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Monday, January 5, 2009

Top 10 MacWorld Rumors

Apple’s (AAPL) last Macworld Conference and Expo opens Monday at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, but the real action starts Tuesday at 9 a.m. PT (12 noon ET) with senior vice president Phil Schiller’s opening remarks — the first Macworld keynote not delivered by Steve Jobs since 1997.

Nobody’s expecting breakthrough products that rise to the level of the iMac (Macworld 1998), the iBook (1999), iTunes (2001) or the iPhone (2007), but this Expo is not without its drama, speculation and hype.

Our top 10 favorite Macworld rumors:

10. Snow Leopard release date. We know a lot about Mac OS X 10.6, thanks to Jobs’ June 2008 announcement that it was coming, Apple’s official description of the product and a steady stream of leaks from the developer community. What we don’t know is when it will ship.

9. Unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro. By several accounts, this machine was supposed to be released in October, along with the new unibody 13-inch MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro. But display issues and problems with the optical drive reportedly pushed its release back “several months” — which brings us to next week’s Expo. UPDATE: Seth Weintraub at 9to5Mac adds this twist: the new 17-inch Pro will sport a superslim longer-lasting nonremovable battery pack.

8. Revamped iWork. The big news on New Year’s Eve was the “truckload” of information dumped on various rumor sites about iWork — Apple’s homegrown answer to Microsoft (MSFT) Office. The thrust of it was that what’s now a suite of desktop applications — Pages, Numbers and Keynote — is about to be transformed into a collection of Web-based apps like the .Mac Web Gallery, suitable for cloud computing.

7. 32 GB iPhone. Whispers that Apple was set to double the memory of the top-end iPhone have been floating around since September, but AT&T’s (T) post-Christmas $99 iPhone sale and word that Apple had sewed up the lion’s share Samsung’s flash memory production all point to a January release.

6. 64 GB iPod touch. Rumors of this memory upgrade go back even further. It was supposed to happen in August, then in September, and then before Christmas. With memory prices falling, time is more than ripe.

5. New Mac mini. Rumors of the most affordable Mac’s imminent demise have given way to a flood of new specs, among them 2.0 or 2.3 GHz Core 2 Duo processors, NVIDIA graphics platform, dual display outputs and dual drives that can be configured every which way.

4. New iMac. Some inspired sleuthing in the extension files that shipped with the new MacBooks found references to NVIDIA chipsets for both a Mac mini and a new iMac — along with hints that the reconfigured all-in-one desktop was supposed to ship in November but got pushed into 2009 by unexpected delays. DigiTimes now reports that Apple has ordered shipments of 800,000 per month.

3. New iPod shuffle. FBR Capital Markets’ Craig Berger, whose track record AppleInsider describes as “questionable,” expects Apple to release a new and smaller version of the iPod shuffle sometime in the first calendar quarter — which started on Thursday. AppleInsider adds that it has picked up chatter of a new shuffle that would be flat as a credit card but thick enough at one end to fit a headphone jack.

2. New Apple TV/Time Capsule. This one also comes from an analyst. Shaw Wu, a veteran Apple watcher newly ensconsed at Kaufman Bros., wrote last week about the possibility that Apple will introduce a new consumer device — “an enhanced version of Apple TV and/or Time Capsule” — that would give users access to their media content, SlingBox style, from anywhere on the Internet.

1. Steve Jobs. Show or no-show, Apple’s CEO is both Macworld 2009’s No. 1 rumor and No. 1 source of rumors — whether it be that he’s stepping down, that his health is failing, that he doesn’t feel there’s enough news in Nos. 1-9 to justify a Steve Jobs keynote, or that he just doesn’t feel like playing in Macworld’s sandbox anymore. We favor the theory that he’s set the stage brilliantly for a surprise cameo appearance.