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In Search of a Story About Apple

Hardly a day passes where someone, somewhere, doesn’t report some new, different or supposedly fascinating news about Apple Inc. It seems as if the media just can’t stop talking about the company, even if there isn’t a whole lot to talk about.

Well, in the case of the sliding economy, I suppose there are plenty of salient issues. How will Apple do this quarter, with all the obstacles preventing people from taking out their wallets and spending cash or exploiting their diminishing credit card limits. Since Apple supposedly exists at the higher end of the price spectrum, this ought to hurt them more than other companies, right?

In the real world, it doesn’t seem to have had a serious impact, so far at least. Earlier this month, there were claims that Apple had underestimated iPod demand, and stocks were running low here and there. However, when I checked at Apple’s own site before writing this column, every single model and color selection was marked ready for shipment within 24 hours. While it’s a sure thing individual retailers may have their own issues in replenishing stock, you can certainly get the iPod you want in time for the holidays.

The same thing appears to hold true for the iPhone, and now that AT&T will ship one direct to your home or office so you can activate it yourself, there are no excuses. And, after the holidays, will Wall-Mart really carry iPhones?

As far as Macs are concerned, a local client, semi-retired, bought himself a unibody MacBook and got it rapidly from the online store he patronized.

With all this, however, there are no claims yet that I know about reporting excess inventories of Apple hardware piling up in warehouses around the world. Well, maybe I should not have mentioned that, as not some members of the media will report such a thing. As I said, compelling stories are few.

You’d think there would be growing speculation about an event that is just weeks away, the keynote address at Macworld 2009 in San Francisco. This is where Steve Jobs will traditionally lift the lid off consumer-related products in Apple’s lineup, and there doesn’t seem to be as much chatter as you might expect as to what he might announce.

In the so-what category would be the requisite updates to iLife and iWork. Will the latter expand its feature count to more closely match Microsoft Office, or go it one better with a new database application, in the tradition of the late AppleWorks?

Microsoft, in contrast, is probably a year or two away from any major announcements about the next version of Office for the Mac, the one where Visual Basic for Applications reportedly returns.

As to Steve himself, he is evidently still quite thin, and still a vegan, although he hasn’t made any public appearances of late. So there’s no cause to ruminate upon the state of his health and how long he might survive before Apple is forced, kicking and screaming, into naming his successor. On the other hand, aren’t underweight people supposed to live longer?

In terms of hardware, there are things you’re likely to see, without extending the bounds of logic and reason. Since the 17-inch MacBook is traditionally updated several months after the smaller version, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it inherit the unibody aluminum case and glass touchpad early in 2009. No great stretch there.

The iMac is also a little overdue for a refresh, although the changes aren’t likely to be drastic. Aside from the greener LED backlit display, you might expect to see a move to the Mini DisplayPort jack for an external monitor and the new, more powerful NVIDIA graphics capability. An upgrade for the Mac Pro simply depends on the availability of the latest, most powerful quad-core Xeons from Intel.

The big question mark is the fate of the Mac mini. In light of a quote from an Apple a while back that a user concerned about whether the mini will ever be refreshed should show patience, you’d think that something is definitely in the works. It may be as simple as taking the guts of today’s MacBook, including the speedier integrated graphics, and applying that to the existing form factor.

Going further, maybe Apple will relent with its impossibly-inept upgrade scheme, and make it possible for regular people to open the case of a Mac mini without playing with putty knives and other implements to accomplish the task. My feeling is that just having four tiny screws or retainers at the bottom ought to be sufficient. It would also be nice for them to rework the chassis layout so you don’t have to pull a hard drive to add or replace RAM.

As for our mythical midrange minitower dreams, I don’t see it happening, but you might see some sort of netbook-style refashioning of the basic guts of the iPhone. It would possibly resemble the eMac 300 in the basic concept, adapted to the 21st century. Then again, I’m not at all convinced that this product segment has any traction beyond the temporary need of many customers to buy cheaper gear because of the shaky economy.

With a new 24-inch display under their belts, Apple might even deliver a 30-inch version. So that will give you folks plenty of ammunition to voice even more vocal objections to the wholesale switch to all-glossy displays.

Now it’s your turn, gentle reader, to respond in kind.