The Macworld Conference & Expo, Silicon Valley's largest technology trade show, opens Monday. But the moment everyone is waiting for comes Tuesday morning, when Steve Jobs makes his annual keynote address at San Francisco's Moscone Center.
Jobs has set a high bar for himself. At Macworld 2006, he introduced the first Intel (INTC)-based Macs -- sparking a burst of sales that nearly doubled Apple's (AAPL) market share from roughly 4% to something approaching 8% (link). At Macworld 2007 he unveiled not just the all-but-forgotten Apple TV, but also the iPhone -- a device that in nearly everybody's book turned out to be the machine of the year.
What can Jobs do to top that?
There's no shortage of speculation. The Apple rumor machinery has grown so elaborate that for the second year in a row, Ars Technica's John Siracusa has published a keynote Bingo card (available in PDF format here and in iPhone format here), with boxes to be filled in as Jobs makes his announcements, introduces his guests and trots out his trademark rhetorical flourishes. (The rules of the game are spelled out here.)
Nobody has yet shouted out "Bingo!" in middle of a Steve Jobs presentation -- a moment brilliantly anticipated in IBM's buzzword Bingo TV ad (link) -- but this could be the year.
Some of Siracusa's boxes are obviously more important than others. A couple (Mac Pro and Xserve) were preemptively filled last week, and there are a few key possibilities that he missed. Watch especially for:
You already see the flashbulbs popping, right? But is it enough? Apple's marketing machinery is like a shark that must keep swimming or die. Even if nearly every square on the Bingo card were to be filled on Tuesday, would Jobs have delivered the kind of innovation and buzz the faithful have come to expect?
And then there's Wall Street to consider. Apple was the high-flying tech stock of year, its share prices having more than doubled in 2007. But as a CNNMoney headline put it on Friday, "What've you done for me lately?" The stock fell nearly 30 points over the last two weeks, which could be taken as a measure of traders' uncertaintly. (Or it could just be a well-timed pause to set up the Macworld effect, the short-term bump tech share prices often enjoy after a Steve Jobs' keynote.)
No matter how high the bar, Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg is confident that Jobs will clear it. "This is a company that thinks in terms of strategy," he says. "Do I think they'll deliver something as disruptive as the iPhone? No. You don't achieve that kind of disruption every week; it would be tantamount to getting into a whole new industry. But somehow Jobs always manages to meet expectations, even if the expectations are different."
To find out how different, tune in Tuesday for Fortune senior writer Jon Fortt live blogging from the keynote at fortune.com/bigtech, video coverage from CNNMoney.com and our post-keynote analysis here on Tuesday afternoon.
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