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Apple’s Prospects: What a Difference a Year Makes!

In 2007, for a time you had to feel that Apple was neglecting the Mac. At the beginning of that year, the famous Steve Jobs keynote concentrated very little on Mac-related developments, and mostly on the iPhone. A few months later, we learned that the next major reference release for Mac OS X, Leopard, would be postponed a few months to give Apple’s engineers time to finish up the iPhone software, based on the same fundamental code base.

Where Macs were upgraded, for the most part, those changes represented the faster processors released by Intel, and perhaps boosting hard drive storage to take advantage of model upgrades. The actual designs remained pretty much the same, with the possible exception of the hugely-successful iMac. But in that instance, it was a matter of switching the case from plastic to aluminum and sourcing a glossy rather than matte flat panel.

I know some tech pundits must have had a field day writing lurid copy about how Apple was really abandoning the Mac, and moving on to such consumer electronics products as, of course, the iPhone and the iPod.

However, the facts were, as is often the case, different than the predictions of those alleged tech pundits and industry analysts. Some are really, really astute, but a few — well you wonder if they have a day job to fall back on, because the don’t seem to be all that skilled at interpreting what Apple is doing using simple common sense.

It’s certainly difficult to predict what’s really going to happen in Cupertino, CA, except for the favored few who get early looks at new Apple products, or perhaps a few “off the record” briefings they can use as background material for their articles. But even fortune tellers can often do better when it comes to where the market is heading.

The reality is that Mac sales continue to soar, and the prospects for the iPhone remain excellent. This isn’t The Night Owl talking, but a simple look at the trends that everyone is able to observe. So we also know that the digital music player market — at least the market for dedicated devices of that sort — has clearly topped out and is on the decline. So while iPod sales continue to increase, it’s certainly not at the previous rate.

It would also seem that the iPod touch is a great bridge to new technologies, since it is basically a handheld computing appliance, sans the telephone of course. Where the touch will go next, though, is an open question, since a supposedly cheaper iPhone 3G leaves it as a seemingly product. Why pay so much more for something that lacks the phone capability?

Of course, that impression is purely psychological. When you add up the real cost of the iPhone, which includes the contract with your wireless carrier, it cost many times more than even the top-line iPod touch. That situation applies regardless of which service you select, although it’ll be just one in most countries that were authorized by Apple.

But the iPhone is not a viable option for everyone. Here in the “states,” maybe your company has a business contract with Verizon Wireless or another carrier but doesn’t deal with AT&T. Perhaps you have a contract situation with your existing carrier that would make it costly to drop out and embrace the iPhone 3G and AT&T or whatever carrier you’re using in your country.

And despite the claims of fewer dropped calls in their ads, the fact of the matter is that AT&T isn’t the ideal solution for everyone. I know some people live in neighborhoods where reception is poor, and 3G support won’t exist for a while if at all.

In Apple’s defense, it’s quite possible that ditching a metal case for plastic may actually be a smart move in areas where wireless phone service is mediocre. Without the metals to contend with, the built-in antennas will work more efficiently, and reception might improve from perfectly awful to at least acceptable.

That, of course, remains to be seen. Early reviews appear to be a mixed bag.

While we know that the iPhone is poised to break sales records, it still seems that the Mac powers Apple. With Windows Vista faltering, and not gaining business acceptance as quickly as Microsoft hoped, the Apple Store sales picture reportedly indicates that half of the people buying new Macs are also brand new to the platform.

While all this has been happening, really there haven’t been major changes in Mac hardware, other than, of course, the arrival of the MacBook Air. In that case, though, the design and tradeoffs were simply logical extensions of moving to a slimmer form factor that had to be real light and power efficient.

Yes, deal reader, Apple is getting an awful lot of attention for the iPhone these days, but the Mac keeps growing and growing beyond what anyone may have expected. It is really taking market share from Microsoft after years of stagnation. So don’t count the Mac out. The best may be yet to come, and nobody — except for Apple — knows where it’s all going to go.