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’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.
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.
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.
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To iPad or not to iPad?
There also has been speculation that the long-rumored Apple tablet PC might show up at this event, but both Bajarin and Baker dismissed it.
For one thing, they pointed out that Apple does not like to mix products in its events: iPod events are just for iPod, iPhone events just the iPhone, and iMac events are just iMac. If and when an Apple tablet — which rumormongers have dubbed the iPad or iTablet — makes its appearance, it’s likely to get its own grand coming-out party.
Apple-watchers have also been buzzing about rumors that that the company will offer up iTunes 9 with support for social media and, in a long shot, Blu-ray disc. The latter seems unlikely: Apple is in the business of digital downloads, making it unlikely to support a media format that’s struggling in the marketplace, has very little available in terms of recordable drives for computers, and is a format that Apple CEO Steve Jobs once called “a bag of hurt?”
Still, there’s some slim chance for a bit of Blu-ray news, Baker said.
“We don’t have much in the market by way of Blu-ray burners, although they may do something in conjunction with a major disc makers, like announce a solution for burning content to a disc,” Baker said. “Then maybe that would justify it, but that’s the only scenario where I can see it makes sense for them to do Blu-ray support.”
And then there’s Cocktail. Cocktail is a new album format reportedly being developed by Apple and the major music labels. The idea is to enable music fans to download more than just the MP3s when they buy an album online: They can get videos, images, liner notes, lyrics and other interactive elements. It would be a total reinvention of the album concept.
“One of the most validated rumors is the Cocktail integration, where they worked with the industry to include core features to get people to buy more albums than singles and differentiate the album instead of single,” Bajarin said. “I know the industry has been really trying to differentiate the album from the single. They are looking to see Apple announce things they’ve done to make the album a more holistic experience than 10 songs and a digital booklet.”
A visit from Steve?
Finally, there’s the speculation that Jobs himself would show up. Again, the speculation is wild on the fan sites, but analyst opinion remains mixed.
“I’m 50/50 on that,” Bajarin said. “Obviously, it wouldn’t shock me. This is always where he’s shown up and done it, but they are working at getting other folks exposure to downplay the Jobs piece. It’s a ‘could happen, wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t’ kind of thing.”
Likewise, Baker added, “It’s likely that other people will take the spotlight but I still think he’ll show up. I think it would cause more issues if he didn’t show up than if he did.”