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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 January 2007, 12:53 GMT
Apple rumour mill in over-drive
Macworld Expo sign
The Macworld Expo is much anticipated by Apple fans
It is that time of year again when Mac fans get out their crystal balls in an attempt to second guess what Apple founder Steve Jobs will announce at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Speculation this year is loudest about a possible Apple mobile phone.

It could see the firm competing in the mobile space in a similar way to its dramatic entry into the music arena.

Other predictions include a new iPod, more details about Apple's TV set-top box and new versions of its software.

The guessing game has become an integral part of the show as traditional media and blogs compete to fuel the rumour mill.

Under wraps

Steve Jobs delivering a keynote
Steve Jobs will put on a good show

The annual Apple-fest is something of a cult among Apple fans. Steve Jobs can be guaranteed to provide plenty of surprises and entertainiment and his band of loyal supporters are likely to cheer even the most mundane announcements.

"Apple is incredibly good at keeping things under wraps. Steve Jobs will definitely make it a good show and there will always be that one last thing that no-one expects at the end," said Ian Fogg, analyst with research firm Jupiter.

For Mr Fogg, the most interesting aspect of the announcements from San Francisco will be how Apple chooses to enter the mobile market.

"If Apple does launch a phone, it will have several options. Will they partner with a mobile operator or another handset manufacturer or go its own way?" he asked.

"If Apple launches as a mobile operator themselves it would be very hard to go live globally with that straight away. They may choose instead to sell their own-branded phones in Apple stores and that would shake up the market quite a lot," he said.

New iPod?

The Wall Street Journal - the first media outlet to predict Apple's switch to Intel chips - is predicting Apple will enter the mobile market in conjunction with operator Cingular.

For those impressed by Apple's iconic designs, the more interesting aspect of any Apple phone would be how it would look. It would almost certainly incorporate iPod functions and other speculation includes the possibility of a fold-out keyboard for chat facilities, a camera and the idea that, like the Nano, it will be small and sleek.

Other pundits are predicting that Mr Jobs is more likely to use the platform in San Francisco to announce new iPods, possibly one with phone functionality rather than a stand-alone handset.

Graham Barlow, editor of MacFormat is predicting an iPod with a bigger screen and hard-drive. Pundits point out that a wide screen would sit nicely with deals Apple has done with TV and movie companies.

Mr Barlow also expects new versions of iLife, Apple's suite of digital lifestyle applications, and upgrades to iWork, Apple's version of Microsoft's Office, to include spreadsheets for the first time.

Apple's new operating system Leopard is due for a spring/summer debut and some pundits think Mr Jobs may talk his devoted audience through some new features, especially given how much rival Bill Gates has been talking up Microsoft's new operating system Vista.

Expect the unexpected

Most of the details about Apple's set-top box, codenamed iTV, have already been released. The name is likely to be revealed and some think it could go on immediate release. If this is the case, it could be that companion products or content will also be announced.

Other pundits are predicting a new look for the iMac or other Apple hardware.

Apple is clearly enjoying the hype that Macworld excites and is doing its best to raise expectations to fever pitch. On its website it offers the tantalising message: "The first 30 years were just the beginning - welcome to 2007."

Apple has a habit of producing something from the wings and the one thing that Mac fans have learnt to expect is the unexpected.

Steve Jobs kicks off his keynote at 5pm GMT on Tuesday 9 January.

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