Ahead of the Curve: Handicapping Macworld Expo

The media's tendency to portray Steve Jobs as Apple's sole visionary and strategist is woefully short-sighted. Nonetheless, on the eve of another Macworld Conference & Expo, the only thing on people's minds is what Steve Jobs will say on stage this time.

With Apple blasting its legal cannons at rumor sites, product announcements are wrapped up tighter than ever. But it's reasonable to speculate that Macworld Expo will mark the debut of the first Intel-based Mac. Intel itself set the stage at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, unveiling a logo befitting a 21st century tech outfit and a new, consumer-friendly brand identity that complements Apple's iPod-obsessed personality.

The relationship promises to be a good fit. Intel is now handling all of the heavy hardware lifting, while Apple brings its OS X user interface, QuickTime, and a world-beating set of graphical application frameworks -- a formula that should ultimately drive usability to new heights.

We have a bet going that Apple will pour Intel guts into its current, performance-crippled, PowerPC-based Mac Mini, which, you'll recall, hit the market with PC peripheral (mouse, keyboard, monitor) compatibility. Our bet for Macworld Expo: a Mac mini with more media features and faster Intel guts at the same retail price.

The one thing that attendees can count on is a retelling of Apple's successes in 2005 that drones on almost as long as the year itself. After all, Jobs' keynote is really all about kicking up Apple's stock price, not about letting customers know what to expect.

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