What's behind the red curtain? I'm looking for Macs

A smaller, $200 iPod with a big honking hard drive would be manna from heaven for those mini loyalists.
Peter Burrows

Ever since the company touted an Oct. 12 event with an invitation featuring a photo of a curtain-shrouded movie screen, the Apple rumor mill has been cranking at full tilt. Now, I know what most people are saying: that Steve Jobs will unveil a video iPod. In fact, the BBC evidently leaked the news yesterday that such a product would be introduced at its BBC Television Centre on that day. That's pretty compelling evidence. And while I have never once had the urge to watch a music video on my iPod, I suppose Steve Jobs could make a convincing case to Boomers like me that we'd want it for other kinds of video content--say, video podcasts, or home movies.

Still, I wonder if the folks over at Thinksecret.com don't have it right. They're reporting that the only news on the iPod front will be for a somewhat smaller, higher-capacity version of the top-of-the-line iPod. That makes total sense to me--especially if it's also cheaper. Clearly, customers loved the now-discontinued iPod mini, and a smaller, $200 iPod with a big honking hard drive would be manna from heaven for those mini loyalists. Also, such a product would fill out the crucial mid-section of Apple's iPod product line. Right now, the only choice between the $100 iPod shuffle and the $300 iPod is the nano. Sure, it's an awesome product. But I'm equally sure there are folks who want a higher-capacity, mid-priced product that isn't so teensy--or plauged by talk of easily-breakable screens.

Which brings me the Mac. Here's some reasons why I think this could be the focus of the event:

-- With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, Apple would like to give a big blast of publicity to its computers--which, after all, still bring in the bulk of its sales. The iPod had its turn a month ago, on nano day. Now, it could be the Mac's turn.

-- Jobs has frequently argued in the past that people do not want to watch movies on a tiny screen. His argument has been that if you want to watch a movie when you're on the road, there's already a great way to do it: on a notebook PC. So maybe the company will unveil new Powerbooks with this application in mind. It could have bigger, higher-resolution screens, far better built-in speakers, or new optical drives capable of playing new DVDs based on Sony's Blu-ray standards. Such DVDs, which have more than enough capacity to hold full-length movies shot in high-definition, aren't expected to be widely available for another year or so. But hey, which was the first company to introduce the CD drive, when we were all still fussing with floppy drives? Apple. Or who knows: maybe Apple has worked out the licensing complexities with Hollywood to enable it to launch a much-rumored iMovies Online Store, so it could sell flicks just as it sells songs today. Certainly, as chairman of Pixar, Jobs could get the ball rolling by making that studios' famous flicks available on Blu-ray discs, via an online store, or both.

-- The news doesn't have to be limited to PowerBooks, of course. The iMac could also get a facelift with these video-enhancing technologies, as well. And if Apple does indeed launch an online movie store, the possibilities become even more interesting. Apple, as many have pointed out, is as well positioned as any company to figure out how to deliver video from the PC to the living room. The company has the expertise in interface design to make the job toaster-simple for regular Joes. It's products are so elegantly designed that they might actually improve the look of many a living room--not something that can be said about most tech gear. Even Apple's go-it-alone business model would be a boon, freeing it to make a single self-enclosed solution that really works. Who knows, Jobs could work out a deal with a TV manufacturer to sell its own Apple-branded boob tube that's configured with all the electronics to smoothly grab movies downloaded from this as-yet non-existent movie store.

OK, that's enough speculating for one morning. Lord knows, Apple doesn't need extra help keeping the pre-show buzz at an uproar. We'll know the truth soon enough.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.