Setting the stage with Windows 8 and Ultrabooks
Intel and Microsoft, though clearly not together, actually presented a compelling picture of the future that will start in the second half of this year with ultrabooks and Windows 8 in late 2012. Ultrabooks promise the benefits of the iPad and MacBook Air with prices closer to the iPad. These products are expected to be thin, light, and with battery life for light duty that rivals the iPad.
In 2012, they will get Windows 8 and touch capability, which jumps to a primary interface with this new OS, and the interface in Windows 8 is designed to favor it. Windows 8 will span devices that start with iPad-like tablets and scale to performance desktop PCs, and monitor vendors are already starting to get touchscreen monitors ready for next year.
Wrapped with application stores, built-in Skype capabilities, and rich media from a variety of online sources such as Windows Live, Xbox Live, and Office Live, coupled with games and applications designed with the new interface, this is a big push from Microsoft to take back the future of the PC. Along with Intel, they are arguing strongly that the PC era isn't dead; it was just taking a little break.
Steve Jobs' opportunities and problems
It is clear that Jobs will be showcasing Lion and his new cloud media services. Apple struggled with MobileMe, but Jobs purged that group before going on leave, and the new folks -- and the folks who are left -- know their jobs are on the line and are likely to execute sharply this round. Apple's advantage is the control of the platform. It has one primary service in iTunes, which is both dominant and entrenched, and is currently the poster child for the future of personal technology with the iPad and iPhone.
Among Apple's disadvantages are that it's increasingly becoming the biggest security target and that it suffers from channel limitations, particularly in Europe and Asia (Apple just isn't in as many stores as PCs are). It's still one company against an industry. It's suing Samsung, one of their big suppliers, and Intel is pushing for a non-iPad/iPhone solution. Meanwhile, the iTunes Store has been down for some time this week, and the company has already indicated there will be no new hardware announced at the show -- so don't expect the iPhone 5.
Steve Jobs' magic trick
Jobs regularly undersets expectations on purpose to get the pop from folks who are later surprised. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of an iPhone, but with regard to content, he is likely to attack on several vectors. With OS X Lion, he'll probably argue that what Microsoft is going to have in 2012, Apple will have something better in 2011. He doesn't like to preannounce products, but it wouldn't be hard for him to hint that the same technology that will be in ultrabooks will be available to Apple and that Apple has more experience with iPad and MacBook Air devices, because Apple invented them.
Real showstoppers would be an early move to touch for laptops (rather unlikely, as Jobs mentioned in the past that touch doesn't work on vertical screens) or a move from Intel to ARM Holdings
Movie deals surrounding iCloud and subscription capability for both video and audio content are likely and could be his traditional "one more thing" ending, if he decides to wait for the iPhone 5 announcement that is expected for September.
In the end, he is going to go in hunting for bear. The fact that this may be his last launch may put a small cloud over his performance.
The advantage of going second
The advantage Steve Jobs and Apple have by going second is that they can go over the Intel and various Windows 8 claims for several days and craft a response that will devalue them. The biggest exposure for Microsoft is the relatively late release of Windows 8. For Intel, it is the chance that Apple might go with ARM top to bottom. For Apple, it is the advantage that potential buyers could be waiting until the Windows 8 hardware and software shows up and not choosing Apple as a result. The stakes are high in this game. Steve Jobs' keynote next week will be fascinating to watch.
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