With the unveiling of a new set of Apple Inc. products — likely to include music-related devices, but also the possible major upgrade of a TV gadget — Steve Jobs and company are again poised to cause a stir in the tech world.
Apple watchers are predicting that Chief Executive Jobs, at a company event Wednesday in San Francisco, will announce updates to Apple's lineup of ubiquitous iPod media players, and also changes to its iTunes store to make it more friendly to mobile devices.
Some analysts also expect a more radical move — a revamping of its Apple TV device that has never much caught on with consumers.
As usual, Apple has stayed mum on its new products before their formal debut, allowing the buzz to build on its own. But the company did offer a clue in its e-mail invitation to the announcement: The message featured a picture of an acoustic guitar with a sound hole in the shape of Apple's distinctive logo.
Traditionally, Apple has introduced new iPod media players in September, and this year much of the speculation has focused on its popular Nano model. The blog iLounge posted images from a Chinese website of square-shaped rubber cases that it said would fit the new devices. The cases seemed to leave no room for the Nano's current click wheel, perhaps in favor of an iPhone-like touch screen.
Guesses about a new version of the iPod Touch, which has Internet as well as media functions, have been that the device will get a camera, possibly to allow for live video chats. Also, some expect the Touch to get the higher-resolution screen that's already on the iPhone 4.
But some analysts forecast that Apple would go beyond iPods to unveil a new version of its Apple TV device, which allows consumers to download movies, TV shows and YouTube clips. The upgraded device could be considerably smaller, perhaps the size of an iPod. It could eventually allow users to rent movies and shows from major studios.
"We would view an updated Apple TV as an important step in Apple developing an all-in-one Apple Television," Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst Gene Munster wrote in a note to investors.
The Times on Tuesday detailed ongoing talks between Apple and media conglomerates such as News Corp., NBC Universal and Time Warner Inc. over whether Apple will be able to offer 99-cent digital video rentals to its users.
Hollywood decision-makers are worried that broadband rentals could cut into DVD sales and send the wrong message during a time when broadcasters and cable operators are warring over the terms of transmitting shows and movies over traditional television, sources said.
Munster said he expected the company to also show a revamped iTunes store that would let users keep their songs and videos in the Internet-based cloud, where they would be instantly accessible.
Most Apple users now keep their media libraries on local computer hard drives, or stored on the devices themselves. But Munster pointed to Apple's recent construction of a $1-billion data center in North Carolina that could be used to store and circulate high volumes of online music and video content. That project is expected to be finished by the end of the year, he said.
On Monday, MacDailyNews posted an anonymously sourced item claiming that Apple was hiring a "huge" number of telephone sales employees in advance of a major product to be launched in October. The item did not speculate about why the company would need these hires.
One analyst, Shaw Wu of Kaufman Bros., questioned the Apple TV and other video rumors.
"Because it's a picture of a guitar, it'd be surprising if Apple TV is announced," Wu said. His conversations with businesses that help Apple ship and assemble products made him doubt that the set-top box was ready.
Finally, the uncertainty over Hollywood licensing deals may weigh against the announcement of a complete Apple TV package at this point, Wu said.
"But who knows?" he asked.