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Macworld forecast: Thin, light notebook 'sure bet'

Second attempt at Apple TV also likely, say analysts

January 12, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Although only Steve Jobs knows for sure what new products he will introduce Tuesday to the Apple faithful gathered in San Francisco, if there's anything close to a sure bet, it's a smaller notebook, analysts said Friday.

"The most persistent rumor is of a very small subnotebook," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "Smaller than a MacBook or MacBook Pro, possibly with a multi-touch interface or perhaps just super thin."

Rumor and speculation are more than a cottage industry in the Apple Inc. ecosystem. In the weeks, then days before January's Macworld Conference and Expo and the summer's Worldwide Developer's Conference -- the other stage the company takes to roll out new hardware -- the guessing gets serious.

As banners went up at the Moscone Center, the venue of Jobs' keynote Tuesday morning, bloggers snapped shots and promptly speculated if the catchphrase "There's something in the air" meant that the iconic CEO would introduce iTunes purchases over AT&T Inc.'s EDGE network, new wireless hardware for the Mac line or even a WiMax initiative.

Or, as the appropriately titled site speculated Friday night, the marketing slogan might point toward a smaller, thinner portable dubbed the MacBook Air.

Neither Gene Munster, an analuyst at Piper Jaffray Co., nor Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc., would be surprised, since both joined Golvin to bet on a petite portable as the rumor most likely to prove out.

"It's a given," said Munster, who said that his sources had pegged the screen at just 11 inches, even more diminutive than the blogosphere consensus, which had earlier gravitated toward a larger 13-in. display. "The one real wild card [for Tuesday] is whether it will come with a touch screen. In a year, that's certain. This could be the beginning of the end of the mouse."

"The ultralight seems like a good bet," said Gottheil.

While the maybe-MacBook Air/maybe-not machine's specs have been all over the map, the anticipated thinning of the frame and the lightening of its heft likely will come from ditching a traditional hard drive -- and probably a built-in optical drive as well -- and replacing it with a flash memory-based device. Forrester's Golvin said the move made sense. "Apple gets the best price on flash [memory] of anybody, thanks to the quantities they buy for the iPod," he said. "Whether it happens now or not, I would think Apple would be the company to do this."

Other than Jobs holding a new laptop aloft, the most probable announcement, said the three analysts, will be one or more changes to Apple TV, the slow-selling music- and movie-streaming box.

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