Without Jobs, what from Apple at Macworld?

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Apple's announcement last week that its CEO, Steve Jobs, wouldn't deliver the keynote address at the Macworld Expo and Conference Jan. 5 left many scratching their heads.

The keynote has traditionally been the stage from which the company launches the products that make the most waves – from the original OS X operating system to the iPhone – and Jobs has always been at the center of it, with his own brand of "cannonball!" Prior to the announcement of his absence, the rumor mill was buzzing with speculation about what whizbang product Apple would drop. Now some are planning a silent protest. Others predict no Macworld splash at all.

But that hasn't stopped the speculators, forecasters, and rumor-mongers from doing what they do. Here, for what it's worth, is some of what's expected from Phil Schiller (give the guy a break, OK?) when he takes the stage at San Francisco's Moscone Center West:

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• A preview of Mac OS 10.6 "Snow Leopard." AppleInsider cites a report from the UK's Guardian that predicts the company will show off new technology to make better use of both main and graphics processors. Some even predict an earlier-than-scheduled release of the newest big cat on Apple's block.

• An updated Mac Mini. PC World and Wired are both throwing their weight behind this one. It's been 16 months since it last had a specs refresh, but this wouldn't be the first time an update was expected but not delivered – some even held a Mac Mini deathwatch earlier this year.

• A multi-touch Mighty Mouse. Macblogz mocked up what a next-generation version of the single-button mouse that thinks it's a four-button. It cites a heap of patent applications and a unification with Apple's current design trend in arguing for a reworked desktop pointer. Apple's keyboard got the aluminum treatment in 2007 to rave reviews, so why not its mouse?

• A cameo by the '$20 Billion Man.' It's a stretch to say the least after so much was made about Steve Jobs not appearing at the 2009 Macworld keynote address, but one CNET writer points out how welcome a sign a cameo by the man in black (mock-turtleneck) would be. "Apple could get a lot of mileage out of having Jobs swap roles with Schiller, playing the goofy capable-assistant role usually reserved for Schiller," wrote Tom Krazit.

Time will tell what the folks from Cupertino have in store for the keynote at their last Macworld Expo, but if recent Apple news is any indicator (iPhones for sale online for the first time and at Wal-Mart – and on sale at Best Buy), it's bound to be an interesting ride.

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