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Apple's 'Rock and Roll' Show: What's to Come?

All eyes are once more on Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) as the company prepares to host an event tomorrow in San Francisco -- offering little in the way of detail but plenty of grist for the rumor mill.

There's little debate that Tuesday's event is iPod and/or music-related -- especially with a title like "It's Only Rock and Roll," and an invite showing a person holding an iPod.

Apple iPod event invite
Apple's invite to Tuesday's event
As usual with these events, sniffing out further clues and speculating on news to be unveiled at the event is common sport among Apple-oriented blogs.

And as usual, some are backed up with evidence, while others are just speculation.


Say 'cheese'

The most common rumor is that the iPod line will get a camera and possibly a video recorder as well. The iPhone 3GS sports an improved camera over the 3G as well as the ability to record video and edit the video right on your phone. Apple has a fairly consistent track record of introducing a feature in one product and moving it to others, so experts see this within the bounds of reason.

"That would be exciting for consumers to use the iPod as a capture device instead of just playing it," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

As a result, Bajarin also said he expects much higher-capacity devices. The current iPod Touch tops out at 64GB.

"If you come at this from the perspective of video and photo capture, you have the ability to run up the capacity fast. If you consider the success Flip has had with a device that has 60GB of space, imagine what you could do with 100GB or more," Bajarin said. "So I fully expect that the refresh will come with 128GB or more."

Van Baker, research director for Gartner, is also betting on some cameras, at least in the Touch.

"Whether we see cameras in other models, we'll have to wait and see," he told InternetNews.com. "Some of the other models like the Nano are getting a little long in the tooth, so we may see a refresh across the line."

If the widely circulated images of purported next-generation iPod protective covers are any indication, then the answer is yes on both counts. The covers show openings for cameras for both the Touch and Nano, the latter of which will be longer with a wider screen than the last version.

However, there might be a snag.

Several sites (Apple Insider and MacRumors, for starters) have reported there are quality control problems with the camera.

If that's the case, expect the iPods to be late. Apple will not ship the new devices without them, and it won't ship with questionable quality.

"They are not going to market with a product that's truncated, so if there's a problem they aren't going to release it," Bajarin said.

End of the Classic line

One common source of speculation is that the iPod Classic, the original design preceding the iPod Touch, Nano and (now extinct) Mini would be phased out. On the most recent earnings call, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said sales of those units -- which feature wheel-based controls and a smaller screen compared to the Touch and iPhone -- are falling as the company had expected, as customers shift to the iPod Touch design.

Apple also currently has four models on the market: Classic, Touch, Nano and Shuffle -- so a streamlining of the mix wouldn't hurt.

Or would it? Analysts are mixed.

"I think there's a high likelihood" that Apple will embrace both Flash memory and touchscreen-based mobile applications on all the models except the Shuffle, Bajarin told InternetNews.com.

"I can see them moving to a holistic line that takes advantage of the [iPhone and iPod Touch] apps ecosystem that they've been bringing for a while and get everyone who wants to buy or upgrade into that ecosystem into the new platform," he said.

But Gartner's Baker disagrees.

"That's a pretty expensive proposition. I'd be surprised if that's the case. Putting a capacitive [touchscreen] on every iPod would be expensive," he said. "They will continue to have a full set of prices across the line. I don't think they can afford to do anything other than that."

One point in that argument's favor: The Classic uses a simple display that's easy to build into an iPod along with some simple controls. If Apple got rid of both and went completely to a glass touchscreen that covered the whole device -- like the iPod Touch -- it could lose the middle of the price range, leaving it with only high-end iPods aside from the low-end Shuffles.

But what we may see is the end of a hard drive-based Classic, Baker added.

"Replacing the hard drive would make the device more reliable because you don't have a mechanical device inside that's prone to failure, and 64GB of Flash would address 95 percent of the market in terms of storage requirements," he said.

Page 2: An Apple 'iPad' and Steve's Return?