As the media prepares for whatever Apple Inc. will reveal at next week's WWDC, the speculation is mounting that this might be one of the most all-encompassing events in years when it comes to new product intros. Yes, we know about the Mac OS X, with expectations for a final or release candidate of Mountain Lion for developers to chew over for perhaps a month or two. In passing, I do not expect OS 10.8 to be ready for you to download during the WWDC.
The second issue is pricing. The media seems to be inclined to accept a $29.99 price for the download, same as Lion. I can't ignore that feeling that Mountain Lion is destined to be free, in keeping with the tradition of the iOS. This would make sense if Apple plans to continue to offer annual upgrades, because they'd surely want the highest possible number of Mac users to upgrade as quickly as possible, no excuses, assuming the hardware and software is compatible. And you have to wonder whether such a decision will force Microsoft to make Windows 8 upgrades cheaper.
The other OS announcement will likely be the first demonstration of iOS 6, with a promise to deliver some time in the fall. That sometime will coincide with the next iPhone. Now I have been skeptical of the reports that the new smartphone, dubbed iPhone 5 by the media, will have a larger screen, perhaps with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It'll keep the width, and be longer, but the impact on developers is still uncertain. Even if the pixel density is the same as the current model, older apps will supposedly have borders around them till they are updated. Now on the Mac OS, screen size doesn't matter. Do I take it the iOS has no way to compensate for such differences without forcing developers to make some changes? I understand the situation with the iPad, but not the iPhone. This should not be a problem, and if it is, Apple should not have limited the iOS in a way that doesn't account for different screen sizes and aspect ratios. I am not, I caution, a developer, so I may be totally confused about this.
Back to next week's expectations: You are already reading wish lists for iOS 6, although including Facebook integration may be a given. That much was sort of hinted during Tim Cook's interview at the D10 conference last week. I'm sure Apple will have no problem inventing another 100 new features, and even if they take a few hints from other mobile platforms, no doubt they will exhibit the sort of elegance Apple is famous for. You may even see a Siri 2.0, out of beta, with support for the new iPad, and maybe even the iPad 2, since the hardware, other than the graphics chip, is about the same.
Unlike recent WWDC keynotes, this one is expected to include extensive Mac upgrades. It won't just be notebooks, but desktops, including the Mac Pro workstation. There are already sets of unofficial part numbers that allegedly identify the new models. Some of the specs for the new Macs seem obvious, such as using Intel's Ivy Bridge chips for every model except the Mac Pro, which will receive the most recent additions to the Xeon workstation/server family.
The form factors may surprise. It would be simple for Apple to continue the current overweight cheese grater design of the Mac Pro. But I don't think it would take that much in development cash to build a slimmer form factor, taking advantage of greater parts miniaturization. The port complement will likely include two Thunderbolt ports, plus support for USB 3.0. It's possible Apple will update the AirPort hardware to include the new 802.11ac standard, which can deliver throughput in the same range as gigabit Ethernet. The possible hint for this change is the fact that one of those alleged part numbers may indicate an updated AirPort Extreme, and another a revised Time Capsule backup device. But this possibility seems under the radar as far as Mac speculation by the media is concerned.
For the notebook lineup, other than adding USB 3.0, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and the upgraded Intel processor and integrated graphics, the next generation MacBook Air will probably look the same as the current model. Even though PC makers are trying to build similar notebooks using Intel's Ultrabook reference design, they are finding it awfully hard to deliver the goods at prices much lower than Apple's. The MacBook Air is still the one to beat.
The real question is how the MacBook Pro might change, other than the updated parts. The guessing is that optical drives will vanish, the form factor will be slimmer and lighter, and there will be more solid state drives on the option list. But unless prices for SSD come down sharply, there will still be models with traditional hard drives.
And what about the rumored Retina Display? The 2011 iPad 2 was expected to have one, and it didn't, probably because Apple couldn't get the parts in sufficient quantities till this year. But each increase in screen size means a major increase in component costs. I do not expect Apple to want to increase prices. Maybe they'll get flat panel prices to die for, or absorb some of the price increase when they ditch the optical drive.
When it comes to the iMac, a 27-inch Retina Display would just be too expensive to support in a standard configuration. Maybe as an option. The rest of the changes seem predictable, though I suppose it's possible Apple will deliver a thinner form factor, and maybe an easy way to install a second drive, SSD or mechanical (the current process is best left to a service professional). I haven't seen much mention of a Mac mini refresh, though I suppose it could be easily updated with the same hardware as the MacBook Pro.
As someone with a Mac that's getting a mite long in the tooth, I will look at the expected hardware refreshes with interest. It's a sure thing that the Mac upgrades, even if they are relatively modest in the scheme of things, will trump anything the Windows PC makers have announced. In fact, other than supporting Windows 8 (which is a given), they haven't produced any new ideas. HP, for example, is still on a strategy hunt, and the recent statements from CEO Meg Whitman are not very encouraging.
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