RealTime IT News

What Will Apple's 'Showtime' Feature?

Tuesday, September 12 is "Showtime" for Apple. At least that's what the company declared in a cryptic invitation sent to media for the event.

If there's ever been a relative lull in iPod announcements, it's now. So next week would be good timing for Apple  to introduce new players. For one, analysts say it gets products in distribution well ahead of the holiday shopping season; also, the back-to-school crowd is in full swing, ready to buy the latest gadgets to show off to friends.

Apple already announced new iMacs yesterday (ugraded models with Intel's latest Core 2 Duo processor. The first 24-inch display version of the all-in-one iMac was also released, priced at $1,999).

Since the company consistently shows unannounced products at these events, the new iMacs aren't going to be the focus and hardly fits with the "Showtime" theme.

A Goldman Sachs report speculates that Apple is likely to roll out higher capacity replacements for the nano and Shuffle iPods. There could also be a new video iPod in conjunction with new video offerings (movie downloads) at the Apple iTunes online store.

Given the "Showtime" theme, some kind of movie download announcement is a near certainty. An intriguing part of that will be just what Apple intends to charge. Some music studios have complained about the flat pricing model of .99 per song, for example, that Apple insists on for its music store.

The studios would prefer to see newer hot releases priced higher and discount older, less popular tracks.

Like music publishers, movie studios also have brick-and-mortar distribution channels (Blockbuster, etc.) they don't want to alienate. A flat price of $9.99 for movie downloads may be what Apple has in mind, according to rumor sites, but it's unclear just how many movies are likely to be offered at the start.

"I think you'll see some smaller studios participate at the start, just like we saw with music," Jon Erensen, analyst with Gartner, told internetnews.com. But he also notes Disney is a likely participant since the media giant now owns Apple CEO Steve Job's Pixar animation studio and Jobs serves on Disney's Board of Directors.

The type of downloads will also be something to watch for, notes Erensen. For example, Apple will facilitate movie downloads to video iPods and the Mac, but it's not clear whether the studios will okay burning movies purchased online to DVD.

Another potential product debut at the Apple event is some kind of digital hub.

Apple's Front Row software is already an easy-to-use, cool looking navigation tool for Mac users. Goldman Sachs speculates that it would be natural evolution for Apple to introduce a device that connects iTunes to home theaters.

"That makes a lot of sense to me," Tim Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told internetnews.com. "Steve jobs has always said the Mac should be the center of the digital home and extending that idea to other rooms in the house is the next logical next step."

One of the more anticipated products from Apple is its own branded cell phone, rumored to be in development, but not expected this year. The Goldman Sachs report notes that its recent checks with Asian component suppliers suggest Apple is pushing to get its cell phone out by the first quarters of next year, several months ahead of earlier estimates.

Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry handheld, a favorite among corporate road warrior types, introduced a slick-looking cell phone for consumers today called the Blackberry Pearl. The Pearl includes an MP3 player as well as a camera.

While bullish on Apple's prospects, Goldman Sach's notes Apple is "the ultimate product cycle company," and has to keep pumping out hit products to stay on top. Apple's share price was up over two points at the end of trading Thursday to 72.80.

Apple also faces increased competition for its market-leading iPod line including a new player called Zune from Microsoft due out later this year.