mac Mini.

Source: Macworld

Probability: Medium.

Analysis: Sounds like a good, solid tactical move for Apple; not really all that exciting but a product people will like.

New Notebook Dock

Apple patented a docking mechanism that allows you to slide the notebook vertically into the side of a display, like you now slide a DVD into an iMac display.

Source: Gizmodo, which has a mockup image and screenshots of the patent application.

Probability: Medium.

Analysis: Awesome! I can just see the crowds lined up at the Apple booth, taking their turn putting the notebook in, popping it out, putting it in, popping it out, over and over again. And sounds like it would be a nice complement to the subnotebook.

iPhone Software Update

Apple is releasing firmware update 1.1.3, with has several impressive new features, including movable icons on the home page, and the ability to save Web bookmarks on the home page. Also coming: a GPS-like upgrade to Google Maps, allowing users to mark their location to an accuracy of 2,200 meters (1.4 miles) by triangulating off cell phone towers.

Source: Gear Live

Probability: High -- maybe not at Macworld, but it'll be here this month. 3G iPhone: AT&T said a little after Thanksgiving to expect it this year. Makes sense it would be announced it at Macworld. Maybe we'll see a second-generation iPhone, with more memory, as well.

Software-configurable keyboard: Apple applied for a patent for a keyboard that can display any symbols on the keytops using organic light-emitting diodes. The keyboard uses OLEDs formed on a glass substrate that also functions as the keytop. (Source: Computerworld) I'm not sure how Apple can claim a patent on this, since (as the article notes) an OLED-based keyboard, the Optimus Maximus, has been in development for some time.

Apple re-enters the enterprise: For more than a decade now, Apple has been focused on consumers, education, and creative professionals, leaving big business alone. If a big company wants to buy Apple products, Apple is happy to sell to it, but Apple isn't making an aggressive push to win big customers. With Macs gaining market share rapidly, that could change.

This year, as every year, the rumors and speculation are running rampant about Apple announcements at Macworld. But we can count on some things: The keynote will be entertaining, the hot product will be surprising, and -- quoting Andy Ihnatko, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist writing in Macworld, "people will complain that it costs way too much money, and they'll happily stand in line for a minimum of 18 hours to get one."

And don't forget to check out our comprehensive guide to everything else that's happening at Macworld.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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