All eyes on Apple at Macworld 2008

February 4, 2009 6:05:17 PM PST
Steve Jobs has a tough act to follow at the Macworld Conference & Expo on Tuesday: himself.In 2007 at Macworld, Apple Inc.'s charismatic CEO hurtled into the cell phone industry with the iPhone. And that wasn't all. The company also jettisoned the word "computer" from the Macintosh maker's name and launched the Apple TV set-top box.

Apple's stock has doubled in value in the year since. It's gained market share, and the consumer love affair with the iPod continues.

Few are expecting quite the same degree of dazzle from Jobs this year. He's expected to take the wraps off a movie rental service, show off an ultra-portable laptop and maybe give the iPhone a faster connection to the internet.

"All I can say for certain is that Macworld 2008 is not going to top 2007. That was the Macworld of Macworlds," said Charlie Wolf, analyst at Needham & Co.

Still, Apple is expected to keep booming. It's aiming to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008, meaning the handset that combines the functions of an iPod, cell phone and wireless Web browser could account for roughly 1 percent of cell phones expected to be sold worldwide this year. And it's doing all this despite an overall slowdown in consumer spending.

Wall Street predicts Apple will earn $5.09 per share for its fiscal 2008, up nearly 30 percent from $3.93 per share last year, on annual sales that will grow 32 percent to $31.7 billion, according to a poll of analysts by Thomson Financial.

Here's where Apple is likely headed:
- It is going to the movies, likely announcing Tuesday the addition of movies for rent at its online iTunes Store for $3.99 apiece for 24 hours, the common window Hollywood has imposed on other digital movie rental services.

Apple will have lots of competition in this arena, but Apple "is setting the table for the consumer movie experience for the next 25 years," said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. "Today it doesn't matter but five, 10 years from now, it'll be how everybody will be watching movies."

- It's going on a diet. A prevailing theory is that Jobs will unveil an ultra-portable notebook, weighing somewhere between 2 and 4 pounds, that would fill a hole in Apple's computer lineup. American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu predicts the slim "MacBook Mini" could be priced at $1,500 to $2,000 and could feature a flash memory drive instead of a standard hard drive to reduce the weight, boost battery life, and make it more rugged and reliable.

- And it's going faster. As in 3G, a speedier cellular network option for Web browsing or other data features on the iPhone. A

Even though Apple is staying mum until Tuesday, it's still got everybody else talking.

Macworld runs Tuesday through Friday at the Moscone convention center in San Francisco.