Apple's having a launch event on the 7th March (8th as far as we're concerned, living in most of the world's future as we do) and it's pretty obvious from the invitation that it's about iPad: in other words, iPad 3.
But at the same time, Apple watchers have noticed that Apple TV supplies have become constrained. A product becoming hard to find always gets everyone excited because Apple almost always chokes something off in the supply chain before an imminent refresh, so as not to be lumbered with large stocks of redundant models.
There has been some pretty obsessive analysis of the sparse (as per usual for Apple) March 7th invitation, to mine it for clues.
But now the pundits are thinking the 7th could also spell the release of a new Apple TV, along with the new iPad.
If so, so far I haven't seen anyone make the connection that maybe a new Apple TV will also stream to the new iPad, which will almost certainly have a so-called 'Retina Display' in which the pixels are so small you can't see them with the naked eye.
This packs more pixels into the same space (iPhone 4/4S has it already) and makes everything sharper, and text easier to read.
At the same time, of course, rumours of an actual Apple Television set have resurfaced.
For the Apple TV is just a little black networking box that allows you to stream any video content in iTunes on your Mac, or video on an iDevice, to the TV it's connected to, wirelessly. As you can imagine, if your TV is also connected up to a stereo system, it means your Apple devices can also use that to play high quality sound through.
The Apple TV little black box concept is great because you end up with a simple, easy-to-use Apple interface on your TV. This is a godsend, because I've never seen an interface on a TV anything like that. Most TV manufacturers' efforts in this regard are simply awful.
The box adds to this the ability to shop directly in the iTunes Store right on your TV screen, using the little remote that comes with it. You can buy and rent films directly in your lounge, then watch 'em. Plus music, of course, and grab all those free podcasts etc. Oh, and it lets you surf the net on your TV, for YouTube videos, for example, since it's wirelessly connected into your network.
Since Apple TV is a networking device, it has also become popular as a streamer for presentations on screens in workplaces, and to create and manage iTunes music-playing zones. And it's a little thing, so some people carry them around for setting up video networks on the fly.
I get the impression that this use of the Apple TV in New Zealand has been more popular than elsewhere, since our film buying and rental catalogue in the NZ iTunes Store is pretty limited, although it has improved dramatically over time.
The little box is only NZ$170 - but don't rush to buy one. Wait till the 8th March and see if there's a new version. New Apple products are usually the same price as what they succeed, and add more features.
What might a successor device offer? The most obvious is full 1080p quality, and that's a pretty good expectation. A faster onboard chip could also mean a general boost to the app ecosystem in your house or workplace.
GigaOM has some more wishes, some of which are a bit fanciful. For example, Siri. Really? Imagine sitting in your lounge shouting at your TV to do things over not just the general hubbub from the TV, but also from other people in the lounge. Imagine the chaos during a game of rugby! I can't see it. Better navigation on the existing model? Sure. By voice? I'd be really surprised.
But improvements to Apple TV's gaming abilities would be welcome, with your iDevice as a controller, and that's a stronger possibility.
At the same time, rumours of an actual Apple HDTV (a television) have also resurfaced. I've never given much credibility to these rumours. To my mind, they're the fancies of people with way too much money who think an actual Apple TV in their lounge would be the ultimate. Not for me. My misgivings hinge on the stratospheric cost a television by Apple would almost certainly carry. Not in this household, Mr Cook.
But anyway, Apple has traditionally entered markets where competition hasn't become all that strong: a personal computer when they were far from ubiquitous; a smartphone when the market was still ill defined; a tablet when the tablet market had already demonstrably failed to spark.
Compare that to the TV market: many models, cut-throat pricing (even here), lots of innovation as companies struggle to get you to buy the latest (despite most people, surely, only buying a new TV every five to ten years?) model with 3D, internet surfing, maybe extra sound abilities yadda yadda. Apple would be mad to enter this market with a premium model, and crikey, there are already plenty of premium models to choose from as well.
But other speculation centres on Apple creating a steaming TV service.
Well, it pretty much successfully defined and created a successful music sales model in iTunes, so there is a precedent.
OK, maybe in America, and perhaps even Europe. But for us? Let's be honest, our online offerings for TV and films aren't that great, whereas elsewhere they sound fantastic. Apple would hardly bother to add a streaming service for us in New Zealand (which is another rumour). We're not big enough to warrant it, unfortunately.
That said, there isn't exactly have much competition for it, down here. But the rollout of some Apple services for us really lags: slow introduction of movies and still no TV shows in iTunes, plus a pseudo iBooks service where we get the free out-of-copyright volumes and nothing else, to the chagrin of many who really want to buy them. (You can't even buy my history book on car companies and their military efforts. It's in 20-odd iBook Stores overseas and not available here.)
Meanwhile, iTunes itself is rumoured to be up for a revamp. I hope so - my biggest wish is tabs so I don't have to go backwards and forwards so much, but on a Mac, iTunes is a pretty handy offering. Most of the criticism comes from PC users who get the Windows version of iTunes. (I can't address these criticisms - no knowledge.)
Anyway, we'll know on Thursday.
- Mark Webster mac-nz.com