The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in South-of-Market San Francisco is a warm, intimate, high-tech venue, which is probably why Apple keeps coming back here for its iPad launches. Far smaller than the neighboring Moscone Center, the YCBA theater boasts a mere 755 seats.
Here’s what we can guarantee about Wednesday morning: every last one of those seats will be filled. Two of them will be occupied by your ever-loving Mashable crew.
Beyond that, very little is certain. As you know by now, Apple’s obsessive secrecy about their product launches makes Fort Knox look like a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. And let’s post this clear caveat one more time: every last rumor about this event could well be wrong.
But there is a pattern to these launch events, and if you’ve been to enough of them — as editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff and I have — you get a sense of how it’s going to go. The process was honed over the years by the maestro, Steve Jobs, so incumbent CEO Tim Cook is standing on the shoulders of a keynote-loving giant. Here’s how we expect it to go:
1) Cook will take the stage. Unassuming as he is, at this point there simply isn’t anyone else at Apple with his stature. Look for assists from old hands, such as marketing chief Phil Schiller, but Cook will be the main attraction. (Design guru Jonny Ive tends to show up on video rather than on stage.)
2) Let’s start with some numbers. As with any good entertainer, Apple knows not to hit the crowd with the performance they’re expecting straight away. No doubt we’ll see some updated stats on iPhone and Mac sales; almost certainly, we’ll be reminded that the App store just hit its 25 billionth download.
In short, the numbers will be dazzling, and it’s all part of the act. Applause will be widespread and frequent in the non-press seats. A salesperson would call this “pumping the buying temperature.”
3) Two words: Mountain Lion. Apple has a captive audience and a new Mac OS in the works — one that isn’t going on sale until this summer. Expect to see its main features (Messages, Reminders, Twitter et al) recounted in loving detail, while the tech press shift uncomfortably in their seats.
4) A short history of the iPad. Talk of Mountain Lion, with all its iOS integration, should naturally pivot to the tablet we’re here to celebrate. This is Cook’s opportunity to take us back to early 2010, when Jobs unveiled the original iPad to an extremely skeptical press corps. It would be a good time for a few jokes — remember how we all thought it just looked like a large iPhone? — as well as more eye-popping stats on sales since then.
If Apple is going to get in a few digs at tablet competitors who have been taking pot-shots of their own — hello, Samsung — now would be the time.
5) iOS6, is that you? Here’s the first big unknown. Will Cook tease us with news of Apple’s next generation mobile operating system (which someone at Apple is apparently already using to read Mashable)? Or will that wait until the iPhone 5 unveiling this fall?
6) What’s next. The windup to the big pitch. Expect Cook to talk about the retina display on the iPhone 4 and 4S; how clean and crisp it looks at that resolution. Now, wouldn’t it be great to see that on a larger screen?
SEE ALSO: Is a Retina Screen on the iPad Overkill?
7) The big reveal. Here we are at the moment of truth. What is this new device? What is its focus? Is it the iPad 3 or, as practically everyone in the blogging world now expects, the iPad HD? Is it bulkier, slimmer or the exact same size as its predecessor? Will it be allowed to run Siri? How’s its battery life? Will its data service models use 3G or 4G? How good are the front and back cameras? Will we get stereo speakers? When can we get our hands on one?
In short, pretty much all the fanboy questions of the last six months will be answered in five minutes or less. The rest is icing.
8. Demos, demos, demos. Time to wheel out the heads of this and that product group, followed by the makers of this and that app, as the main features of the new device get taken for a spin. Undoubtedly we’ll see a lot of what games look like on a tablet with ridiculously high resolution — perhaps a game or two in development that no one has seen yet. Infinity Blade 3, anyone?
9. Let’s watch some videos. Here’s where we’ll see how Apple intends to market the new tablet. Indeed, if Cook’s launch of the iPhone 4S is any indication, videos will be shown throughout.
10. One more thing? A staple of Jobs keynotes, the last-minute surprise was lacking in Cook’s unveiling of the iPhone 4S. Perhaps this is a permanent change, a recognition that no one could carry it off like Steve. But if there is one more thing, it might be the ideal moment to reveal the new Apple TV box — or maybe, just maybe, the fabled iTV — and showcase its ability to connect seamlessly with the new iPad.
SEE ALSO: The iPad HD — Is This How Apple Will Own the Living Room?
11. The aftershow. The press wraps up its liveblogs and begins analyzing every detail of the new device. If we’re lucky, there will be hands-on demos somewhere inside YBCA. If not, we’ll be out on the street, jostling for cabs, our heads spinning, our minds writing headlines.
In short, another unforgettable morning at YBCA. How close is this to the mark? We’ll find out in a few short hours. Our live blog starts at noon ET, 9 a.m. PT. See you then!