Macworld Expo: Fearless Predictions

You know the job's getting to you when it starts worming its way into your dreams. So it's with some concern over what this means for my mental state when I mention that I dreamt about the Macworld Expo keynote the other night.

There we were, awaiting Steve Jobs's biannual state-of-the-Mac address -- although we weren't at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, but seated in my tenth grade history classroom. I have no idea why. Maybe it was to save money on rent. Maybe Apple's efforts to reassert itself in the education market have taken root in my subconscious. Or maybe -- and I've pretty much eliminated this as a possibility -- I'm just a weirdo.

At any rate, we were there in the history classroom when Steve Jobs walked in. You could tell it was Jobs, even though he was wearing khakis, because he was clad in a black T-shirt. Some things -- such as the sartorial choices of high-tech CEOs -- are unchanging, be it in real life or dreamland.

In my dream, Jobs excitedly talked up Apple's new hardware offerings, promising a real doozy of a new Mac. And with that, he pulled back a curtain to reveal . . . well, something that looked a lot like the recently iced Cube. Only this Cube would periodically and without warning emit a sizzling beam of laser light that would instantly disintegrate anyone in its path.

Naturally, this caused quite a commotion in my dream, and I'm happy to report that I and many of my Macworld colleagues were able to escape the classroom to safety. The same could not be said for some unfortunate media big shots who, in my dream at least, were zapped by the Cube's laser and vaporized in what looked to be a spectacularly painful way.

So it wasn't an entirely unpleasant dream, that's all I'm trying to say.

Portentous dreams aside, those of you predicting what Apple will release at Macworld Expo can safely cross the iDeathRay off the list with a fair amount of certainty. I mean, I'm no marketing expert, but it doesn't seem like a Mac that ruthlessly and randomly liquidates the user base fits in with Steve Jobs's vision of a "digital hub". Though there's no telling what the mood is like in Cupertino, and Apple never comments on rumors, so maybe . . . .

Nah.

But a laser-equipped death Mac is just about the only product not being trumpeted on various Mac rumor sites and among Macworld.com forum posters. You name the Mac hardware product -- PowerBooks, iMacs, iBooks, G4 towers -- and someone somewhere has suggested a revision is in store for Macworld Expo. Even products that Apple doesn't make -- such as that long-rumored Apple-branded PDA -- are being bandied about as possible highlights of Steve Jobs's Wednesday keynote. There's even speculation in some corners that Apple will roll out a redesigned Cube, less than two weeks after stuffing the poorly-selling computer into a vault, double-dead bolting the door, and walking away casually so as not to arouse suspicion.

Those are the rumors de jour at this point in time, at any rate. So which ones are likely to pan out and which ones are high-grade bunkum? How do you separate the product news wheat from the baseless rumor chaff? It takes a person with a rare gift of insight, someone with a finger on the pulse of popular sentiment and an understanding of the industry that knows no equal. It requires a person with an iron will, good gut instincts, and enough insider information to merit a surprise visit from the truncheon-wielding goons of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

And ladies and gentleman, I can say without fear of contradiction that I am not that man.

Honestly. I don't know any more about what Steve Jobs plans to say Wednesday than the next guy -- provided the next guy knows absolutely nothing. Any prediction I make would be pure speculation -- just more ambient noise adding to the pre-Expo din. That's as good a reason as any for me to play it smart and just take a pass on making any forecasts.

Sadly, I am not terribly smart.

The last time I played the predictions game, right before Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I didn't disgrace myself too badly. For those of you not scoring along at home, here's what I thought Steve Jobs would announce:

  • An MP3 application of some sort. (Like iTunes? Check.)
  • Faster Power Mac G4s. (Check.)
  • A new PowerBook design. (Check -- though I had no idea just how new.)
  • No OS X ship date. (Oops.)
  • So that's three for four, unless you consider that I didn't say a word about iDVD and I totally missed the boat on the OS 9.1 update. But still, not a bad bit of crystal ball gazing, especially for a rank amateur.

    And that's not necessarily a good thing. Get too many Macworld Expo predictions right, and Apple employees start to shriek and run away whenever they catch sight of you. Either that, or black-turtlenecked men break into your home during the dead of night and demand to know where you get your information. And I just don't need that kind of hassle.

    So here's what I think will happen this year. It's even money that I'm completely wrong, and -- if that dream about a death ray-equipped Mac has any basis in reality -- I hope that I am.

    * It's been a great run for The Computer that Saved Apple. Constantly imitated but never equaled, the iMac has been Apple's flagship product for three years, a public face for a company that doesn't go along with the beige-box crowd. A year ago, Apple said that it had sold 3.7 million of the colorful computers, a number the company has probably long-since eclipsed. Not many hardware products can claim that kind of resume.

    Then again, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn have had nice runs, too, and they're packing it in this year. Maybe it's time to give the iMac its plaque and its gold watch and send it on its way.

    After Apple bumped up the iMac's processor speed and added a CD-RW drive in February, it seemed pretty clear that the company was running out of ways to turn heads with the iMac. So what better way to liven thing up than by introducing a new machine, every bit as eye-catching as its predecessor, with greater functionality to boot?

  • It's been six months since the last G4 speed bump -- seems like high time for another to, oh, let's say, 1GHz. That's a nice round number and easy for simpleton reporters such as myself to remember.
  • The Titanium PowerBook G4 has been a big hit with Mac users -- just ask our readers. Still, the PowerBook is the only Mac hardware without a built-in CD-RW drive. And that has to drive folks at Apple batty.
  • When Apple was on its way to posting its first quarterly loss in three years this January, Steve Jobs vowed that the company would produce more applications . I doubt he intended to stop with iTunes and iDVD. So maybe Apple unveils another digital hub-themed iProduct this Wednesday.
  • If the theme for the week is "OS X" -- and Apple has given every indication that it is -- then it won't do just to have a keynote where Jobs demonstrates how the Dock works for the umpteenth time. So I'd guess that there's going to be a Mac OS X update of some sort -- a minor one -- and a steady stream of developers who join the Apple CEO on stage to demonstrate OS X versions of their products, finished or not. We're talking all the heavy hitters -- Microsoft, Macromedia, maybe even Adobe, just to put those Apple feud rumors to rest.
  • That might be when Steve Jobs unveils the iDeathRay, I'm guessing.

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