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  • Reading the Tea Leaves About Apple Product Intros

    March 10th, 2009

    It has begun. Even the mainstream media is busy posting stories about when Apple is expected to introduce new products later this year.

    It all started when someone did some basic research (for a change) and discovered that time was reserved for a corporate gathering beginning the second week of June at the Moscone West exhibition hall in San Francisco. That’s where Apple has been holding its developer events in recent years, and the selection corresponds to the timeframe of a typical Apple WWDC gathering, so it stands to reason that they’ve outed Apple about the so-far unannounced event.

    All well and good, and I’l grant that the information is accurate, except for the fact that, until the WWDC is officially announced, those dates can change, although it would seem that Moscone’s schedule is pretty full and juggling events is probably not very easy.

    But even if we are certain now when WWDC will take place, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we know what products will be launched there.

    It does seem logical that Snow Leopard will play a part. Certainly developers will want to participate actively in informational sessions on the new operating system, particularly since the release is expected by mid-year. That, though, doesn’t mean Mac OS 10.6 will necessarily go on sale beginning with the WWDC keynote. It could happen before or after, even if the event is heavily devoted to that topic.

    Despite the clear uncertainty over the matter, it hasn’t stopped some members of the media from declaring Snow Leopard must be “launched” at that event.

    What will really happen may really depend on how well development progresses between now and then. That, my friends, is something I doubt many people outside of Apple know, and they aren’t telling.

    The next possibility is iPhone 3.0. This doesn’t seem a great stretch, although perhaps a tad premature. Last year’s rollout of the iPhone 3G occurred in mid-July. It doesn’t have to be WWDC related, although it’s certainly possible Apple might announce a date and perhaps introduce a major upgrade to the iPhone SDK and perhaps even the App Store.

    I have no inside information to offer here. I’m just putting last year’s events in perspective. Besides, after a year, a smartphone is quite long in the tooth.

    The next theory has it that Apple is poised to release its first netbook in the second half of the year. Again, it could be introduced at WWDC, and there may be good reasons for that, particularly if such a gadget uses a modified version of the iPhone software to function.

    This information supposedly comes from sources in Asia that are not known to be particularly reliable. Indeed, rumors of new Apple products have been spread far and wide in previous years from similar alleged “insiders.” Few have come to pass.

    Also, let’s not forget that Apple has, so far at least, thrown cold water on netbook prospects, but they haven’t shut the door entirely. Both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have stated that Apple won’t produce what they regard as “junk,” which as their parlance for PCs that sell for less than $500. Yes, the original Mac mini came in at $499, but the current model, far more powerful, lists for $599.

    If Apple releases a sub-note-book of this sort, just what form would it take. Well, there are folks who apparently still adore their small screen PowerBooks with screens ranging from 10 inches to 12 inches. Now I’m not one of those people. I like larger screens and anything smaller than my 17-inch MacBook Pro would cramp my style big time.

    The latest talk is in the range of 10 inches. So how would Apple implement such a product? Would it just be a stripped down MacBook? Well a smaller screen and case wouldn’t account for more than $200 off the price of the entry-level white MacBook, which now sells for $999. But that’s still somewhat out of netbook territory. Indeed, Apple would probably have to come in at around $499 to $599 for it to make sense and it would have to differentiate itself sufficiently from a regular Mac note-book not to cannibalize sales at the low end.

    That’s the dilemma being confronted by PC makers now. Microsoft’s dilemma, of course, is what to do about the lost licensing fees because current netbooks come with Windows XP or — worse — Linux. Well, worse from their standpoint. They are hoping a crippled version of Windows 7 will fill the bill.

    Apple, on the other hand, has more options, one of which harkens back to the eMate 300, a tiny portable computer based on the Newton that was circulated in the educational market over a decade ago. The screen was even tinier, but the keyboard was, as I recall, reasonably usable.

    Now consider a 21st century equivalent, with a touch screen of seven to 10 inches in size, based on the iPhone version of OS X. To take advantage of a wireless carrier’s subsidies, Apple would want to consider including telephone capability with it. Otherwise, it might become an expensive item, although using a standard hard drive and larger parts are sure to reduce production costs.

    In the end, I don’t know how this will play out. It could be that the netbook is just a flash in the pan, something people are buying now out of necessity, because of their economic situation. If things improve, they might dump their netbooks and get regular note-books again. If that happens to any large degree, all this talk will be for naught. And don’t think Apple hasn’t considered those possibilities in deciding how to move forward.



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    7 Responses to “Reading the Tea Leaves About Apple Product Intros”

    1. gopher says:

      I don’t think Apple will release a netbook until the Knowledge Navigator can become a reality:

      http://www.digibarn.com/collections/movies/knowledge-navigator.html
      http://www.mprove.de/uni/asi/futureshock.html

    2. Richard says:

      “In the end” time will tell, but you pose the question in a way that reflects the Microsoft complaint…that people are buying these cheap*!? things instead of things we make real money on (when they should be greatful that people are buying anything they make).

      It seems to me, and people in the industry have begun saying this as well, that people are buying these things to drag along with them all the time. You could call them a “travel companion”. Traditional laptops are large and heavy enough that you have to think about whether you want to take them along.

