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What to expect from Apple at Tuesday's special event

It's that time again: Apple is hosting a media event with lots of potential. Here's what we expect to see, along with what we don't.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
5 min read
Apple CEO Tim Cook at WWDC in June.
Apple CEO Tim Cook at WWDC in June. James Martin/CNET

For Apple, Tuesday's looking a bit like a time warp.

Rewind back to October 2011, and the company invited media to its headquarters to introduce an enhanced version of the hit smartphone it launched the year before. The same is expected at Tuesday's event, where all eyes are on Apple to announce the iPhone 5S -- a souped-up version of 2012's iPhone 5.

The big difference this time around is that Apple is expected to roam into new territory, adding on top of that with an entirely new model to the iPhone family: one designed not necessarily to wow with specs, but instead with a price tag that could be Apple's lowest yet for a new mobile device.

One of the many leaks of what's expected to be called the iPhone 5C, Apple's plastic iPhone.
One of the many leaks of what's expected to be called the iPhone 5C, Apple's plastic iPhone. Sonny Dickson

That device, expected to be called the iPhone 5C, has appeared in myriad leaks over the past few months and marks the beginning of a new chapter for the iPhone. Apple has managed great success with only one new model a year, a strategy the company finally appears to be abandoning.

Doubling down
Apple growing its iPhone line is a historical inevitability, though one that's taken far longer to come to fruition. The company has a long track record of expanding successful products, but it's lagged with the iPhone.

Case in point: the iPod, which Apple built on with the iPod Mini three years after its 2001 debut, and iPod Shuffle which came in 2005. It was a similar case with the iPad, which got a smaller version two years after its introduction, and is expected to expand to even larger models in the future, according to recent reports. The result in all those instances were increased sales.

For the iPod and iPad, smaller and cheaper models also came as defense against rivals, who were putting out more variations that threatened to undercut Apple's growth. In the iPhone's case, the reason for such a long delay is simple: Apple's continued to make and sell its past two models -- but at a discounted price. This strategy, which is unlike what Apple does with its computers, might seem a bit baffling for a tech company known for killing off old products at a brisk clip. But it's a necessity when many customers are buying something attached to a multi-year contract that helps pay for most of the phone.

It's also helped grow sales among people who don't necessarily care about having the latest and greatest model. That's worked in places like China, where Apple has seen strong sales of its older models, despite not being on the country's largest carrier (something that's expected to change this week).

"China has an unusually large number of potential first-time smartphone buyers and that's not lost on us," Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Wall Street Analysts back in April. "We've seen a significant interest in iPhone 4 there and have recently made it even more affordable to make it even more attractive to those first-time buyers. We're hopeful that helps iPhone sales in the future."

Tuesday's event, where Apple is expected to debut two new models, is at the very heart of those plans. It's also one that puts the company on a path to offer more diversity, and perhaps keep the lower-cost versions of its products up to date with more modern features.

What to expect from Apple on Sept. 10
Watch this: What to expect from Apple on Sept. 10

Other things expected tomorrow

iOS 7 - You can't have a new iPhone without new software, and iOS 7 is just that. The software's been available to developers in beta since June, and Apple is expected to give developers the "golden master" version of it. That's the same one that ships on Apple's new iPhone, and is likely to go out to the rest of the world as a free update a week or so after the event. Go here for a full rundown of what's new and different.

Apple's mobile operating system iOS 7. James Martin/CNET

iTunes Radio - This new service, which also debuted in June, is rolled into iOS 7 but will also come in updates to iTunes (which Apple has been testing in beta with developers), along with one for the Apple TV. The free, ad-supported service has a series of curated music stations, as well as stations that can be created based on individual songs or artists. Apple's also planning to offer an ad-free version of the service to subscribers of its $24.99 a year iTunes Match service.

Apple TV update - A rumored update, is said not only to bring the aforementioned iTunes Radio service to life, but also a new feature that lets people play content they've purchased on another person's Apple TV. That feature, was reported last week by AllThingsD.

iPod updates - Apple bundled in iPod updates at its iPhone event last year, and could do it again this time around. Perhaps a more likely scenario is what happened in 2011, when Apple pushed out some new software for those models, a few new colors, and trimmed prices on the iPod Touch. However a price cut for the Touch seems unlikely given the peculiar, mid-year entry of a lower-cost model back in May.

Things not expected

New iPads - Apple is most certainly working on new iPads, but don't expect to see them tomorrow. They're more likely to appear a separate event next month, or in November. In the meantime, there have been numerous leaks of the updated design of the larger model, which appears to be taking its design cues from the iPad Mini. A new Mini is also expected, though reports have gone back and forth about whether it's getting a higher resolution display versus updated internal components.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks - Like iOS 7, Apple's new operating system for Macs has also been in testing by developers since June, and is on its seventh preview version. According to separate reports from 9to5Mac and AllThingsD last week, Apple's not planning to release it until the end of next month, which leads us to...

Apple's upcoming Mac Pro reboot.
Apple's upcoming Mac Pro reboot. James Martin/CNET

New Macs - Apple's got a bunch of Macs that need updating with newer Intel chips, but don't expect to see them at tomorrow's event. Apple updated most of its Mac lineup at an event last October, and it appears that the company's doing the same thing this year. Apple's iMac, Mac Mini, and MacBook Pros are all due for an update, and in the case of the company'supcoming revamp to the Mac Pro, we're still waiting on a price and release date.

You can catch the whole thing tomorrow on CNET's live blog, which begins about an hour before Apple's 10 a.m. PT start time. We'll have news updates, photos, commentary and more from the event, along with a live show hosted at CNET's headquarters in San Francisco.

CNET's live coverage of Apple's September 10 event