Many sites, pundits and people think they have a sure grip
on what's going to be announced later today at Apple's press event
, which begins at 10AM Pacific time (1PM Eastern time) and is being held in Apple's own community town hall theatre at the company's headquarters. This generally means a smaller affair and a strictly press-only audience, and on tap for the event is the expected announcement of new iPad models. But what else is likely to happen? We weigh up the rumors and make a few wild guesses.
Our best guess
We don't have any top-secret beans to spill, we just have speculation like everyone else, and may end up with a lot of egg on our face 12 hours from now. We're sure that Apple will not miss an opportunity to talk about the forthcoming Apple Pay (which looks like it will launch on Monday
), and we naturally expect the formal announcement of iOS 8.1
to support it (and reassure nervous users that it is now fully safe to jump into iOS 8 if they haven't already). We also foresee the release of OS X 10.10 Yosemite
to the general public either today or on October 20 (Public Beta 6 seems to be working fine, in our experience). We may also get some more definite dates on Apple Watch
and the forthcoming iCloud or OS X Photos app
, both of which have been put off until early next year.
The invitation, however, offered a cryptic design and message we've been pondering ever since we got our copy. The outline of the Apple logo using another variation of the old-style "six colors" motif (an alternate of which was last seen at the San Francisco Pride March
, with the catchline of "it's been way too long." This is unlikely to be referring to the iPads, as that line gets refreshed yearly. We don't think it means a return to colorful Mac options, as were seen in the days of the first generations of iMac, either. We think it's a hint at what till now has been a severely under-reported possibility: new iPod models.
Yes, the company (and the public) seem to have written off the entire iPod line as dead with the discontinuation of the iPod Classic
. Some have said that the tagline could just as easily refer to the Mac mini, which hasn't been significantly updated since mid-2011, or a bold redesign of the iMac, or the expansion of Retina displays beyond the MacBook Pro line, all of which were expected to happen years ago. But this fails to take into account the color logo motif, which points us to the iPod touch in particular. Apple hasn't changed the look of those devices since 2012, but they've always been colorful. Like the iPhone 5c, they are aimed at entry-level buyers, and the company continues to make the Nano and Shuffle even to this day, mostly for the fitness market.
Though iPod sales are in free-fall decline thanks to the rise of fitness bands, the Touch, at least, remains popular with a market of people who don't want the obligation or cost of the iPhone, but want a portal to the full spectrum of the iOS eco-system -- and this is something Apple should be willing to continue encouraging. The iPod Shuffle and the iPod Nano may have fallen in sales, but that's because there's been no reason to buy a new one -- they are incredibly durable and haven't been upgraded in years, allowing users to keep them for exercise or leisure use.
What if Apple invested the effort to bring at least the iPod touch, and perhaps -- dare we even suggest it -- an all-new iPod design up to modern specs? More capacity for music, perhaps Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, and maybe even a co-processor for very basic health functions like step counting? Such a device wouldn't cut into sales of the Apple Watch, which would do far more (and consequently starts at $350
), but it might keep Apple in the gym with a band-like device at price points more attractive to those not as interested in the fashionable and upscale Apple Watch. It's a crazy long shot, we know, but we like the idea and we hope something like it gets announced. For fans of the iPod, it would be a great Christmas present.
As mentioned, some users are clamoring for updates to the Mac line. We don't think we're quite at the end of the "unibody" phase of Mac production, so there's little more Apple could do to the Mac mini
other than some quiet updating (say for example Thunderbolt 2 ports, or Broadwell processors), but that's unlikely to be mentioned at a press event. Many pundits have bet on a Retina-display iMac
and/or a Retina MacBook Air
being announced at the event, but we're not so sure. While we can't discount the possibility, Apple tends to want to keep its press events focused on either iOS announcements or
Mac announcements, and doesn't tend to mix the two (Yosemite, because it includes crossover features with iOS 8 such as Continuity and Handoff, would be an exception).
We think this is Apple's last chance to tell us what it wants us to buy this holiday season, and Retina-display Macs would likely be big-ticket items, unless some kind of serious breakthrough has been achieved. Tim Cook and company may mention them, but we think they are also likely to come out in future quarters -- and there's little chance Apple would use this opportunity to announce yet another product consumers can't buy for three-to-six months. Retina fever may be coming to Macs, but we think that's more likely for early-to-mid 2015, when the Broadwell chips are in better supply
Oh yeah, iPads
It seems pretty clear that the next-gen iPad models
are going to look roughly the same as the current ones, with the addition of a gold-model option and of course a new Touch ID button. Under the hood, the Air is expected to get a variation of the A8 chip called the A8X, which may be needed to drive much higher-resolution graphics
. We think Apple will bring its iPhone 6 "dual-domain" pixel technology to bear on its tablet line, resulting in more resolution from the current 2048x1536 @264ppi the current iPad Air offers. If Apple can manage the battery life, we think it might go as high as 4K for the Air, while the Retina iPad mini might stay at 2K but with improved quality (and, hopefully, a bigger color gamut
We also think Apple will borrow from the iPhone in another way, and offer only 16GB, 64GB and 128GB sizes for the iPad models. The thinking on this strategy isn't a hatred or shortage of 32GB flash storage, but more like the 5c/5s strategy from last year. You make the entry-level model affordable but a little unattractive compared to the next size up, and most customers will stretch to get that perceived better bang for their buck. This trick has worked gangbusters for movie theaters and the iPhone 6, and we think it will make the entry-level iPad more affordable while ensuring that higher-capacity iPads -- what Apple really
wants you to buy -- are the most popular.
"One more thing ..."
Finally, if -- as we believe -- this event will mostly be focused on iOS devices, we're going to hold out some slim hope that Apple will unveil a revamped Apple TV set-top box
. Until HomeKit came along, we never quite bought into the belief (championed for at least half a decade
by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster) that Apple would get into the HDTV business, but the engaging idea of a HomeKit-augmented Apple TV box
starts to make the idea look halfway feasible.
We don't think we'll see an Apple-branded television today, but we would be very excited to see a smarter, revamped Apple TV that could tackle both the burgeoning problem of too much choice in its interface and still add new home functionality as a "hub" for smart-home devices. It might even herald a future partnership where the Apple TV functionality is built right into certain smart TV sets. The possibilities are very intriguing.