Everyone pretty much knows that the third generation iPhone hardware is a lock for WWDC -- so much so that analysts have already "baked it" into their financial projections. Forbes' Brian Caulfield goes so far as to say that not releasing a new iPhone handset at the June event would be "an incipient public relations disaster of biblical proportions."
That being said, some analysts are looking for even more from Apple this summer. Namely, an answer to the netbook threat coming from ASUS, Acer, Dell and just about every PC maker with a pulse. It's simply inconceivable for the company that practically invented the gadget to not have a horse in this race. Apple can't keep its head in the sand forever.
Apple is paying close attention to the netbook space and is taking a second-mover approach, just like it's doing with the Apple TV. Cupertino is sitting on the sidelines and letting others make all the mistakes and spend their precious money on R&D. Then when the timing's right, they'll release a category killer that sets a new bar.
Barclays analyst Benjamin Reitzes told his clients that Apple's "very strong free cash flow" will allow it to release an ultraportable Mac "later this year" in addition to a new line of iPhones. Collins Stewart analyst Ashok Kumar takes it one step further writing that "[Apple] has also set in place a supply chain ecosystem to support the launch of a touch-screen tablet in [the second half of 2009]." He went on to write that "the product will be positioned between a iPhone and Mac and will likely be a platform that supports TV/Gaming/Web."
This supports my 5/7/9 theory which goes like this: rather than take a chance with a netbook running the full version of Mac OS X Apple would be better off slowly expanding the iPhone into a mini-tablet. It could release a 5-inch screen tablet/MID/whatever you want to call it in June, with a 7-incher in the fall and -- if all goes well -- a full-blown 9-inch tablet to follow in January 2010.
Apple is more comfortable leveraging its early lead in the App Store/iPhone arena than it is trying to compete with tiny plastic netbooks from the PC manufacturers. Apple's not going to get into a race to the bottom for the lowest price with the likes of Dell. It's not their M.O. Apple would rather leverage the high level of excitement by customers and developers around iPhone and continue the magic.
Apple will address the virtual keyboard complaints with a Bluetooth stack that talks to keyboards and mice and many people will come around and realize that on-screen keyboards "aren't that bad after all." Sure, you're not going to write a novel on a tablet, that's what the BT keyboard is for.
Think about it. The iPhone is white hot right now and it's basically become a life support system for a steady drone of iMacs and Mac Pros that are slowly becoming commodities. The iPhone, its apps, rich-media content and the services built around them are the future of the company and Apple knows it. That's why Cupertino's much more likely to build a lager iPhone before it builds a smaller MacBook.
Apple Tablet Concept photo: Factory City