All right, Apple Inc. really isn't celebrating my birthday. Besides, that was so long ago, even I've forgotten how old I am. But, seriously, being so close to the main event makes the results ripe for speculation.
Apple enjoys giving the press broad hints as to what their events are all about. This one, set for September 9th at 10 AM Pacific Time in San Francisco, simply says, "Let's Rock."
Those two words are pregnant with meaning, and it easy to cover a reasonable set of possibilities. At its core, though, it's clearly iPod-related, witness the telltale artwork that typifies the standard iPod promotional motif. It doesn't take a huge stretch to consider the fact that September is the time for those annual updates to Apple's best-selling digital music player.
Already, there have been mock-ups of possible revisions to the iPod nano, but it's not at all clear if they are based on actual design graphics leaking from Apple or a little wishful thinking. I'm inclined to consider the latter. But the betting is that any changes to the iPod lineup will be relatively minor, since Apple has no real competition, and there's only so far you can expand the traditional iPod before it morphs into something else entirely.
That takes us to the iPod touch, which is a genuinely fascinating product. At this point, though, other than perhaps making the case design a bit closer to the iPhone 3G, dropping the price somewhat and having a model with more Flash RAM, what sort of changes might Apple make?
Besides, there are still those tantalizing tidbits that emerged from the last quarterly session with financial analysts, where Apple's executives talked of some major product transition and reduced profits that, in part, would be the result of aggressive pricing.
So would all that be the result of cheaper iPods? I think not. There are other possibilities that I'll explore.
One of the more intriguing bits of speculation emerges from the fertile imagination of Daniel Eran Dilger of Roughly Drafted Magazine. In a fascinating recent column, he posited a tiny touchscreen in place of the existing trackpad on a new line of Apple notebooks. Extending the MultiTouch capabilities you now see on the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro lines, such a display would serve as a proxy for the main display, where your actual finger movements would be recognized in the same fashion as an iPhone.
You might ask why Apple doesn't just make the entire display touch-enabled, but that would surely increase prices higher than most customers would like, even if some of those increased costs were absorbed by the company. It's also an awkward reach from the keyboard.
But a tiny touch screen, which Daniel suggests would cost about $56 in raw materials, would cut profit margins all right, but not enough to prevent Apple from sticking with their current pricing.
In addition to the terrific press such a feature would generate, it would also separate Apple's notebooks from the pack in a huge way. Yes, some notebooks have external LCDs, but they are designed to be similar to the second display on a typical clamshell mobile phone, where you see a miniature rendering of time, signal strength and the Caller ID when you get a phone call. It's not the same thing.
Now I can't tell you that Daniel nailed it. Yes, he's got some good sources inside Apple, but I suspect this particular idea is nothing more than a great turn at common sense. It's a logical extension of MultiTouch, and it avoids the clumsiness of a large touch screen.
And, yes, if it happens it will indeed rock!
Beyond these two product line upgrades, are there any other things Apple might reveal during this session?
My feeling is that iPhone 2.1, the one that will supposedly provide push notification and loads of bug fixes, may also make its debut. But that doesn't have to happen. Apple could simply announce it, and say it'll be released in a week or two.
For that matter, why assume that this is the only press presentation from Apple this month? Is it possible they might simply reserve the notebook revisions, and perhaps a reinvigorated iMac and Mac mini, for a later session, the better to focus attention on a small number of product introductions at a time?
Indeed, what's going to happen to the Mac mini and is it a goner? I hope not, because I still think those tiny computers are great upgrades for folks who are ditching the PowerPC. Even though the most recent mini is actually less powerful than a MacBook, anyone with a G4-based Mac, except for those with tricked out dual-processor models and voluminous, speedy drives, would see a significant performance boost.
What's more, it wouldn't cost Apple a whole lot of money simply to upgrade the mini with the latest Intel parts. At the same time, with perhaps a speedier hard drive and the very same price, it would be a far more compelling alternative for those who want to acquire a new Mac, but find even the iMac too expensive. That's particularly true if they already have a decent mouse, keyboard and display.
Yes, there's still that concept of the headless iMac, the desktop that would be situated between the mini and the Mac Pro. I still believe it's a viable product that would definitely find a substantial audience. But, as I've said many times already, when was the last time Apple listened to me? Or the first time for that matter?
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