Who will join Steve Jobs on stage next week? A few educated guesses… perhaps Rupert himself?

I was having lunch last Friday with the guys at Connecting Point, a Melbourne Apple reseller with a large customer roll within the educational sector, from primary (elementary) through to college (university). It also makes sales to individuals, and I have referred a number of switchers to them over the last year or so.

I was booked to see Avatar for the second time at the iMax cinema not far from the Connecting Point Friday lunch get together, last week including an Apple engineer, so dropped in to discuss my preparation for Macworld, and of course rumours over the tablet. I jokingly offered that joining Steve Jobs on stage would be none other than Rupert Murdoch, whose parent company News Corp. has multiple media interests ranging from Fox Studios, through to the Wall Street Journal, and publishing houses such as HarperCollins.

Rupert, known in his Aussie homeland and especially the UK as “the dirty digger” for his union busting activities, has been outspoken about how users must eventually pay for quality journalism, even though critics of his publications such as the New York Post and the Fox cable network might question the meaning of “quality” in this context.

But Murdoch now owns the Wall Street Journal which in recent years has obtained accurate leaks of forthcoming Apple products, so we can assume that News Corp. and Apple may well have reached a deal, even if Murdoch and Jobs’ politics diverge considerably. Both are huge business risk takers and surround themselves with highly competent and trusted senior executives. Both share a love and passion for how their respective products and services are world-changers, and so there is a business synergy between the two. Whether they would share a stage together to make a compelling announcement is up for grabs, but I fully expect a News Corp (or one of subsidiaries) rep. to be up on stage at some point on January 27. If it is Murdoch or a senior News Corp. exec., it will cause other publishers to sit up and really pay attention to what Apple’s doing in the publishing world. I should also note the long term connection between Murdoch and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, from the Saudi Royal family, who has major media interests in the Middle East and who is also a long time significant Apple shareholder.

Who else then? (Assuming Steve himself does the heavy lifting for most of the keynote. I wonder if he will show the Amazon Kindle, as he did with the “usual suspects” smartphones in 2007′s iPhone launch, and make a comparison between it, its target market and what the tablet will do?)

No doubt, Phil Schiller will play some role as Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing on stage, demonstrating some Knowledge Navigator-type of function of the tablet. We’ve already seen Jobs and Schiller do something like this when showing new competencies of iWork 09, as well as a three-way conversation when Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. I don’t expect Phil to do a demo on his own as he has done in the past with desktop Macs (do you remember Photoshop bakeoffs comparing Macs to Dells in previous Macworld keynotes?). If the tablet includes a webcam (perhaps using the screen itself as the camera, based on patents going back several years), then perhaps we will see a video conference with Phil take place.

Scott Forstall, Senior VP of iPhone development will get the stage to himself to demonstrate the next iPhone software, version 4.0, especially if this is also what powers the tablet. If it doesn’t, then Bertrand Serlet, Senior VP of Software Engineering may do the duties. At an outside chance, they may share some time on stage demonstrating how iPhone 4.0 can allow OS X apps like iWork/iLife to be modded to work on the tablet and sync with your Macbook or iMac. And of course speak of the roadmap for iPhone 4.0 developers and when they can expect to get their new software underway.

I don’t predict we will see Jonathan Ive live on stage, but he will be featured in a lengthy promotional video discussing in his passionate way the design philosophy of the tablet, plus the engineering challenges Apple spent years overcoming, which will leave its competitors dumbfounded in their efforts to match the Apple solutions Ive and his design team have developed. In the same video, I would expect to see interviews with other Apple senior engineers, well known within the company but without the fame the others mentioned so far have garnered over the years.

Naturally the same video will also include providers of third party services discussing the impact the tablet will have on their business and how Apple offered them unique solutions no one else had the foresight to conceive. And we’ll say video of famous faces being “amazed” at what the tablet can perform.

Up on stage again, I am fully expecting a New York Times senior staffer or family owner to meet and greet Steve, then discuss how the NYT sees the tablet as the right step forward for its pay-per-download subscription model, something it tried and failed with previously for its elite content, such as Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman’s columns.

From there, it will be time for the select few app. developers to show their wares, including how their current apps can be resized, but also how they’ve developed new apps especially to take advantage of the tablet’s special features. I’d include here comic developers for whom the tablet seems an ideal platform to reach new audiences.

Also expect one or two major gaming production studios to present, then some highly specialised domains to show how they intend to use the tablet. Something medical is a certainty, whether it be a hospital staffer showing new imaging software, Johnson and Johnson once more showing blood pressure or glucose measuring addons, or a less well known but highly innovative specialist company showing how the tablet has a place in the hospital setting, say in radiology.

Who else?

Clearly, those who will team with Apple to place the tablet into its own niche, and own it. Perhaps it will be a 3G cellphone CEO (but which one?), a major recording industry partner, or a rep. from Disney who will demo the downloading on demand of its products using a new version of iTunes, which Jobs himself will give a more full featured demo for when showing how the tablet integrates with other domestic appliances, including AppleTV and perhaps other set top devices.

And then there’s one more thing… I can’t even speculate on this, and frankly don’t want to. Like most others who follow Apple closely, I enjoy being delighted by surprises even after I spend time tracking Apple’s history which allows for the guesswork I’ve made in today’s post.

Like most predictions about Apple, there will be many who will see the tablet as a weak solution to a non-problem, just as many predicted after the iPod’s release in 2001 that it was a brick going nowhere, or that Apple would fail with its iPhone because that technological domain was already mature. What these soothsayers focussed on was the hardware, not the ecosystem that is Apple’s ownership of the entire widget, starting with its ability to harness its software prowess.

With the tablet, Apple will enter into new fields of publishing with new partners, where once again the hardware is a mere conduit to content which is either too expensive or hard to access (I’m thinking here of specialised journals and literature), as well as new twists on familiar domains such as music and video, which a much larger screen with new user interface will leave us entranced. As Jeff Goldblum famously said in the first advertisement for the titanium Powerbook G4 in 2001, “you’re gonna so want one”.

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One response to “Who will join Steve Jobs on stage next week? A few educated guesses… perhaps Rupert himself?

  1. Les, I hope you’re wrong about Rupert Murdoch appearing onstage with Steve Jobs. I know business is business, but….

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