• The Apple Hardware Report: Unthinkable–Take Two

    October 8th, 2005

    In the previous chapter of this little tale, I pointed out how Apple’s skeptical protests about whether a possible new product makes sense should be taken with a grain of salt. On the top of the list were such “unthinkables” as a cheap Mac and an iPod with Flash memory, products that were later released with great flourish. Of course, I wasn’t covering all possibilities, but I felt I addressed enough to make my point.

    No sooner did the article begin to circulate when I received one of those special press invitations from Apple about a new product announcement next week in San Jose, CA, bearing the title “And one more thing…” and the speculation centers on still another product that Steve Jobs has been skeptical about. This is certainly continuing a trend.

    Now the speculation isn’t all that wide-ranging. Apple isn’t going to issue invitations about a mere speed bump of an existing product, such as the Power Mac or PowerBook, both of which are long overdue for revisions. It’s also fair to say that another major entrant in the Mac product line seems out of the question at this point, simply because it is highly doubtful there will be major changes in form factor or a new line of computers from Apple until Intel chips make their debut.

    Again, this has to be a major product announcement, something as significant as, say, the iPod nano. A regular iPod wouldn’t fit within that category, unless, of course, something significant was added, and as many of you have heard, the speculation centers on a video iPod. Yes, a video iPod. Now didn’t Steve Jobs say that folks really didn’t want to watch movies on a two-inch screen? Now perhaps you could extend the width of the screen another half inch or so without making an iPod wider, and remember we’re using the traditional diagonal screen measurement scheme here. Or perhaps the unit can be turned sideways, but how, then, would Apple deal with the scroll wheel? All right, I don’t pretend to be an expert on design, so perhaps Apple’s Jonathan Ive and his band of geniuses have something else in mind, but stay tuned.

    Now the rumor sites haven’t done all that well with Apple lately, beyond news about pending operating system updates to which outside developers have access. Of course, those developers have to sign confidentiality agreements with Apple to gain access to prerelease software, agreements that they should respect. But some people don’t appreciate the legal ramifications of such agreements, and can’t wait to spill the beans to outsiders.

    On the other hand industry observers seem to know where to look. Take, for example, the report in Forbes that “Adam Benjamin, a Jefferies & Co. analyst, also said Monday that his checks indicate production started last month on a video iPod using PortalPlayer chips, and could be launched soon with strong sales expectations.” By the way, PortalPlayer chips are also used in the iPod nano.

    So if you can’t get the information from Apple or your favorite rumor site, an Apple supplier is the next best thing. Or tea leaves. Regardless, this would seem to be a safe bet, right? Despite Apple dumping lots of cold water on the possibilities of a video iPod, maybe Benjamin does have the inside track here.

    Of course the question arises: What form factor would a video iPod take? Would it actually be a device on which to watch movies, or just some sort of carrier, something to organize your collection and connect to something with a more robust picture. One form factor that does occur to me, though, is something akin to what you find on, say, a camcorder, and that’s a snap-out LCD screen. In fact, I can see where you might have two screens on such a device, though it would require a thicker iPod. The traditional small screen on the front of the unit for playing music, checking out photos and perhaps previewing a list of movies to play. You find the one you want, and you press a tiny button and unfold the unit. Suddenly, you have a four-inch wide screen display. It’s not big by any means, but sufficient for close-up viewing.

    Now don’t get the wrong idea here. I’m not suggesting this is actually what Apple is planning. Besides, this form factor does raise some potential obstacles. What about the hard drive? It would have to be at least 60GB if not greater, and would there be sufficient room to install a battery that would provide adequate capacity? Would you pay, say, $500 or so for a portable video player that couldn’t survive a cross-country flight of six hours, before the battery was spent?

    Questions and more questions. I guess we’ll all have to find the way to San Jose to learn the answers.

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