The Apple Hardware Report: Believe it or Not!

September 26th, 2006

It’s a little late for the silly season, and the unannounced vapor product of the year, the iPhone, is still missing in action. But that hasn’t stopped some people from suggesting that there is more than meets the eye to some of Apple’s potential plans in the foreseeable future.

Now you just know that the iPod will get better, that there will be faster and faster Intel-based Macs over time. Apple’s latest and greatest solution to stretch its reach to your living room, the iTV (or whatever it’ll be called) has already been demonstrated, although there could be features that you and I won’t know about until it is really released in 2007.

But there is more, and I will provide a few links for you to consider, and then a few comments about whether the stories have any traction. But, no, the Night Owl isn’t going to go out on the limb with any more one dollar bets one way or the other. I don’t want to get a reputation about such things, even if the risk to my modest bank account is minimal.

Take the Apple flat-panel TV. The what? Well, according to one published report, Apple can really gain traction in your living room if it could build your next, or your first, high definition television. Now I want to remind these people that the consumer electronics stores are just brimming with such devices, from lots of manufacturers that are both large and small. This isn’t an emerging market in the sense that the music player market was when the iPod debuted.

Yes, choosing LCD or plasma might be a tad confusing, although the latter tends to have a larger screen, and the quality differences are becoming less apparent. Yes, making sense of the various complicated specs, the HDMI ports and all the rest, might seem daunting, but they are fundamentally commodity products. The “glass” is all sourced from the same handful of Asian manufacturers, and the core designs are more similar than different.

Maybe Apple could make a difference in design and usability, but this is hardly entering a market at the ground floor.

In recent weeks, I’ve suggested that Apple will use the next generation, or 802.11n, technology to stream high definition video through the iTV. Now there are stories that the AirPort chipset used in the newest iMac is already “n” ready. The report has it that if you install a prerelease build of Windows Vista under Boot Camp, the iMac’s wireless components are identified as a “Broadcom 802.11n Network Adapter.”

If this is true, it would seem that all Apple has to do is update its AirPort drivers and firmware and your Wi-Fi speeds will soar; that is, if you are connected to a computer or base station that supports the same draft standard.

Understand that the technology is very much a moving target. Apple might indeed have a jump in this new arena, but they may simply be benefiting from the same parts used in other recent Intel-based products. However, it’s premature to assume anything, and the most important factor is whether this alleged new wireless chip can actually be upgraded to the final standard.

Finally, less than a year since the first release of a MacIntel, there’s a new furor that Mac users may actually find an AMD inside in the near future. The reports are based on the recent optimistic statements from AMD CEO Hector Ruiz that Apple will use its parts “at some point in the future.”

Of course, with AMD’s acquisition of ATI, that may already be true in one sense.

In any case, this is one story that might have a chance of coming true someday. Right now, the consensus is that Intel has a leg up over AMD with its newest chip designs. That could, of course, change over time, and so it would seem sensible that Apple would pick and choose among x86-compatible processors depending on their needs at the moment.

In addition, I’ve no doubt that AMD was also actively courting Apple during the mad dash to ditch Freescale and IBM. If, and I say if, Intel has problems meeting its roadmap at any time in the future, Apple will have an alternative. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.

And since Apple won’t comment on future products unless there is an important strategic reason to do so, all we’re left with is gossip, at least for now.

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4 Responses to “The Apple Hardware Report: Believe it or Not!”

  1. tundraboy says:

    I beg to disagree that the flat panel TV business does not present a lucrative new market for Apple. Let me throw out the following random talking points:

    1. The industry is by no means in its infancy, but consider the looming demand when the Feds finally turn off the analog TV signals.

    2. Yes the major components of a flat panel TV are fundamentally commodity parts. (Just like the iPod incidentally.) Which is probably the main reason no one manufacturer can boast of a unique, compelling hardware feature that distinguishes it from the rest of the field. The only way to differentiate is through software and yes, aesthetics. Where, by happy coincidence, Apple is lightyears ahead of all those software and design stumblebums at, name your company — Sony, Samsung, Matsushita, the whole lot of them.

    3. Finally, one thing that Apple does right, that nobody seems to have observed, is that despite the fanfare about breakneck innovation, Apple introduces new product and technology incrementally. They give the consumer time to digest and get used to new product features a little at a time. Just look at the progression from the iPod, to iTunes music sales, then extend it to iPod with video and downloaded TV shows and short films, then movies, then iTV. [You can see that the natural terminus of this is the flat panel TV, or I’d argue the whole entertainment center.] There’s also that branch which goes from the iPod to the iPhone.

    Compare this with what Microsoft did –they tried to plunk down this three-headed monster called the Media Center PC on the consumer’s lap. Who was the genius who decided that this Rube Goldberg contraption was going to be a mass market product? Is there any wonder why the Media Center PC is still sitting on its launching pad?

    I assert that Apple is the new Sony. They will eventually be the pre-eminent consumer electronics company. But while Sony did it primarily through hardware, Apple will do it, is doing it, coming from the software end.

  2. David says:

    I don’t believe Apple wants to get into the true commodity home electronics game and I’m going to go against the grain and say that Apple has problems in the aesthetics department. Only Apple would put bright, appliance type, white plastic around a high definition display (the new iMac). There’s a good reason why every HDTV manufacturer uses more subdued colours. Even the silver one in my living room has a darkened, angled bezel around the display to reduce glare and provide a dark area around the screen. The iMac G5 was an impressive design, but in many minds, a rather ugly one. The phrase on the net is “lose the chin” in reference to that obnoxious white area beneath the display.

    Having said all that I think Apple does have an opportunity to make a better HDTV by putting their iTV functionality inside.

    Maybe getting into the home entertainment business would convince Apple to put more than one DVI connector on their Cinema displays too. I started out with Apple displays back in the early 1990’s, but haven’t owned one since dual inputs started showing up on other brands. Having a PC sitting next to my Mac won’t be nearly as important when I can afford to get a MacIntel, but having a display with a second input will remain just as valuable as ever. My PowerBook is always connected to a second display at work and I find it constraining to work at home without that extra screen real estate.

  3. Dana Sutton says:

    Apple had the foresight to position itself to get into this market several years ago, when it became married to the cinema-format monitor long before that became anything remotely like industry-standard. Well, actually, Apple positioned itself for two markets: it already has a strong advantage for anybody who wants to make and edit his own HDTV movies (and the price of HDTV cameras is coming down ,to the point they can be described as consumer products). Now it can consider getting into the movie-distribution business. But this is not just a matter of selling the hardware, which is what Gene chooses to focus on. As with music, it involves an integrated marketing system, and music provides Apple with a tried-and-true business model IF (and this is the crucial question) they can persuade enough of the major studios to go along with them. But the basic point is this. Computers (and particularly Apples) are getting more and more like home entertainment centers all the time, and televisions are getting more and more like computers all the time. It’s inevitable that sooner or later these two consumer products will merge into one.

  4. tundraboy says:

    I agree with Dave that Apple will never go into the commodity consumer electronics business. In its heydey Sony was able to charge a premium on its product just because it was, well, Sony.

    Apple will never beat the Sonys and Matsushitas at their game. What Apple is doing instead is redefining the game and dictating the terms. For one, the multi-component entertainment center with a horde of CDs, DVDs and other media stacked right next to it will disappear. What will replace it is probably being prototyped somewhere in the bowels of Apple’s campus. Or Steve Jobs’ head.

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