What to expect from Apple “Back to the Mac” media event

CultofMac.com's mockup of the next MacBook Air.

Ever since word came out last week that Apple will be hosting a media event at its Cupertino, Calif. Headquarters on Wednesday, October 20, the rumor mill on the Internet has been in overdrive, suggesting a variety of new notebook options as well as a first look at the next generation of the company’s Mac OS X operating system.

While nobody knows for sure what the notoriously secretive company will have to say until CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage, the Internet’s Apple grapevine has a tendency to lock down many of the company’s big announcements well in advance. Here’s what’s buzzing for tomorrow’s event.

Breathing life into the MacBook Air

When Apple introduced the MacBook Air in January 2007, it was hyped and lauded as the thinnest and lightest laptop in the world. Since then, the laptop that famously fits into a manila folder has stagnated somewhat, seeing only minor bumps in processor power and installed storage and lacking any updates since May of 2009. In the meantime, notebook rivals such as Dell have come out with products that are thinner, lighter and less expensive than the MacBook Air.

Leaked prototype pictures suggest the MacBook Air will get a new look that will bring it in line with the rest of Apple’s aluminum MacBook lineup, and also suggest a new type of storage on the systems. Traditionally, computers use either traditional disc-based drive or much more expensive Solid State Drives (SSDs) that offer greater reliability and lower power consumption. The images of a dissected prototype suggests Apple intends to introduce a new type of solid state card for storing programs and applications, which could allow the company to make the notebook thinner and lighter than was previously possible.

Reports also suggest the revamped MacBook Air will get a new Intel Core i7 ultra-low voltage (ULV) processor, which should both offer a performance boost compared to the previous generation and help get battery life from a stated five hours in the current MacBook Air to around the eight- to ten-hour range the company boasts across the rest of its laptop lineup.

Rumors have suggested a $999 (U.S.) model of the MacBook Air with an 11.6-inch display and a $1,100 (U.S.) 13.3-inch model, but those price points would seem to risk cannibalizing sales from the high end of Apple’s lucrative iPad line of tablet computers. Price tags of $1,100 and $1,400 (U.S.) are more likely for Apple, which tends to buck the trends of significant price drops on computer hardware.

Enter the Lion

Given that the company’s invite to media and bloggers featured what appeared to the back of a Mac notebook with a lion peaking out from behind a slightly askew Apple logo, it seems highly likely the company will preview the next version of its Mac OS X operating system tomorrow. Apple has nicknamed each of the first six versions of the operating system after a big cat, and it would appear that OS X 10.7 is going to be “Lion.”

The rumor mill doesn’t have much of a roar for Lion, but does offer the following hint from an Apple job posting from July, looking for someone to build a “revolutionary new feature” into Mac OS X.

Are you looking to help create something totally new? Something that has never been done before and will truly amaze everyone? Are you excited by the prospect that what you helped create would be used every day by millions of Apple customers? Then come and work on with the Mac OS X software engineering team to help build a new and revolutionary feature for Mac OS X.

Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event starts Wednesday, October 20th at 10 am Pacific time. Expect full coverage of what comes next from Apple here at ChannelBuzz.ca.