Apple’s New Products: Don’t Forget the Rest of the Story!

September 15th, 2008

Right after Apple’s new product presentation last week, Apple’s stock continued on its progressively downward spiral. Now in all fairness to Apple and the financial community, it may well be part of a general trend. Things on Wall Street are pretty shaky these days, and most companies are apt to suffer, regardless of their actual financial condition or sales performance.

However, Apple’s new iPod lineup seems surprisingly predictable. The rumor sites had already suggested a return to the tall and slim profile for the iPod nano, and perhaps a few features cribbed from the iPod touch. The latter received the expected modest redesign to bring it more into conformity with the iPhone 3G, and the prices dropped somewhat.

That and the introduction of iTunes 8 didn’t light too many fires, I suppose. The larger question is the fate of the major product transition promised by Apple’s financial executives during the last conference call with the analyst community. That was the one that would supposedly hurt the company’s profit margins.

What Wall Street may fail to realize, and what I only mentioned in passing in this week’s newsletter, is that there is no reason to consider last week’s announcement to be the only one that’ll happen this year. I can understand Apple’s logic in wanting to sharply focus it towards music and media players, although I was disappointed at the lack of the famous “one more thing” product introduction.

It may also be that the rest of the revised lineup just wasn’t available for release in early September, although wanting to focus more heavily on their scope and meaning with a separate presentation might be a better option from a marketing point of view.

Since I don’t pretend to know anything about such things, I’d rather just consider where Apple might actually raise the bar during the remainder of this year.

I suppose we could see an iLife ’09 and an iWork ’09, although they would seem to be products that are more suited to introduction at Macworld 2009. Instead, I would expect more hardware, and that’s where there’s lots of room for reasonable speculation and otherwise.

Certainly, any new Macs that appear from here on have missed the back-to-school season, but does that really make a difference? After all, industry analysts have already weighed in with surveys that demonstrate that Mac sales are going through the roof and then some. Some are even suggesting that at least three million Macs will be sold before the present quarter ends, and that would be an all-time record for Apple.

So there was no incentive to change things immediately. On the long haul, Apple is certainly expected to continue to add speedier chips to Macs as they become available, and maybe even graft more of the MultiTouch capabilities that premiered in the MacBook Air and later in the revised MacBook Pro.

One suggestion is using an iPhone-style LCD as a trackpad, complete with virtually all of the smart touch capabilities of Apple’s super-successful smartphone. You may ask why Apple doesn’t just provide a standard full-size touchscreen, and perhaps that could be considered as a custom-built option, but it may also add hundreds of dollars to the purchase price, whereas a tiny LCD display would be fairly cheap. In fact, Apple could keep prices as they are without seriously hurting their profits.

But does that truly constitute a major product transition? Perhaps, but I’m expecting more. To some, in fact, such a feature might be regarded as more of a gimmick than a genuine productivity enhancement. So clearly there’s more afoot.

I suppose there will be an iMac refresh too, but that particular form factor has proven to be highly successful already, and the all-in-one competition from the Windows box makers doesn’t even come close in price or specs.

So where does that leave us?

Well, what about the always-ignored Mac mini? Sure, Apple could make simple revisions, with speedier Intel chipsets, larger hard drives and perhaps more standard memory. Maybe they can even graft a simpler upgrade method, so you don’t have to resort to putty knives or similar tools. But none of that would require a huge amount of development expenses, and it wouldn’t amount to a major transition either.

To be sure, there are other possibilities. One is the so-called “Mythical Mac Midrange Minitower” or headless iMac, a simple, expandable computer in the tradition of the venerable IIci. It would come without a display, and give you the capability of adding a second hard drive and perhaps a second graphics card or other peripheral. At a purchase price of, say, $999 for a basic configuration, it would be a killer product that would attract a lot of potential Windows switchers who regard the iMac as too much of a computer. That’s particularly true if they already have a perfectly good display and don’t need another one.

Another potential Mac product segment is the tablet computer. One company has already grafted a custom-built tablet-style screen onto existing Mac note-books, but will Apple choose to move to the real thing? The big question is whether there’s a real market for such a device? I know of only one businessperson who actually uses tablet PCs, in this case Fujitsu note-books, and that’s our family doctor. To him, they are significant repositories of online patient records and other important data.

