It's that time of year again, time to dust off the crystal ball and prognosticate about what Apple has in store for us at the big January love-in at Moscone. Macworld Expo opens in San Francisco in less than two weeks and predicting Expo announcements has become nothing short of a sport. So before you lay your money down for that shiny new computer, here are Jason the Greek's Vegas odds on Steve Jobs announcements for The Big Dance.
10. Mac OS X 10.5. Leopard will be Apple's sixth major release of Mac OS X. CEO Steve Jobs stated during his WWDC keynote speech on June 6, 2005 that "We intend to release Leopard at the end of 2006 or early 2007." Since it's less than a year after Tiger's release on April 29, 2005 it's not likely we'll see it at Macworld Expo. Look for a Leopard preview at WWDC 2006 sometime in June. Odds: 100-1.
9. Intel PowerBook. The PowerBook everyone is waiting for will be powered by a dual-core Intel "Yonah" processor and will feature a built-in iSight camera. Apple has recruited a bunch of former Sony VAIO engineers for the project and the PowerBook successor is rumored to be 20-25 percent thinner. Hopefully it'll be the PowerBook nano I've been dreaming of. Unfortunately, it's not likely as the pro software (Final Cut, Creative Suite, etc.) isn't universal binary yet. Rosetta emulation isn't fun folks. Odds: 50-1.
8. iWork '06. Apple's productivity suite will get upgrades to Pages and Keynote with the possible addition of a modern Office-killing spreadsheet application (rumored to be called "Numbers" or "Sheets"). If it reads and writes Excel files the Apple spreadsheet will be the final nail is Microsoft Office's coffin. Microsoft will waste no time in announcing the end of support for Office for the Mac if this happens. It would be great if Apple also bundled FileMaker pro or a spinoff application called iBase (like they did with Logic > Garageband and Final Cut > iMovie). Apple should also make Pages into more of a true word processor and move all the DTP features to a separate application called iLayout - just to keep Quark and AdobeMedia on their toes. Bonus points if Apple were to release pro versions of Mail and iCal. Odds: 25-1.
7. iLife '06. iLife '06 will see updates to its core apps (iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand and iTunes) and the addition of PhotoBooth and Front Row that will work with all Macs. iBlog could be acquired from Lifli Software and upgraded to publish to all major blog platforms including Blogger, Movable Type and WordPress (in addition to iDisk.) Apple could replace TiVO and your cable company's DVR in one fell swoop with iDVR. Several new applications are being bandied about as potential additions to the suite, including: Animator, Site Builder and Podcaster. Odds: 10-1.
6. Bluetooth remote control. The new BT remote will work with Front Row 2.0 on all Macs. A Radio Frequency (RF) remote is also possible, but it will require a USB receiver for the Mac which is a buzz kill. Odds: 5-1 on RF, 3-1 on BT.
5. Price Increases for iTunes. The iTunes Music Store will succumb to pressure from the music labels and the decline in online music sales and move its pricing model to a sliding scale. Less popular songs will start as low as US$0.19 while new releases will jump to US$1.99. A compromise by the labels will leave album prices at US$9.99 with the possible addition of lyrics. Odds: 10-1.
4. AirPort Ultra. This is a new portable AirPort base station with video. Bundled with a new application called AirTV you'll be able to stream video to your TV - in High Definition. It'll be bigger than the Express to accommodate the built-in HDMI connector and will sell for US$199. The upgraded AirTunes 2.0 software will allow you to stream any audio to it (not just iTunes), allow streaming to multiple Ultras at once and simultaneous playthrough on the computer speakers. Bonus: If you have an iSight camera or microphone it doubles as an intercom system. Odds: 10-1
3. 1GB iPod nano. The iPod shuffle has been sold out for weeks and Apple could release a larger 2GB version, but they're more likely to euthanize the shuffle (like they did with the iPod mini) in favor of a 1GB nano. For only US$159 (US$30 more than the 1GB shuffle) you get a color screen and a dock connector. Apple will also add video support to the nano line via a firmware upgrade to boost sales of TV shows and video content. Odds: 3-2.
2. Intel Mac mini. It's no secret that Apple's moving into the living room and the Mac mini is the perfect platform to do it with. Apple could replace TiVO and your cable company's DVR in one fell swoop with Apple-ized DVR software (see iLife '06). Apple will also add a built-in iPod dock, a dual-layer DVD drive and Front Row 2.0 (see iLife 06) to the Intel-based Mac mini, code-named Kaleidoscope. Odds: Even money.
1. Widescreen Intel iBook. The first portable Intel Macs will be iBooks based on Intel's new Yonah chipset featuring a new 65nm process that's 70 percent smaller than the Centrino processor. Dynamic Power Coordination will allow Yonah's two cores to be controlled independently making it sip batteries slowly. The new IBook (capital "I") will feature a dual-core Yonah processor in the 1.5 to 2.0GHz range with a 667MHz front side bus. The new IBooks will ship in a single 13.3-inch widescreen (possibly High-Def) configuration. Don't be surprised if this IBook is the first to ship without a FireWire port.
Chime in with your predictions on Apple's announcements for Macworld Expo 2006 in the TalkBack section below before Steve's keynote address on January 10 - for full bragging rights. I'll be back on January 9 with a series of Macworld-week installments.