What to expect at Macworld Expo 2008

What will happen this week? Only Steve Jobs knows for sure

When Steve Jobs hits the keynote stage at the 2008 Macworld Conference and Expo on January 15, he will face a ballroom full of bloodshot eyes, a sea of journalists, analysts, and bloggers knocked loopy by the culture shock of going to sleep in Vegas (where the Consumer Electronics Show was just held) and waking up in San Francisco. Talk about your tough crowd.

Fortunately, Jobs doesn't need to kick into charisma overdrive to capture minds, hearts, and wallets. This year's conference is already a banner event, a coming-out party of sorts for a Mac platform that has seen its biggest evolutionary kick since the demise of the original Mac OS. The combination of OS X Leopard and new Macs based on Intel's Penryn CPU will help Mac outsiders remember that Apple sells more computers than phones.

iPhone, take 2

What will happen this week? Only Steve Jobs knows for sure, but here's my best guess.

Although Leopard and Penryn have pushed the Mac to dizzying heights and should thus gain some stage time, the Macworld Expo keynote will still go heavy on iPhone and iTunes. And this time, the hype will be justified. eBay will be awash in mint-condition, used iPhones the day that Apple ships the new model that links to AT&T's fast 3G network (in the US). With the speed of the 3G cellular data network, lots of RAM space for cached maps, and a close partnership with Google, iPhone could blast a tunnel through the in-car navigation market. CES was packed with navigation newcomers, but none has the hook of iPhone's multi-touch interface, much less the capability to make phone calls and purchase music from iTunes.

Another indirect but even farther-reaching benefit derived from the faster cellular network is iTunes Tagging. When listeners with compatible receivers are tuned into terrestrial and satellite radio stations that have licensed iTunes Tagging, they can purchase music that catches their ear with a button press. This will see its greatest uptake among users of Mac and PC iTunes, but iPhone owners could have the song downloaded before the radio is done playing it. No more trying to figure out the title of a song from the words in the chorus.

iPhone's support for native applications will see its official debut in February, but third parties are undoubtedly already on board. If Apple doesn't take up navigation, the likes of Telenav and TomTom surely will. Voice-over-IP would make a great keynote demo, and with native application support, Apple might not have to write it in-house.

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