Five things to expect at Apple's next event

Apple has a event planned a week from Wednesday, where it's widely expected that a tablet device will be introduced.

One week from today Apple is hosting what has easily become its most anticipated event since the original iPhone.

Here's a summary of everything we know Apple will unveil for sure: nothing. With the exception of one thing: Apple is definitely hosting an event at one of its favorite locations, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco at 10 a.m. on January 27.

But it's plenty of fun to do some educated guessing about what they're cooking up down in Cupertino. And thanks to some well-placed leaks and a slow trickle of clues over the past year, it's easy enough to predict what will be the main event: the much rumored, blogged, and wished for Apple tablet device.

Apple tablet event
The cryptic Apple event invitation.

But that leaves plenty of other questions. What will it be called? We don't know. iSlate, iTablet, Tablet, iBook, iPad have all been tossed around. When will it ship ? The Wall Street Journal said March , but an industry analyst is now saying maybe June. Like most Apple events nothing is for sure until Steve Jobs announces it from on stage. And though Apple runs a pretty tight-lipped organization, things have a way of trickling out right before their major announcements. So even though Apple hasn't confirmed anything yet, here are some pretty safe bets as for what to expect next week.

Multimedia
The tablet, in theory, will fall somewhere between a MacBook and an iPod Touch. So what do you do with it to make it stand out as a device you'd need in addition to one or both of those? A large-screen device with no physical keyboard certainly isn't going to be for making phone calls or word processing. The easiest assumption is that video and music will be two of the most important applications at the center of the tablet's purpose. In regards to music, there's been some speculation that the tablet is the reason Apple developed iTunes LP in the first place. It's a more in-depth multimedia experience for full albums, and while it works on a laptop or PC, it would appear to be a better fit for a touch-screen device with a large screen, which is what a tablet will be.

As my colleague Donald Bell points out , it could be interesting to see how or if the LaLa.com acquisition comes into play with the tablet. Using Lala's own music-scanning tool, the new iTunes feature would figure out what's already in your music collection, upload whatever is not in its library and let you stream music from Apple's servers to any of your iTunes compatible wireless devices, such as the tablet.

Video on the tablet could be far more interesting however. Apple has a wealth of content available via iTunes already that can play on an iPhone, iPod, computer, or Apple TV, so it would make sense that another device with or connected to a screen would be added into the mix of stuff with access to iTunes. But there's also been talk for a while of a subscription service for, say, TV shows on iTunes .

Digital books, magazines, and newspapers
The other fairly obvious application for a device that's expected to be somewhere around 10 inches is an e-reader. Everyone's doing one these days, after all, and many people are buying them . Sure, Jobs was famously quoted for saying that "people don't read anymore." But it was obviously an exaggeration, and Apple is known for bashing product categories before joining them, and he said something far more revealing in a conversation in September.

Apple tablet mockup
The endlessly speculated about tablet from Apple could finally arrive next week.

In discussing Amazon's Kindle, Jobs was blunt in saying that dedicated devices had a limited appeal. But he added that "general-purpose devices will win the day." Apple already sells e-books via the App Store, so it wouldn't be a stretch to see them on this upcoming device, especially since a 10-inch device is a much more natural fit for reading text than on an iPhone.

More intriguing is what Apple could have lined up with magazine and newspaper content. There have been multiple reports of Apple approaching book, newspaper, and magazine publishers about their content. We don't now exactly how this would work--subscription? exclusive content?--but it's safe to bet that the tablet won't be just an oversize video and music player with a Wi-Fi connection.

Gaming
Apple has apparently sent invitations for the event to gaming publications, which could indicate a couple things about the nature of next week's event. First, that games will be a part of the tablet in some way. Video games are a huge seller via the App Store, and it's reasonable that what works well on a small touch-screen could be even more appealing on a screen three times larger.

Second, it could be because they're going to have a lot of demos related to stuff in iPhone OS 4.0. Apple has intentionally highlighted games and game developers at iPhone and iPod Touch related events for the past few years.

iPhone OS update
This is usually the time of year that Apple introduces the updated version of its iPhone software. That gives developers some time to play around with it and come up with apps for launch around the same time as the yearly iPhone hardware refresh in June or July. It's been assumed that the latest iPhone OS would be modified so it would scale up for a larger screen, i.e. the upcoming tablet. If that is the case, it would certainly make sense to announce both at the same event.

Steve Jobs
Jobs has been back in the saddle since July officially, and there was some question whether he'd be at the last public event. But he did show up at the iPod unveiling, which served as his public homecoming of sorts.

You can bet that Jobs will be the ringleader on January 27, clad in his usual garb of black turtleneck, jeans, and white tennis shoes. The tablet is the first new device category from Apple since the iPhone in 2007, and the word is that this project has been his personal mission for a long while. Expect him to be the emcee as usually, but with a cast of special guests as he has done with past events: bringing up chosen developers for demos of applications, or the head of the project.

This is basically what we can expect at the event next week. Nothing has been confirmed other than there is an event taking place--which we'll be live blogging so you can get all the details as they happen. Details also have a way of leaking out ahead of these things, so stay tuned over the next week for all the latest juicy rumors.

 

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