Tight-lipped Apple has stirred up a storm of speculation about new products ahead of its major trade show next week by promising to top the best that Internet rumor sites have dreamed up.
Frustrated and excited fans wonder if Apple is manipulating rumor-mongers it has often ignored, as well as whether the company on Jan. 7 can surprise the faithful, many of whom were disappointed by the relatively light set of product announcements at the company's mid-2001 show.
The Apple Web site has teased for days that great things are in store, promising Wednesday a Macworld San Francisco show, "Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond."
The main speculation ahead of the show on sites like appleinsider.com is that Chief Executive Steve Jobs will announced flat-panel LCD screens and a new design for the low-end iMac desktop personal computer introduced in 1998. There was the same speculation ahead of the mid-2001 show.
Jobs has pushed his keynote ahead by a day to Tuesday and now plans to speak for a full two hours, increasing interest.
Apple rumor and news sites serve a huge audience of Macintosh enthusiasts hungry for gossip about the latest sensation by the company known for both its inventiveness and secretiveness.
In the past year, the sites have often managed to guess at the broad outline of upcoming product launches, including the October launch of the iPod, a portable, digital music player.
Some expect Apple to announce its next-generation G5 microchip, although one Web site predicts just an upgrade to the G4 chip that would handily surpasses the clock speed barrier of 1 gigahertz, or 1 billion cycles per second.
A faster chip on the high-end desktop and a new iMac would complement the make-over of Apple's notebook line last year.
Apple 'all but ensured' rumors fly
Apple, which declined to comment on the products, has begun dropping big hints ahead of launches.
"This one really takes the cake," said Mac Observer, www.macobserver.com, commenting that the company had been stepping up the hype for its events for six months. "The rumors are flying and Apple has all but ensured that they will continue to do so."
Apple launched its first consumer device in nearly a decade with the iPod, and Jobs said he was considering developing a Windows version of the device.
The iPod links to the Macintosh through the iTunes software. That is based on Apple's cross-platform QuickTime media player, which would allow Apple to port the iPod to Windows, said financial analyst David Bailey of Gerard Klauer Mattison.
Apple might also extend its vision of the personal computer as the hub of the "digital lifestyle" by introducing a consumer device for video, Bailey speculated.
He raised Apple to 'outperform' from 'neutral' Wednesday, forecasting that Mac fans would buy new gear with the maturation of OS X, the new operating system announced last year, new desktop computers and a higher profile for Apple thanks to its new retail stores.
But with the threat education spending could dip in the weak economy, hurting a key Apple market, and the product transitions in store, Bailey reduced his earnings per share forecast for fiscal 2002 by 3 cents to 52 cents, compared with Apple's 2001 loss of 27 cents, which was driven by a first- quarter loss of 73 cents per share.
Apple, one of the first to feel the chill of the cooling economy in late 2000, suffered with the rest of the personal computer industry in 2001, repeatedly cutting its sales forecast.
But the stock fared well, rising 45 percent and attracting investors with a horde of cash worth more than half the current stock price and a strong brand name.
It also introduced OS X, the most substantial upgrade to its operating system since it introduced the Macintosh in 1984 and began touting the personal computer as the digital hub.
Certainly Apple fans are salivating, even if they are wary of the hype.
"I hope I fall out of my chair and knock myself out," wrote "Antman" on a MacObserver forum. "Ok ... maybe not that last part, but Apple has its work cut out."
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