Forget about Apple (AAPL) investors. The entire tech world is anxiously (nervously?) awaiting Tuesday's iPhone launch event. The hope: that the iEmpire's to-be-unveiled holiday lineup impresses enough to reverse a 7% stock slide that began two weeks ago. (For reference, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) is off about 4.5% over the same period.)
We'll have to wait till 10 a.m. Pacific time on Tuesday to find out exactly what the Mac maker has up its gadget-making sleeve. In the meantime, here are five things to watch for as the event unfolds.
1. Carriers, carriers everywhere!
Most of the rumors say that not only AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), but also Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile, will carry the new handset. That's significant because these are distinctly different networks.
It's possible that Apple is planning to introduce a smartphone that contains all the radios necessary to plug into any network. Customers would love it, carriers not so much. It means that you could try Verizon, hate it, and then move to T-Mobile -- all without changing phones.
If Apple makes good on the rumors, expect the Big Four to respond by trying to lock in customers. They'll promise low pricing in exchange for signing long-term contracts that come with huge penalties for switching. Cash-crunched customers may find it easier to take this route, foregoing what appears to be a key benefit of owning the new iPhone.
2. Your iPhone can hear you now...
But it's also not likely to be the only benefit. Early reports speak of a forthcoming feature called "Assistant" that uses voice recognition technology to activate common iPhone functions. No more thumbing for directions or waiting for the iTunes playlist to get to "The Waiting" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Speak your desire and Assistant will work to fulfill it.
Interestingly, this may not be as game changing as it sounds. Google's (GOOG) Android OS also allows for voice commands, so it'll be important to see how capable Assistant is when compared to Google's Voice Actions for Android. Either way, though, Apple seems determined to reduce iPhone users' reliance on Google services.
3. Whither the iPad?
Less clear is what Apple intends for its tablet in the wake of the debut of Amazon.com's (AMZN) Kindle Fire. Will the new iOS features stretch from iPhone to iPad? The answer isn't as simple as you might think. The folders feature that made iOS 4 stand out when it was introduced last summer took months to migrate to the iPad, which means Assistant could end up as an iPhone-only feature for the foreseeable future. Don't expect Apple investors to react well if that turns out to be the case.
The Kindle Fire may have its own issues -- the device is smaller and Wi-Fi only, for starters -- but treating the iPad as the iPhone's less-important cousin isn't likely to win customer loyalty when the entire category is still early in its development.
4. Facebook friends Apple again
When Apple announced plans to integrate Twitter into the iPhone, investors and pundits alike wondered if former Apple CEO Steve Jobs had unfriended Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Whatever differences there were seem to have been set aside: Social media watcher Mashable reports that Facebook will introduce its new iPad app during tomorrow's launch event.
Does the tie-up mean an alliance against Google -- perhaps an unlikely triumvirate in which Apple bundles Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing services with Facebook in both the iPhone and iPad, in effect purging the Big G from its most valuable platform? Both scenarios are possible, but don't expect Jobs or successor Tim Cook to start a lunch club with Zuck. Facebook is still apparently on target to introduce a version of its platform that exists entirely on the Web and would host and run apps on iOS devices -- without needing to first clear Apple's App Store.
5. A turtleneck fitting for Tim Cook
All of this means there's plenty of pressure on Apple. Not any more pressure than normal, mind you, but it's also pressure that the company hasn't faced without Steve Jobs leading the charge. Not this time. Cook will be the one on stage tomorrow. Investors will be analyzing how well he fits in Jobs' shoes.
The comparison is unfair, of course. Jobs is widely considered one of the great CEOs of the past half-century. Cook, by contrast, is the man responsible for outsourcing Apple's manufacturing. He's an operations expert whose decisions have helped Apple to profit handsomely during the Jobs era. Now he's being called on to set the stage for next several years -- and tomorrow's launch is his first test. Here's hoping he doesn't fail.
Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and columns, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Amazon.com, AT&T, Microsoft, and Apple; and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft and Apple.
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