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  • The Macworld Expo 2006 Preview: Are they Taking the Fun Out of the Keynote?

    December 24th, 2005

    If you can believe all those published reports in recent weeks, the keynote address Steve Jobs will deliver next month in San Francisco will be anticlimactic. Nothing he plans to say will come as much of a surprise. The rumors and speculation talks of a brand new iBook and Mac mini, and perhaps version 2.0 of Front Row, which will let you record TV on your Mac. Or at least the Macs that will be shipping with remote controls.

    Looking further at these claims, we’ve heard suggestions that the iPod shuffle will be reinvigorated with a new form factor, and some cite the fact that the 1GB model won’t be available until mid-January as evidence of an impending update. Perhaps there will be an iLife ’06, iWork ’06, and a few digital lifestyle surprises. Now how can there be a surprise if all the news that fits has appeared already?

    Oh well, maybe I should cancel that plane trip to San Francisco and, of course, the hotel reservation. After all the trip is expensive, and I could use that extra money perhaps to buy one of the new computers.

    No, wait a minute. It can’t be as simple as that. There are always rumors about the developments at a Macworld Expo in the weeks before the event. Some of those rumors are right on the money, and some aren’t. In addition, Steve Jobs is known to pull a few surprises out of his hat or at least one of his jeans pockets. So even if there is an Intel-based iBook, just what form will it take? Will it resemble the existing model, or become slimmer, slicker? Will it be priced the same, or will it fall into the $799 or $899 range that some expect?

    As to the Mac mini, it probably can’t get much smaller, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few surprises. Will it finally acquire some media center features, as some suggest? Can you be certain whether or not there will be Front Row and that tiny, uncomplicated remote control? These are the questions that none of those commentators can truly answer with any degree of certainty, unless they are getting an advance look direct from Apple.

    Then there’s the PowerBook. That’s a huge question mark, because an iBook with the expected dual-core Intel processor would smoke the more expensive model in performance and power efficiency. So can Apple sustain PowerBook sales if it doesn’t deliver a processor and perhaps a design change there too? Will Apple just cut prices to keep the products moving until the new version is available, or take the more practical approach that a sale is a sale and it doesn’t matter if customers pick iBooks instead?

    At the same time, there’s no saying that the iMac will not be updated. You might suggest that it’s too soon, that it has already received a very respectable revision that has earned rave reviews, so why would Apple make more changes so soon? Yet the internal workings have already been extensively redesigned, and it wasn’t just to make it a bit thinner and to play musical chairs with parts. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done to prepare for the eventual switchover to a newly designed logic board with an Intel processor, if not a complete Intel chipset. Such a development would really catch the tech pundits and rumor sites off guard.

    The Power Mac? No, I have little doubt Apple is truly going to wait for a while before doing another update. When it comes, there may be a major interior redesign and perhaps a smaller form factor. Clearly the Intel processor Apple selects will run a lot cooler, so you won’t need a bunch of fans, liquid cooling and other complicated air circulation schemes. There may even be room for additional internal drives. Being able to add just one is hardly sufficient for high-end content creators. Besides, Apple will want to boast a huge performance boost, which is not expected in an Intel chip until much later in 2006 or even 2007.

    In the iPod world, some suggest a lower priced iPod nano, with 1GB of memory, and perhaps cheaper, cuter versions of the iPod shuffle. I wonder how many would sell for a starting price of $79? I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a more expensive iPod with larger screen for watching videos, and perhaps a line of digital hardware to expand your music and video enjoyment possibilities.

    On the software side, having a new version of iLife and iWork would be nice, but they might seem afterthoughts in light of what may happen with Apple’s hardware. At the same time, iWork ’05 wasn’t quite the AppleWorks replacement that some expected. Maybe the addition of a spreadsheet module, and perhaps some big time feature enhancements and reasonable marketing efforts will change that.

    So you see there are certainly enough unanswered questions to keep the excitement in the Steve Jobs keynote. Let the rumors and speculation continue.

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