      The comparison is not between a traditional laptop and these subcompacts, but between “smart” phones and these subcompacts. People complain that the 10 inch screens are too small to use all day long…what about a 3 inch screen? 10 inches seems pure luxury in this comparison. Most of the keyboards seem to be coming out at about 92% the size of a full size keyboard. With better design of the actual keys than some manufacturers have made, these are fully capable of being used for touch typing…try that with an iPhone or BlackBerry. As manufacturers figure this out, expect the keyboards to better utilize the available space to maximize their size.

      “All the internet” is what Steve promised with the iPhone. This simply is not true. Without Flash implementation of some sort the iPhone (and others) are unable to utilize common web sites at all and I am not talking about the all too frequent overproduced Flash video. These subcompacts can access “all the web”.

      Then there is the entertainment side of things. Playing movies/tv on a 10 inch screen is simply not in the same category as a 3 inch iPhone. As the graphics issues are sorted out (think Nvidia Ion/9400m) users should be able to playback HD video and play some popular games (probably with somewhat reduced settings, but still very usable).

      Then there is the matter of battery life. When traveling I see everyone rushing to find one of the few electric outlets at the airport to plug in their laptop. These subcompacts offer much improved battery life. What more need be said.

      If you look at some of the HP advertising you will see that they are describing them as “clutch” size for women to put in their purses (and offering designer styles). As these things have grown a little bit in size this is perhaps a bit overstating the size advantage of some of them, but they are that much smaller than traditional laptops that they constitute a new

      Then there is the matter of internet access. Frankly, the offerings of the wireless providers are over priced and underperforming for thier prices at the present time. Much of the consumer market simply does not need to be continuously on the ‘net. Checking in at Wi-Fi hotspots to see if there is email and to send pics of your travels is adequate. To some extent, this is the fear of the wireless providers. Should the pricing and/or performance of the wireless providers change this equation might also change. Ditto for Wi-Max if it ever comes to pass.

      These devices are not intended to be “rompin’, stompin’ Photoshop machines”, but they are adequate for downloading your digital pix when traveling, taking a look at them and doing limited editing to email them to friends, family and such.

      Intel, somewhat more politely than Microsoft, is bemoaning the sales of Atom processors instead of their more costly offering. Lately, however, it appears that they have come to the realization that the Atom sales represent a new market segment rather than a product which is canabalizing other sales. Other sales are simply in the tank at the present time and Intel have chosen to add production capacity for the Atom family with partners to serve the emerging opportunities. Many, if not most, of the subcompact purchasers are buying one in addition to their traditional laptop. For many of the others, they simply were not likely purchasers of traditional laptops in the first place. They have their desktop and home and this is for travel. It meets their needs.

      Both Intel and Microsoft have attempted to impose restrictions on the hardware used for the subcompacts. Some vendors appear to be either ignoring the strict intrepretation of them because of their arbitrary nature or inviting them to make an issue of it. Intel and Microsoft do so at their peril, however, as their are alternatives quickly appearing which could supplant them should they be too strident. Microsoft in particular is at risk. Should the open source community develop their offerings (with the assistance of the vendors) in an integrated manner tailored to the hardware many of the target buyers will not care that there is no Microsoft inside. Indeed, they may come to like it that way as it would keep price down by enough to be noticeable…just look at the difference in price of Dell’s offerings with Win XP or Vista versus Linux.

      Most amusing to me is the Cook statement that we don’t know how to make a $500 device that is not junk. It sounds to me like an unintended condemnation of the iPhone. On the other hand, there are a number of vendors “out there” which do know how to make a device at a price point…if Apple will listen to them.

      It should be fun to see this market segment evolve in the next six to twelve months.

    3. gopher says:

      “All the internet” is what Steve promised with the iPhone. This simply is not true. Without Flash implementation of some sort the iPhone (and others) are unable to utilize common web sites at all and I am not talking about the all too frequent overproduced Flash video. These subcompacts can access “all the web”.

      Flash? Goodness. Adoption of Flash has been haphazard at best. And it has introduced popups that are hard for web browsers to block. If anything, the lack of Flash is a “good thing.” It promotes better adherance to server based rendering engines, and doesn’t force people to have the fastest computer to render the web. Any site that forces you to use Flash on the front should be condemned, until the entire engine is server based. And since netbooks can’t be made to have a fast processor without overheating themselves,
      Flash is still a long way from becoming a true w3.org standard. Thank goodness Apple has promoted Youtube Quicktime, so that AppleTVs can view Youtube for the most part. At least Quicktime offers many more codecs that are not as processor dependent.

    4. Well we’ve been busy exorcising Flash from all but one of our sites, but there are areas where it’s needed or requires lots of work, such as on our Rockoids site. So we have to continue to do some work there.

      I don’t mind ditching Flash, but with millions of sites using it, Apple and Adobe are going to have to work together on a workable solution. You can’t ask all those people to alter their code for iPhones.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Richard says:

      Gene,

      Well put.

      Some of the sites use Flash to no good end… silly things, like buttons and you can’t use the site without them.

      Regards,

      Richard

    6. gopher says:

      The problem with Flash, or any client based protocol is accessibility. Until it can be installed with a credible amount of accessibility for those who use the web who can’t deal with lots of images and animated graphics, and unwanted jarring colors, it will have a lot of detractors.

    7. Dave Barnes says:

      no keyboard
      touch only
      think Kindle, only better (e.g., color)
      think iPod Touch, only bigger and better

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