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Gazing into the Macworld keynote crystal ball...

One week before Steve Jobs takes the stage in San Francisco for his annual Macworld keynote, the Mac universe is abuzz with the usual rumors and speculation.

Regulations governing Apple pundits require that I contribute to the collective cacophony or forfeit my license to blog on Apple. In that spirit, here's my take on what might be coming – or not – on Jan. 15:

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Mac Pro update – Apple completely shocked me by announcing new pro towers (and server models) this morning. I don't recall Apple ever making such a major product announcement just one week before a Stevenote. So these rumors panned out early. The twin quad core CPUs (giving this Mac 8 cores of processing power) are standard as expected, but there is no mention of Blu-ray DVD support. Steve will mention this, but not spend much time on it.

Retail stats – Steve will probably open the keynote with a rundown of assorted statistics demonstrating Apple's prodigious business successes. We will hear about how many millions of people visited Apple's retail stores, and that half of them were "new to the platform." Steve will tell us how many new stores opened in 2007, and may announce new stores in such countries as China, Brazil and Mexico.

He should gloat about yesterday's Bernstein Research report that showed Apple's annual sales per square foot of retail space light years ahead of other retailers. At $4,491 per square foot, Apple not only clobbered Best Buy at $991/sq. ft. but also handily outshone other upscale retailers such as Saks ($388/sq. ft.), Coach ($1648/sq. ft.) and Tiffany and Co. ($2,746/sq. ft.).

Leopard stats – Steve will tell us how many copies of Mac OS X 10.5 have been sold since its launch at the end of October. Whatever the number, it will be the best operating system launch in Apple history. Leopard also will have had the fastest adoption rate of any Mac operating system version.

Office for the Mac 2008 – Craig Eisler, the new general manager of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, will join Steve onstage to introduce Office for Mac 2008. There will be a tedious demo.

Other software – Since iWork and iLife both were released in August, we won't hear of them in the keynote. In fact, it's hard to say what other software might get mentioned, since Apple got most of its upgrades out over the summer. He might spend a few moments on the prosumer video editing program Final Cut Express, which was updated in mid-November.

Video – The other week I predicted some major video-related announcements at the Stevenote. We will hear about the new iTunes movie rental service, heretofore unannounced by Apple but widely reported in the mainstream media. Various news reports over the past few weeks have said Apple is on the verge of making deals with almost all the major film studios, including 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount and Sony, MGM and Lionsgate. Availability is the major question here; if the deals aren't final, the service may not launch for a few more months.

Apple TV – Going hand-in-hand with the iTunes Store movie rental news should be an announcement of a new, improved version of the Apple TV. This is not a shoo-in, but it would make a lot of sense for Apple to fix this product by adding the ability to record TV shows (like a TiVo) and access the Internet independently of a computer. The pièce de résistance will be integration with the iTunes Store, so that music, videos and movies could be ordered directly from the user's sofa with the included remote control.

New iPods – You got 'em in September. Let's not be greedy.

iPhone updates – Some think Steve will announce a 3G iPhone next Tuesday; my gut feeling is that it's too soon. Even if he does announce it, you won't be able to buy one for several months. One thing we will get at some point during the keynote: stats on how many iPhones have been sold, and a recap of the product's launch in the U.K., France and Germany. Steve might announce the next nation(s) set to get the iPhone (Spain? Italy? Japan?), but I haven't read any rumors that further deals are near.

Steve will definitely mention the software development kit that will allow third-party developers to write programs to run on the iPhone. Although Steve has said the SDK would be available in February, he might wow the crowd by announcing its immediate availability.

One more thing ... One product the rumor sites have convinced themselves is coming at Macworld is some sort of Mac subnotebook, something smaller and lighter than a MacBook. This device could incorporate the same touch screen technology used in the iPod Touch. It could use flash memory in place of a hard drive, or at the very least will use flash memory to speed boot times. It will use a LED display (Apple has committed to using the more environmentally friendly LED technology in all its displays.) Despite the prevalence of rumors about this, no one is quite sure what such a beast will look like. But the odds are high we will see some incarnation of a MacBook Mini.

For anyone who'd like to follow the keynote live (it starts at 9 a.m. PST, or noon Baltimore time), several Web sites will be posting updates during the event. I prefer Engadget, but a full list of sites offering coverage will appear on MacSurfer the day of the event.

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