All eyes on the iPhone 5c today

The experts will be watching more intently when Apple announces the prices of its the colorful smartphone

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Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's as much a sign of the state of the smartphone market as it is of Apple's strategy, some contended. "This will be a reflection of the maturation of the market more than the device and the form factor," said Restivo. "It's a question of market evolution. Apple's hardest act to follow is always itself. But the premium pricing model is at a ceiling, and Apple won't solve the market share problem without [the iPhone 5c] at the right price."

During the event, which should last around 90 minutes if Apple keeps to past practice, CEO Tim Cook and other executives will be watched closely, not only for what they say, but for how they say it, analysts said.

"It will be important to watch for the speakers' subtleties that explain away Apple's lost market share or perceived lack of continued innovation," said Moorhead.

Gottheil said much the same. "There's nothing specific I will watch for, but I will for the feel of the event," he said. "Apple has fallen into a defensiveness about its perceived lack of innovation."

As an example, both Gottheil and Colvin cited Philip Schiller's remark during June's Worldwide Developer Conference. When Apple's head of marketing introduced a radically redesigned Mac Pro, he pointedly said, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass."

"Also at stake [today] are the continued questions about whether the company has lost its innovation edge," said Golvin. "I don't subscribe to this mindset, but clearly the company hears these criticisms."

It's unlikely Apple will answer those critics today, unless the event sports a Jobsian "One More Thing" moment where Cook pulls an enormous rabbit out a hat.

Analysts want to be surprised too, and would love to see a "One More Thing." But when asked what they would like to see that they thought they wouldn't, their wish lists were all over the map.

Moorhead pegged the long-rumored iWatch: "I would like to see Apple's vision of a wearable device that is very different from what Samsung and Sony are currently bringing to the table," he said.

Gottheil wanted a larger-screen iPhone that could compete with the "phablet" craze sweeping China and other Asian markets. Golvin asked for a redesigned iPhone 5s, not a repeat of last year's look and feel.

Some were less ambitious in their hopes and named things that were actually feasible. Milanesi, for example, wanted Apple to spend time showing services and apps specific for the iPhone 5c, including China-only services. "This will be a key differentiator over the cheaper Android devices," she said. "Ecosystem will still be a valued differentiator."

And Singh simply wanted lower prices than analysts have bandied about. "An emerging-markets-only iPhone 5c for $299 and Retina iPad Mini for $249 would do the trick," he said, admitting that those numbers were extremely unlikely.

But don't figure on being blown away, said Gottheil, who lowered the bar. Apple will not suddenly morph into a cut-rate smartphone supplier or change its spots today.

"Apple has to live with their position," Gottheil said. "Theirs is that 'We're Lexus, we're not Toyota.' The expectation that that will change is kind of crazy. But perception is very important. The company appears to be under fire, but it has a solid business and astoundingly loyal customers. I don't think there's anything they could do today that would turn around that thinking."

Apple will start its event today at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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