T minus four days and counting. Steve Jobs' Macworld 2008 keynote is next Tuesday and at this point we only know one thing for sure: something big is coming from Apple. Maybe not one single iceberg-sized thing, but this year we believe the Boom Count™ is going to be so high that Apple had to take their new big irons out of the way to clear the launching pad. And if it wasn't enough, there's plenty of evidence that points out the magnitude and importance of next week's announcements:
What we know for sure
• Without naming any specifics, our unofficial conversations with people inside Apple points out at a 2008 full of new products. Not new versions, but actual new products. According to them, as their consumer segment gets stronger by the day, the company can take risks that before were unthinkable.
• The same sources says that, although Apple is going to keep spacing these releases through time, the overload of information for this keynote requires their marketing agenda to be extremely focused, even more than during previous events. Getting the Mac Pro and Xserve lines at the keynote was only going to add clutter, so a decision was made to present them earlier, also knowing that the pro segment is well informed and taken care of by Apple specialists through the world.
• Last keynote served to launch one of the biggest consumer-oriented bets in Apple history: the iPhone.
• Other sources inside Apple confirmed us that, after the introduction of the Intel architecture, the company's strategy was not to update the external design of their hardware for the time being. The idea was to complete the migration, keeping it as invisible as possible. So instead of introducing new designs as an element of disruption, they kept the looks steady to transmit the idea of continuity and stability to an existing user base wary of yet another major architectural change in the platform. Once the transition was solid, the company was going to start changing the looks of each of the product lines, one by one, starting with one of their core products: the iMac.
• This is the year when Apple goes completely green.
• Although this receives no publicity whatsoever and is often overlooked by the press, there's a way to know what kind of products may appear at keynotes: while Apple doesn't communicate what new products are going to be announced to their own marketing and sales forces through the US and the world, the mothership communicates what kind of clients may be interested in the products to both the sales and PR teams, especially overseas. That way, they can plan and invite the adequate clients and media outlets to these events.
What we can reasonably guess
That said and looking at the current product cycles, here's what we can expect almost for certain:
• Apple TV. While the Apple TV never lived to the company's hopes and later was downplayed as a hobby (more like a "let's test the waters and keep a feet in this market," as our sources point out), the fact is that movies and TV series are one of the cornerstones of iTunes' expansion plans.
Apple knows that a solid presence in the living room is a must to make this happen. This is why we will probably see a new Apple TV, worthy of being called the iPod of the living room. Perhaps not in its current form, but yes, an AV product.
• Apple Cinema Displays. Long overdued and surpassed by the competition at this point, the Apple Cinema Displays could be renewed in this Macworld. However, with new Mac Pro systems without any aesthetic change, don't expect a revolutionary change in terms of design. Most probably, it will be an evolution that will match the current professional desktop and in line with the looks of the latest iMac.
However, knowing Apple's obsession with green, their 2008 deadline and, why not, Steve's pal and board member Nobel friend, we think there's a very high probability of seeing state-of-the-art technology in the new displays, with LED backlighting.
• iPhone. It is going to be one year after the announcement of the iPhone. We logically expect time to be devoted to the product, perhaps with announcements to highlight the incoming public release of the iPhone third-party software SDKs. Expect no 3G yet, however: our sources inside a Spanish telecommunications giant point out that 3G will come later in the year.
• MacBook Pro. Realistically, the MacBook Pro will probably be the Real Big Bang for next Tuesday morning. With the Intel transition over, and following the iMac revamp, the MacBook Pro has a very high probability of receiving a major facelift. One that will mirror the dramatic changes of the previous grand redesign of an Apple portable—which coincidentally matched a big architectural change—the PowerBook G4 Titanium.
While there are rumours about a specialised ultra-slim MacBook, some are pointing out at the lack of optical drive, the most logical step for Apple is to make all of its portable product line as thin, light and complete as they can. Instead of making a niche product, their best interest is to make all their laptops, which are their most popular computers, more attractive than those of the competition.
To do this, technologies like LED backlighting, solid state drives (in line with the flash drive memory news that have been reaching the public through 2007, positioning Apple as one of the biggest clients of various flash memory companies), new processors and tighter reduction of components will most probably make their way through all the product line.
One more thing
While the above could be perfectly real, there's always the dream factor, the "one more thing." A totally new product that will take everyone by surprise. Looking at the rumours, and as we discussed in the past, it may be some kind of magic tablet, so well made, cheap and practical that could overcome all the current limitations of the Tablet PC platform. It could also be an ACME Food Synthesizer or anything we can dream about.
Looking at the patents, the little news about component purchases and the rumours, these can be the possibilities:
• MacBook Ultra-slim. We have seen recently unearthed dock patents that may be connected to a MacBook Ultra-Slim, but like other Apple research work, it may never reach the market or do it at a much-later date. However, we are more inclined to expect a major thickness and weight reduction of all the MacBook and MacBook Pro product line (like happened with the PowerBook G4 Titanium) than a specialised sub-notebook with separate docking station. If that happened, the difference in size and weight need to be huge enough to justify a different product line. Looking at the market size, it may not be justifiable.
• MacBook Touch (Apple Tablet Mac.) Then there is the fabled Apple Tablet, recently revitalised by the Tablet PC's camp renewed activity and the roaring iPhone success. This MacBook Touch is a recurring rumour, but again, it's difficult to believe Apple is chasing this Holy Grail when there is not a clear market for it. We have no doubt that Apple has this kind of hardware working, especially after the experience of the iPhone. But also like the iPhone, which was originally a PDA before it was eliminated in favour of the iPod, the mass market that Apple is seeking may not be ready for it.
And then again, maybe Bill Gates knows something nobody knows when he points out a possibly imminent Apple version of their Tablet PC. With his connections, I won't be surprised. But on the other side, he may just be another looking for a validation of his Tablet PC passion by his biggest nemesis.
• Apple Cinema Displays. Out of gut feeling, I bet Brian $20 that there may be a larger Apple Cinema product for the living room.
However, beyond all these facts, analysis and predictions, at the end of the day the only thing we are sure about is that the announcements will be dense and big. Now, the only thing to discover is if the surprise factor will be as big as the density of the information that will be delivered in the keynote.