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Did Apple Computer invent “buzz” marketing? The point is debatable, but there’s no arguing that since the famous “1984” Superbowl ad teaser that led to the surprise unveiling of the first Macintosh personal computer, Apple – and its once-and-current CEO Steve Jobs – have made shrewd use of secrecy, hints, and rumors. Combined with Jobs’ undeniable flair for showmanship, this philosophy makes the annual Macworld Expo keynote speeches the focus of frenzied speculation and fantasizing.

But does this approach work? Well…we’re talking about it, and the expo is still a week away.

Jobs will lift the curtain on Apple’s latest products and initiatives at the expo next week in San Francisco. Of course only he knows what’s coming in the speech. One certainty, however, is that over the next year, Apple will make a major platform transition, from the IBM- and Freescale-made Power PC processors to CPUs made by Intel, a company once seen by the Mac faithful as an enemy (i.e., Microsoft) sympathizer.

It won’t be the first such move Apple has made, though; years ago the company switched to the IBM Power PC from Motorola’s 68000-series CPUs, a change that required software developers to retool their products. In addition, Apple’s leap from Mac OS 9 to the Unix-based Mac OS X required redevelopment of all software for the Mac – a process that took major companies such as Microsoft and Adobe years.

Then there’s the radical change caused by the introduction of the wildly popular iPod in 2001, which has thrust the company into the consumer product and entertainment world. Chairman Jobs once said he had a vision of Apple becoming the Sony of the computer world. Some have taken this to mean he couldn’t wait to get out of the computer business and into content – witness his other company, Pixar.

Of course Apple representatives are mute about the content of their leader’s speech – leaving the field wide open to rumor and hearsay. Here we present a few of the most credible speculations circulating and try to deconstruct what they mean.

Apple Goes Intel

Jobs first announced the switch to Intel chips last June, at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference. He set no concrete deadlines, stating only that Intel-based Macs would emerge by June 2006, with the entire product line going all-Intel by 2007. But many Apple analysts and news sites covering Apple rumors have noted signs that the first Intel-based Mac could appear much sooner, with a possible announcement next week.

The consensus among professional analysts and other Apple watchers seems to be that the first Mac product with an Intel transplant will be a notebook computer, perhaps an iBook or a PowerBook, or both.

Tim Bajarin, president of Campbell, CA-based Creative Strategies, comes at this judgment deductively: “There’s no question that Apple has to refresh its laptop products.” Despite a late-2005 minor bump to the iBooks and PowerBooks, he notes, Apple’s notebooks have been stagnating in performance overall, even as Windows-based notebooks have grown faster and more feature-filled.

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