When an invite from Apple turns up in your in-box, you can be sure of two things: plenty of reporters scrambling to buy plane tickets and a nonstop deluge of articles and blog posts with everyone's best guesses about what Apple is going to unveil.
The invites themselves are analyzed for clues like frames from the Zapruder film, often to unintentionally hilarious extremes. In this case, a silver Apple logo is partially cut from a background that looks like the same aluminum MacBooks are made of. Peeking out from the background is a big cat, possibly a lion. Stamped onto the metallic background is the phrase "Back to the Mac." This is followed by parking directions and the following description:
Come see what's new for the Mac on October 20, including a sneak peek of the next major version of Mac OS X.
Taking that scant evidence into consideration, along with our in-depth knowledge of which Apple products and components are due for an update, we can present several educated guesses about what we'll see on October 20. Feel free to play along at home and submit your own predictions in the comments section below.
If there's one product that's positively screaming for an update, it's Apple's cult favorite ultrathin 13-inch laptop. Except for a few minor component updates, it's essentially the same machine as originally introduced in 2008. At the same time, Apple has never shown any real interest in pitching the Air beyond its small but dedicated fan base; in the era of sub-$500 laptops and tablets, is a high-end status symbol machine really going to be a top priority? Another rumor gaining traction is a smaller 11-inch version of the Air.
Our prediction: The timing is right, so even money--but less so for the 11-inch version.
Intel Core i3 in the 13-inch MacBook
Apple's latest MacBook Pros were last updated on April 13, exactly six months ago. The company's right on time for a spec refresh. The MacBook Pro 15- and 17-inch models featured new Core i5 and i7 processors, but the 13-inch stayed with a Core 2 Duo CPU and upgraded Nvidia integrated graphics. That popular 13-inch Pro seems ripe for a change. To keep the lineup distinct, why not include an Intel Core i3, which at this point hasn't been seen in a Mac notebook? Pair that with Apple's long-life integrated batteries, and it seems like a winning combination that's more likely, and more practical, than a MacBook Air.
Our prediction: Very likely.
Next OS X update
Considering Apple's Mac event features an Apple logo and a lion hiding behind it, there's no doubt that a new cat-named version of OS X is finally on its way. Lion (as we're calling it right now) would be a welcome upgrade for Mac users who might be feeling ignored amid all the iOS talk. Most likely scenario: newly announced Mac buyers will get the new OS for free, and everyone else will be able to purchase it sometime before Thanksgiving. Could we see better integration between OS X and iOS functions? An App Store for the Mac? We can always hope.
Our prediction: A sure bet (it explicitly says so in the invite).
New Nvidia GPUs
Apple already has strong graphics in its MacBooks, but Nvidia's new midrange and high-end GPUs could end up appearing in new MacBook Pros if there's a spec update. While Apple often likes to stay a generation behind for stability, they would be welcome additions in the higher range of the MacBook Pro 15- and 17-inchers.
Our prediction: Even money.
The standard wish list: Blu-ray, SD card slots across the board, HDMI
This prediction packs in all the little things Apple watchers have been asking about for ages. Lest you think the MacBook designers are unmoved by consumer demand, note that it took years for any MacBook to include an SD card slot (now it's available in the Pro models) and the Mac Mini includes HDMI as its main video output.
Our prediction: SD card slot on the 13-inch MacBook seems like a smart bet; the others are wishful thinking for now.