Last time around, in January, Steve's big secret was the new iMac. And while that turned out to be a very nice product, it'll be even nicer now that Apple is solving a problem many of us had with the first units: The 15-inch screen is too small.
RELIABLE WORD is that Steve will unveil a 17-inch version of the iMac this week at Macworld. The big question is: How much of a premium will he charge for it? I'll go out on a limb and say I'd pay no more than $300 for those extra two inches of screen space--but I would pay it.
Another important topic in Steve's keynote should be the next version of OS X--code-named Jaguar. Apple being Apple, it hasn't figured out the proper way to introduce an operating system. So even though copies of the beta (most of them not quite legal) are all over the place, not much has actually been written about the new OS.
Still, the persistent rumors are that Jaguar development has gone better than planned, and that the OS will be released sooner than many had expected. So why no press betas? I wouldn't be surprised to see Steve hold up a gold master copy of Jaguar and say it's been released to manufacturing, but still have no press copies to hand out.
Though we could see a general release of Jaguar before Labor Day, I'd recommend postponing the upgrade until reviewers and really hard-core fans have taken the plunge. Still, if Jaguar is able to improve Windows's compatibility, e-mail support, and networking features, as well as introduce Apple's iChat instant messaging service (it's AOL IM in disguise), this will be the release that solves most of my serious concerns about OS X.
ALSO NEW IN JAGUAR: .Mac, Apple's oh-so-cutesy renaming of its iTools service, which is notable mostly for its free online storage and free mac.com e-mail addresses. Speculation is that .Mac is considered a potential revenue platform from which Apple and its partners can sell services.
It's not clear what, if anything, .Mac has to do with Microsoft's .Net Web services initiative, save a confusing similarity in nomenclature. Will that connection, if it exists, be revealed at Macworld? Who knows? I've been surprised before.
Something else that would really surprise me is a last-minute agreement--on paper or from the lips of Bill himself--that reaffirms Microsoft's commitment to developing for Mac OS. I'd really like to see something that promises that .Net Web services will be usable from a Mac client.
But I'd be surprised to see such an agreement, because Apple's current "switch" advertising campaign is the company's most in-your-face attack on Microsoft Windows in a while. Whatever willingness there may have been on Microsoft's part to firm up its previous commitment--release to release--to remain on Mac has probably evaporated.
NORMALLY, I would have expected Apple to announce a speed bump in its desktop line at Macworld. But the huge numbers of unsold Power Macs means the need for speed has been replaced by the need to clear inventory. So Apple will discount flat panels when you buy a Power Mac and hold the faster models for later in the year.
While he's in NYC, Steve will also be involved in the opening of a new Apple storefront in Soho. A friend familiar with the local real estate market assures me the company will never turn a profit there selling Macs. That lack of profitability may, however, be offset by the cool factor that's built into every Apple marketing plan.
I won't be at the opening, however, as I'll be too busy prowling the show floor with a video crew looking for cool stuff to show you on Friday. I expect to find a low-cost personal video recorder for Macintosh, a third-party software and tuner combination that uses the Mac for storage. There have been predictions that Apple itself would enter the PVR market. But until the features can be built into popularly priced Macs (the way Microsoft is driving the eHome "Freestyle" project), I'd be surprised to see Apple enter the fray.
We'll be posting video of the keynote on Wednesday, so be sure to drop by for a first look at the news. You can also find my report from the show at 12 noon PT/3PM ET (also available later on-demand) on CNET Radio. And I'll have a special Macworld report in my column next Friday.
Meanwhile, if you're at the show, be sure to say hello.
What do you think? What would you like Steve to announce at Macworld? What products would you like to see? TalkBack to me below.