Apple’s big day: What to expect

September 8, 2014, 5:48 PM UTC

Today is a big day for Apple. They’ve been building it up for months. Dropping hints. Starting countdowns. Inviting celebrities from music and fashion — fully clothed, we assume — to the venue where Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac 30 years ago.

And because this is Apple, a small army of analysts, journalists and people in a position to know have been putting the pieces together to create a sort of crowd-sourced consensus about what to expect.

The headlines:

  • New larger-screen iPhonesone for sure, a second maybe — designed to take advantage of a new operating system and a new generation of processors.
  • A new payment system that’s supposed to be more secure and easier to use than credit cards.
  • Some kind of wearable device — to be unveiled, but not yet released — that makes people feel they need to buy what they didn’t know they needed.

 

The new products and services fall into two categories.

Large-screen iPhones are what critics might characterize as mere improvements — improvements pioneered by Samsung, at that. That’s okay with Apple. The iPhone generates more than half the company’s revenue and profits, and by all accounts there’s a lot of pent-up demand for a new one.

Payment systems and wearable devices don’t have the same money-making potential. But they have something even more powerful: The potential to disrupt entire industries the way the iPod and iTunes disrupted music and the iPhone and App Store disrupted computing and telephony.

“Banks are the new carriers,” wrote Ben Thompson Monday in his Stratechery blog.

In its Monday-morning analysis of a hypothetical Apple payment service, a team at Morgan Stanley examined the potential impact on a long list of entrenched players, not just banks, but credit-card networks, credit-card issuers, payment-terminal manufacturers and the merchant acquirers/processor infrastructure. Their conclusion: Apple may be uniquely qualified to pull it off.

We believe,” they wrote, “a handful of necessary technologies have matured to an extent where mobile payments can finally gain significant adoption. Apple has laid the foundation for such a service by launching Touch ID (fingerprint sensor) and iBeacon (system of Bluetooth transmitters) about a year ago, and by collecting credit card information for its iTunes and App Store for many years (800 million-plus accounts).”

And who might an Apple wrist-device disrupt? The best clue is to look at the list of recent Apple hires from fields as diverse as luxury retailing and biomedical engineering. (See Look who’s now working for Apple.)

“Switzerland is screwed” is what Jony Ive reportedly said when he saw how well the new device turned out, a quote that makes more sense coming out of a guy as modest as Ive if the design is not his but Marc Newson‘s.

Boxes built by Apple for the Flint Center event.

There is a lot riding on Tuesday’s media event, not because Apple in trouble financially. Far from it. But because expectations have managed to get set so high.

Some in the business press are describing Tuesday’s unveiling as Tim Cook’s day in the sun, the event by which he finally comes out from under the shadow of Steve Jobs.

But to make this all about one man is a mistake — an even bigger one in Cook’s case than Jobs’. Jobs needed to be the front man. Cook needs only do the things that only Apple can do, to mangle one of his pet phrases.

What’s being put to the test is Apple Inc., the company that Jobs built. We know that it works. But does it work different?

Fortune’s JP Mangalindan will be live blogging Tuesday’s event from Cupertino’s Flint Center, and Apple will be live-streaming it here.

I’ll be filing my analysis from, of all places, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.