Last minute Macworld keynote handicapping

The odds makers have already spoken about the likely products to be announced during today’s keynote. I’m going to speak up with some slightly contrarian predictions.

First, what the consensus has right: the FrontRow “media center” concept, with its 10-foot UI and remote, will be extended beyond its current home on the iMac to the Mac Mini. It’s almost certain that we’re due for another revision of iLife. And the evidence seems pretty good that we’ll see something called iWeb, though I doubt a web page editor is going to knock anyone’s socks off in 2006. I also think that Kevin Rose’s prediction of a point increment for Mac OS X, to 10.4.4, is pretty likely. I also agree with ZDNet that an announcement of 10.5 aka Leopard is extremely unlikely today. Macworld is simply the wrong audience for new OS previews—that’s the one thing Apple could talk about at WWDC to drive a mid-year bump in demand for its products.

Next, where I part with the rumormongers: I think it’s extremely unlikely that any pro class machines, either G5s or PowerBooks, will move to the Intel platform. I think that the odds are in fact rather long that Apple will move up its Intel migration timeline from its original mid-year delivery timeline, but the Mac Mini is the most likely first delivery vehicle. But here’s the rub: why is Apple silently bumping the specs on existing Mac Mini orders if a new version is to be announced today? My bet: yes, an Intel Mac Mini, and maybe even Intel based iBooks, will be announced—but availability will be a good eight weeks from today.

Boy, all this tea leaf reading is fun. It’ll also be interesting to see exactly how wrong I am in a little over four hours when the “one more thing” is unveiled.

Finally, one last wildcard to hedge my bets: one possible reason that 1.5GHz G4 chips are showing up in Mac Minis is that the platform that they normally would power is about to move to a different architecture. The only machine in Apple’s lineup currently using 1.5 GHz G4s is the lowest-end PowerBook. Is it possible that Apple might be hedging their bets and announcing one pro and one consumer machine on the Intel platform simultaneously? Or is Apple just moving proactively to work through its chip inventory or meet final contractual goals with IBM?