But would such niche markets provide enough of an incentive for Apple to add tablets to its lineup? I remain skeptical.

Anything left? Probably lots of possibilities. One might be to take the Mac mini, marry it to the Apple TV and build the first media center computer “to die for.”

Regardless of what Apple is working on in the hidden recesses of its development labs, it won’t be very long before we all know the answers.

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8 Responses to “Apple’s New Products: Don’t Forget the Rest of the Story!”

  1. peter march says:

    full touchscreen for a display that sits in front of you may sound like the holy grail, but if you think carpal tunnel injuries are prevalent today, imagine – put your arm almost straight out, and try to do ANYTHING for several minutes. i’ll wait……………….TIRED at the shoulder joint, huh? the other option is massive muscles at the shoulders if we adapt to a new way as humans do. anyone for a lady with lou ferrigno shoulders?

    be careful what you ask for , lest some marketing pundit without enough real- world- testing experience give it to you.

  2. Yes, that’s a major concern of mine too. It’s an awkward reach, whereas having the touchscreen in place of the touchpad isn’t quite as jarring. 🙂


  3. Richard Taylor says:

    The history of the species has been to do more with less.

    Hand gestures is doing less with more.

    The mouse is doing more with less.

    I see touchscreen technology as having a limited application — phones, kiosks, things that don’t require focus and aren’t time-weighted. For the rest, point and click.

  4. auramac says:

    I’m reminded of Scotty in one of the Star Trek movies staring at a present-day Mac and saying “Computer!..”

    ‘Show me my e-mail..’ Or, ‘Google this..’

    That’ll end carpal tunnel!

  5. David says:

    I’m still waiting for something to justify the “lower margins in the coming quarter” comment.

    I’m expecting it will come in the form of more “earth friendly” laptops at current price points. LED backlighting, arsenic free glass and aluminum cases for the MacBook would impact margins. If they keep their promise to eliminate arsenic by the end of the year we’ll also see new iMacs and, *gasp* Cinema Displays for the first time in over two years.

    I’m hoping for some economy friendly price drops too, but I don’t hold out much hope for it. Apple considers themselves purveyors of a premium product so normal economics don’t apply to them.

    If Apple doesn’t release the MMM Mac by Macworld I may build my own hackintosh. I have two friends running 10.5.4 on white box PCs and they couldn’t be happier. Even with some really expensive over-clocking RAM and high end video cards they spent less than an entry level iMac while getting performance equal to the single Xeon Mac Pro.

  6. javaholic says:

    Touch screens on a hand held device, like an iPod or Tablet, fine. However if you’re tied to a desk, practically and ergonomically does it offer any real benefit over the mouse? It looks great in ‘The Minority Report’, but otherwise I can see RSI becoming a big problem with people very quickly. Just because it could be done, doesn’t always mean it should be. Besides, I’m still cheesed off that Apple haven’t made their displays height adjustable 🙂

  7. Michael Teuber says:

    I have always wondered what the impediment to offering a Mac mini with something akin to el Gato’s EyeTV might be. Except for legacy media (VHS, cassette tape, and records), with a pair of speakers and a wireless keyboard and mouse and a HDTV, you have everything many users might need. The equivalent of over half a dozen other devices in one. DVD Player/Burner, CD Player/Burner, DVR, WebTV, Game Console, MP3 disc player, Internet Radio, Personal Computer, and more. This would be a product that would really be at the center of your digital life.

  8. eyemahsource says:

    The breakthrough will occur when we have near-eye displays mounted on glasses resolving at least 1280 x 800 pixels which are 1mm thick by 1 inch wide weighing only a few grams. These will be “headphones for the eyes” and will do for computers what high quality ear buds did to make the iPod feasible. Combine this with bluetooth multi-touch trackpads used in your pocket or worn on a lanyard and we’ll have a revolution in computing making the smart phone and the laptop both irrelevant. The keyboard would be a cloth, roll-up, full size device that can be pocketed. Cameras will become sophisticated “web cams” eliminating the redundant viewfinders, CPU and memory and thus much cheaper.

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