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A Macworld Expo Preview: Expect Disappointment

Apple is already dropping tantalizing hints that “The first 30 years were just the beginning” at its site, which is certainly going to fuel heavy-duty anticipation for next week’s Macworld Expo keynote, and the things you hope Steve Jobs will announce.

Aside from that stock option matter, the feeding frenzy is in full bloom. Some folks feel Apple dodged the bullet with that nasty affair, while others insist that Steve Jobs may indeed have to face the music, and that kind of music will be from the authorities rather than from his iPod. But I’m neither financial analyst, or legal scholar, so I don’t pretend to know the legal ramifications of the stock backdating issue, and whether there’s any possibility Jobs will end up somehow liable for fines, arrest or whatever.

For the time being, though, I’m going to set that aside and look at products, or at least some of the products that Apple may or may not announce next week.

Yes, there is little doubt that you’ll see a demonstration of Mac OS X Leopard that expands on the feature-set. That’s a given. What you won’t see, however, is the actual release anytime soon. It won’t happen in January, although a March or April shipping date remains an outside possibility. There’s no mystery about that. It just strains logic.

What sort of new features? Some talk of a new Finder, a revised user interface and stuff that is way, way beyond what we can imagine. You will be amazed or at least highly impressed, I’m sure, and I have no clue what you should expect. So let’s leave it at there.

So where are the disappointments?

Well, the tech press is busy ranting about the alleged iPhone, which, now that we know another company is making a product with that name, is just called an Apple phone. Well, a few of us have dubbed it the iPod phone — and I have to say it probably came first on my tech radio show. This is, of course, in keeping with Apple’s nomenclature, if not terribly original. The real question is whether Apple truly wants to get involved in the mobile phone business.

Sure, there are problems with existing products. Interfaces are cluttered, cumbersome, and you get the feeling they some are bad Windows caricatures. That is, assuming you’re not talking about a so-called “smart” phone that actually uses a slimmed down Windows variant, of course.

You can understand why some would like to see Apple jump into this arena and show the mobile phone makers how it’s done. But this isn’t a young industry, as the MP3 player business was when the iPod first appeared. Hundreds of millions of those cell phones have been sold over the years.

But the marriage of music and telephony hasn’t worked out quite so well, so there may be room for an Apple alternative, assuming Apple decides this is a business it truly wants to enter.

Remember, Apple hasn’t admitted anything, so if there is no phone, would you sell your Apple stock, cast your Macs off to the garage in protest? Or would the reality sink in?

What about the alleged video iPod? How many iPod owners truly want to watch movies on a tiny screen, and would you find a larger version truly acceptable for extended viewing? Sure, people watch video content on mobile phones too, but how much and how often? Short clips, yes, and I see where Apple is apparently selling a decent amount of those hour-long TV episodes, although they end up being 44 minutes or so when commercials are dumped.

So if there was no immediate release of a large-screen iPod, would you feel left out? I mean, the Microsoft Zune is not the only digital media player with a larger screen than the iPod, and how many of those devices stand out?

On the other hand, there is plenty of room for Apple to innovate in these areas, so expect the unexpected.

Now when it comes to a new Mac, other than a Mac Pro with a pair of four-core processors, what else might you expect? Some are talking up a truly lightweight MacBook, with a 12-inch screen, weighing a tad over four pounds. Tiny, cute, but the smaller note-books tend not to be quite so affordable, so what would you be willing to sacrifice in order to cut the weight you have to lug around in your note-book case? I wonder.

Yet that intriguing message at Apple’s site makes me all the more curious Maybe you won’t be disappointed after all.