Apple's big news: Lights, camera, Mac-tion!
Apple's mysterious summons to Cupertino this afternoon has the rumor mill watching the maker of Macs and iPods closely. The smart money is on movies.
SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) - Apple has issued a vaguely worded invitation to reporters and analysts, to "come see some fun new products" at Apple's Cupertino headquarters today. And, not surprisingly, the missive has kicked up a whirlwind of rumors
What could Apple CEO Steve Jobs have up his sleeve this time? The Apple (Research) rumor mill has been wrong before, but it is a reliable indicator of the products people are hoping for. And right now, the rumors center around movies.
It doesn't hurt that, after the sale of Pixar (Research) to Disney (Research), Jobs is the toast of Tinseltown. And the success of the iTunes Music Store has shown that it's possible to protect copyrights and still sell media products online. Moreover, Apple's efforts at digital distribution seem to be complementing, not replacing, Hollywood's traditional business: Shows like NBC's "The Office" have seen gains in primetime ratings since episodes went on sale on iTunes.
With the stage now set for a push into selling movies, here's how Apple might go Hollywood:
A true video iPod. Sure, the latest iPod has a bigger color screen, suitable for catching up on shows at the gym. But to outdo Sony's (Research) PlayStation Portable and other handheld video players, Apple needs an iPod with a bigger screen. And in fact, Apple recently patented a touchscreen interface for a handheld device, which would let it make a video iPod whose screen covers the entire front side of the device, and displays a virtual click-wheel to control it.
An Intel Mac mini. Many expected Apple's compact Mac mini to be the first to get an Intel (Research) chip, but the iMac and MacBook Pro got it instead. Now that shortages of Intel chips have eased, Apple could be set to roll out an Intel-based Mac mini. Since the Mac mini doesn't come with its own screen, it could just as easily plug into a widescreen TV. Add in a remote control and Apple's Front Row software for playing music, movies, and photos, and the new Mac mini could be the centerpiece of your digital living room.
A widescreen iBook. It's been a while since Apple refreshed its consumer laptop line, so new iBooks are overdue -- especially if they have Intel inside. But rumormongers are more excited by the prospect of a widescreen display, which would let users watch wide-format movies without those distracting black bars.
iTunes Movie Store. Selling movies on iTunes would tie all of Apple's video-ready products together. Since Apple already sells music videos and primetime TV shows, selling movies just means giving users bigger files. And with cable modems and DSL connections increasing in speed, downloading an entire movie is now a less daunting prospect. Besides, plenty of users are already downloading illegal copies of movies over file-sharing networks.
Steve Jobs, of course, is a master of surprise, so the rumor mill could be wrong on some or all of these possible products.
But summoning Silicon Valley's press corps down to Cupertino on short notice is a dramatic gesture suggesting that Jobs is preparing to make a big statement. With next-generation video as hot as it is right now, this would be a prime time for him seize the spotlight.
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