Analysts, pundits, and other soothsayers are seizing the day, predicting Apple's news at Macworld Expo San Francisco tomorrow.

A series of notions capture the pre-show zeitgeist: Mac mini media centres; Intel-based iBooks; new applications, particularly iLife and iWork '06; a movie download service; an Apple iPhone; a Mac TV; a new iPod shuffle (with a screen); or a new low-capacity iPod nano.

Some even expect Apple to demonstrate a new version of Mac OS X.

Apple introduced the Mac mini, the iPod shuffle, iWork '06 and iLife '06 at the show last year.

While Apple is always working on multiple products, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a stickler for only revealing those that are ready for prime time. The question is "what's ready?".

It's such splendid speculation that Jason O'Grady has estimated betting odds for each notion. He introduced a new rumour - that Apple will launch a 42- and 50-inch Cinema Display-like television set with a Mac mini built-in.

Predicting Apple a dangerous pastime

Speaking before Apple launched the iPod nano in September, Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg summarised the danger of speculation: "When it comes to (Apple events), short-term prediction is where you can be absolutely right and be dead wrong at the same time," he explained.

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff echoed Gartenberg's opinion, telling the Mercury News: "Predicting Apple's moves has always been like chasing a ferret - the unexpected changes of direction can leave you dizzy.''

Writing for Business Week, Mac watcher Paul Boutin described Mac rumours as an excellent measure of public opinion - rumours that generate the most excitement match the products that people most want to see.

Apple rumours set technology trends

Mac rumours are indicators of future events across the technology market, he suggested.

"I have no idea what's up Jobs' sleeves. But based on what he's supposedly going to unveil, I can forecast the success of the gear I saw at CES: Tablet PCs will go nowhere. Windows Vista doesn't really matter - it's Windows, so we'll use it no matter what. SanDisk will soon replace laptop drives with flash cards. And Intel's Viiv will become the standard home entertainment companion to a new flat-panel TV," he said.

Apple has ability to conduct its media orchestra, which Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technology Associates, describes as "showmanship like no company in the industry". He added: "You will see more media there than at a presidential inauguration.''

Apple will screen the keynote live by satellite at an invitation-only media event at the BBC.

Apple's post-CES counterstrike

Expectation is high.

Jobs is expected to launch Apple's counterstrike against the myriad of products, services and strategies revealed by its competitors at CES last week.

Extending it's success in iTunes may be part of the counter attack, said Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin: "I've got to believe Apple has been working around the clock to get more content for the video store,'' he said, predicting more broadcasters would release video through the service.

Forrester analyst Bernoff believes Apple is plotting a home media centre, probably based on a Mac mini. This would link the computer to the TV, and allow users to stream music, movies and other content across the home. He doesn't expect it to emerge at the show: "It will happen, but not at Macworld,'' he counselled.

The LA Times predicts Apple will launch a "TV-connected device that would record shows the way TiVo's digital video recorder does." It will use an improved version of Apple's Front Row software.

Commenting on this notion, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said: "That makes perfect sense. Within two years I think there is a high likelihood that Apple will have TV tuners in all its computers."

Advantage, Apple

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu sees Apple in a position of strength: "Apple is better positioned, with no legacy business to protect, and enjoys a cost advantage with its world-class supply chain and high volume," he said.

But most analysts agree that Apple needs to pull new notebooks from its hat. While its marketshare is climbing, Apple's laptop sales - after years of exceeding the industry average growth - are beginning to flag. The time may be right for the first Intel iBook.

"Apple's laptop line desperately needs to be refreshed," said Bajarin.

The power of one

All the rumours could be wrong.

Jobs has a reputation as one of the world's leading IT visionaries and most effective business leaders. He is famed for signing-off keynote events with the phrase: "just one more thing".

His sign-off moments tend to create shockwaves across his industry.

"He has something else up his sleeve that none of us have a clue about," Bajarin warned Reuters.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs will quash rumours with fact during his keynote speech, which begins at 9am (Pacific Time, 5pm UK time) tomorrow (January 10). The keynote speech will be made available online after the event.