If you're the kind of person who likes to try and divine Apple's intentions based on press event invitations the company sends out, Apple took care of a lot of the guess-work for you Wednesday with its invite to next week's Mac-centric get-together. The invitation features an Apple logo with a lion peeking out from behind. And in case the lion imagery wasn't enough of a clue for a company that enjoys cat-themed code names for its operating system updates, Apple explicitly promises a "sneak peek of the next major version of Mac OS X" on October 20.
So it's decided, then--next Wednesday's event will see the unveiling of OS X 10.7, which will most likely be called OS X Lion. There will be numerous references to this update being the "King of the Jungle" and maybe Steve Jobs will even end the event by leading the assembled press in a sing-along of "The Circle of Life." Now that that's settled, we can just sit back quietly and twiddle our thumbs until next Wednesday at 10 a.m. PT, right?
Well, not exactly. While an OS X preview certainly figures to occupy center stage next week, it likely won't be the only announcement Apple has to make. If Apple follows the script of previous OS X updates, Wednesday's press event figures to be a preview, not a launch itself. Apple executives will talk up OS X 10.7's new features, demo a few of them for the press, outline the ways in which this update will move the Mac platform forward... and then tell us not to expect a shipping product until some time in 2011. (Around next summer's Worldwide Developers Conference, if I had to make a guess, which would be in line with the operating system upgrade cycle that Apple has used since slowing down from the frenetic update-a-year pace of OS X's early days.)
Another clue that next Wednesday will be more than just a coming attraction for OS X 10.7 lies in the wording of the invitation. Specifically, Apple has told the invited to "come see what's next for the Mac on October 20, including a sneak peak of the next major version of Mac OS X." (Emphasis added.) That's "including" as in "not just limited to." Which gives us a week to figure out what Apple might have up its sleeve.
Could it be new hardware? October Mac releases certainly aren't unprecedented. Last year, Apple introduced new iMacs, updated the Mac mini, and even rolled out a unibody white MacBook; the previous year saw an overhaul of Apple's laptop line. With this summer's Mac Pro and iMac updates still fresh on the brainpan, the focus this time around would seem to fall on laptops.
I'm not entirely convinced that hardware is on the agenda for next Wednesday. Apple updated the MacBook Pro line in April, with the MacBook following suit a month later. Neither product line strikes me as especially long in the tooth. That said, it feels like it's an entire archaeological period has gone by since we've seen a new MacBook Air. (Well, more than a year since the last Air update, at any rate.) An Air update would probably be more than just a speed bump, but Apple could take the wraps off a new model and even bump the processor speed of its other laptops and still have plenty of time left over next week to give OS X its time in the spotlight.
I think, though, that two Apple software offerings seem like even better candidates for some face time on Wednesday--iLife and iWork. That's a guess driven as more by my ability to read a calendar than it is to read tea leaves. iLife '09 and iWork '09 made their debuts back when Apple still attended trade shows--22 months ago, if you're scoring along at home. When you're three-fourths of the way through 2010 and 2011 is already in sight, software with an '09 on the label really won't cut it. Furthermore, Microsoft plans to ship a new version of Office this month, and I'm sure there's an Apple executive or two who wouldn't mind stealing some of the software giant's thunder in the office productivity space.
I'll leave it to brighter minds than mine to figure out exactly what improvements or marquee features Apple could add to its creative and productivity suites. The company could certainly follow the lead of its mobile versions of iMovie or the iWork apps and come up with greater iOS integration for its two suites--though at an event billed "Back to the Mac," this seems an unlikely turn of events. Or it could take a page out of its latest iTunes update and add a Ping-like social component to its iLife offerings. (Given how well Ping's gone over, though, this also seems unlikely.)
Those are the obvious choices to share the stage with an OS X preview next week. But then again, Apple has never been about doing the obvious, has it? If you've got an outlandish theory about what might get announced next Wednesday feel free to share it in our forums.