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Apple gears up for Macworld in New York

This week is a a big one for the computer maker, with quarterly earnings set for Tuesday and CEO Steve Jobs' Macworld Expo keynote on Wednesday.

    This week is a big one for Apple Computer, with quarterly earnings set to be announced tomorrow and CEO Steve Jobs' Macworld Expo keynote on Wednesday.

    What's on tap at Macworld
    Very likely: New iMacs with faster processors, new colors and maybe larger screens.
    Likely: A beta version of Mac OS X, or at least a release date.
    Possible: New PowerMacs or other hardware.
    Rumored: A multi-processor PowerMac.
    While the consensus is that Apple will see another increase in profits despite a seasonal slowdown, it's tougher to predict just what Jobs will announce Wednesday. Apple plans to show Jobs' keynote live online at 9 a.m. ET.

    Apple will provide live streaming of the Macworld Expo keynote using QuickTime, the company's standards-based technology for live and on-demand audio and video streaming.

    Many are expecting new iMacs to be unveiled at Macworld because the consumer model has not had an upgrade since last October. And sources say Apple has been pushing retailers to clear out the older models.

    "We continue to gain evidence from the channel that Apple is likely to embark on a new product refresh," Morgan Stanley Dean Witter analyst Gillian Munson said in a research note. "This is a similar pattern to what we saw in the Apple channel prior to Apple's last big product release, the color iMacs."

    A faster G3 processor or a G4 chip would offer a performance boost to the iMac, while consumers may also get hoped-for improvements to the keyboard and mouse. There also have been rumors that Apple will opt for a larger 17-inch screen.

    Jobs also promised that a "public beta" version of Apple's new operating system would be available this summer, leaving many hopeful that CD-ROMs will be available at the show. At the least, Jobs is likely to offer a specific date for the test version, which he has said will be followed up with a final version in January.

    Other possibilities include updates to the PowerMac or other hardware lines. But analysts say new models at the time of the August Seybold trade show is a more likely scenario. As expected, Apple had no comment on its plans for the show.

    Financial results tomorrow
    As for earnings, analysts are expecting Apple to come in at 44 cents a share for its third fiscal quarter, according to First Call/Thomson Financial. That's an increase of 26 percent over earnings of 35 cents per share in the same period a year ago. Revenue estimates have been hovering around $1.9 billion.

    Like Gateway, which reported earnings last week, Apple likely experienced a dip in consumer sales in the past three months.

    The second calendar quarter is typically the slowest of the year. Nonetheless, analysts are generally optimistic about the second half. Apple will have new products out and will begin to expand its "beyond-the-box" revenue from items such as Internet connectivity and software sales.

    "Traditionally, this is a slow consumer quarter, so we would expect the mix to be biased more toward (professional users). That could help gross margins," said David Bailey, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison. "We're kind of looking for an in-line quarter and a very bullish story for second half."

    Added Kurt King, an analyst at Banc of America Securities: "Revenue softness came from light iMac sales ahead of an expected iMac product refresh at Macword New York in mid-July as well as the general demand softness we saw in U.S. retail during the course of the quarter.

    "We expect beyond-the-box to become a more material (and positive) aspect of the Apple story during (the second half). Macworld could include some announcements in this area."

    OS X comes alive
    Apple users have had to wait years for a rumored "next generation" operating system, and they are hoping they won't have to wait any longer to try out the software.

    Apple originally had said that a shrink-wrapped version would be on sale this summer but changed course in May, saying it would instead release a "public beta." The company has maintained that the delay is merely a change in terminology; Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple, said previously that the public beta is merely the official name for the product Apple spoke about in January.

    In any case, the new operating system offers a radical change. OS X combines an open-source core, known as Darwin, with a new, fluid user interface, known as Aqua. Developers have had their hands on the software for some time and most recently got an update in May.

    "We think they'll talk a lot about software," Bailey said. "They've talked about getting their four-quadrant hardware strategy in place, and that's done."

    Bailey said Apple will be highlighting OS X but will probably also talk about its other products, such as its streaming media software, QuickTime. At the May developer conference, Apple previewed a new version of QuickTime and said it would come out this summer.

    Graphics chips
    Much of the talk in the Mac graphics chip market has been about the entry of industry darling Nvidia, but the graphics firm has no announcements planned for Macworld.

    Meanwhile, ATI, which has all of the graphics contracts for current Mac hardware, says it will have an announcement with Apple on Wednesday. ATI supplies graphics chips to Apple's computers. ATI said it will also launch an add-in version of its Radeon product at Macworld.

    Another graphics chip firm, 3dfx, says it will show a host of programs running on its Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 boards at the show and will ship products later this month.