The Apple Hardware Report: What Will 2010 Bring?

December 21st, 2009

I can start this discussion with just one word, and that’s iTablet, or iPad, or whatever Apple will choose to call that presumed tablet-based computer. But the question remains whether there’s a need for such a product in the real world, regardless of the rampant speculation and all those rising expectations.

It’s not whether or not it would be a cool product, but whether it would be cool enough for millions of people to buy during its first year on sale. If that’s not the case, it makes little sense whatever for Apple to build them, and I don’t pretend to know the answer. I’m sure that Apple will do the appropriate level of market research to decide what direction to take.

As for me, an Apple tablet just isn’t high on my agenda, unless it would be a suitable replacement for my 17-inch MacBook Pro. Alas, since the screen size estimates are closer to the 10-inch range, I need plenty of convincing. The things such a product would do well, such as being able to display books and magazines, don’t interest me all that much. I’m still a print guy, so I don’t think I’m necessarily the target user.

However, Apple has a habit of taking existing product categories and making them seem new and different. A couple of months ago, I didn’t seriously consider replacing my Mac Pro with an iMac; that is, until the 27-inch version came out with the option of an Intel quad-core i7 processor. Suddenly the equation changed for me, meaning that my biannual desktop system upgrades will be a whole lot cheaper, not to mention the greatly reduced heat buildup in my office.

The iMac has been the hero of Apple’s fall product lineup, with the NPD Group reporting huge sales increases, and that, probably more than any lingering screen display glitches, is the cause of the ongoing product shortage. Besides, Apple has just released a downloadable fix for the 27-inch iMac line that “updates the graphics firmware on ATI Radeon HD 4670 and 4850 graphics cards to address issues that may cause image corruption or display flickering.”

Now that Apple has the form factor in place, no doubt 2010 will see continued performance boosts as newer Intel chips come out. I’m also wondering whether Apple will amaze us all and provide room for a second internal drive, and perhaps an eSATA port for high performance external devices in the next revision. That is if they don’t simply jump to USB 3.0 instead, which will offer backwards compatibility with existing devices.

The Mac Pro will likely get its overdue upgrade early in the new year, as soon as those six-core Intel chips are out. The rest of the improvements are apt to be incremental, perhaps with the addition of USB 3.0 and/or eSATA ports for extra devices. It’s also possible Apple will throw out the baby with the bath water and build a new version that uses the latest developments in miniaturization to install the same guts in a much smaller case. It would surely be the politically correct thing to do, plus it’ll make the product less daunting to transport.

Since Apple revised the note-book form factors last year, I expect changes will also be mostly of the speedbump variety. As Intel gets more and more low-power quad-core chips into production, some will surely find their way into certain MacBook Pro configurations. Yes, there are quad-core mobile chips out now. You can get them on some PC note-books, but you have to put up with higher heat generation and significantly reduced battery life.

I do not expect to see Apple adhere to my suggestions and make the expanded life battery easier to remove. As some of our commenters have suggested, Apple is protecting the environment by forcing you to go to a dealer for a battery replacement, so they can dispose of the spent batteries in the safest fashion.

The fourth generation iPhone will like be here by summer. There are already reports that Apple has reserved the end of June for the start of the WWDC, a good place to introduce the newest iPhone and OS 4.0.

As to the iPhone upgrade, perhaps the biggest expected change will be a multicore chip, with more internal memory, as opposed to increasing maximum storage to 64GB. At the same time, I would hope Apple will manage to increase battery life some, although it’s not bad now. The huge story though, stems from the belief that Apple’s exclusive deal with AT&T will expire around that timeframe, which paves the way for other carriers to carry the iPhone.

Therein lies the tale. Will Apple build a CDMA version tailored to the requirements of Verizon Wireless? Or just provide a version that will operate with the compatible GSM network on T-Mobile. While T-Mobile doesn’t have the 3G coverage of AT&T, where they do apparently offer more reliable service, not to mention charging a lot less money. Do we really need Verizon?

Past the tablet computer, genuine Apple innovations remain an open question. Will Apple find a way to make Apple TV come into its own, or even accede to the requests from some that they build a large screen TV? Certainly the 27-inch iMac takes us far into that direction.

Then there’s Mac OS 10.7. As Snow Leopard approaches its first year anniversary, you have to expect Apple to be readying its successor. More to the point, it will clearly be a feature upgrade, and thus maybe it’s time we bring back the Night Owl’s official 10.7 wish list.

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11 Responses to “The Apple Hardware Report: What Will 2010 Bring?”

  1. westech says:

    With the rumor mill working overtime for the last 10 years or so, there haven’t been any real surprises until the new 27″ iMac. How did the rumor mill miss that? Apple managed to keep it under wraps until they pulled back the curtain. I believe that this can be a real game changer for desk top computers.

    My memory is weak on this, but I believe the last one to come out of the blue was the lamp shade iMac????

    Yes, I believe the Apple tablet will come. It cannot be a total surprise, although there probably will be some unexpected features.

    If we could predict what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve it won’t be a surprise, will it?

    BTW, I would buy a tablet in a shot if it was like an enhanced iPod touch, with a screen large enough to read comfortably, was light weight (say 20 ounces), had twelve hour battery life, could support iWorks, cost no more than $800. and supported wireless printing.

  2. Richard says:

    @Gene, yes, Apple should move on to USB 3, but no, it is not a substitute for eSATA. Even if/when (as rumored) Light Peak is introduced, it will not be a substitute for “legacy” connections of eSATA, Firewire and USB as there are simply too many devices in the hands of users that would be incompatible/obsolete and the availability of Light Peak compatible devices may not be as quick as Apple might like.

    A second internal drive would be a welcome addition, but eSATA is an imperative with increasingly larger drives and quantities of data. Besides, Apple already has SATA controllers in place for the internal drives.

    @westech, If Apple does not intro a tablet, there is likely to be another Hackintosh project to deal with the ones said to be coming out from other manufacturers.

    • westech says:

      @Richard, My feeling is that Apple may be losing the window of opportunity. Jobs is a perfectionist and so far it has paid off, but people may be learning how to do it right from his example. Of course, they haven’t been able to come up with a real competitor to the iPhone but here they are playing catch-up. There is a chance that a really good tablet from a competitor is introduced before Steve gets off the pot.

    • MichaelT says:

      @Richard, Apple doesn’t seem to concern itself with legacy items. Remember having a bunch of useless floppies after the iMac came out? Or more recently, I am in the market for a FireWire adapter so I can use my FW400 video camera with my FW800 iMac.

      And then there’s the Mini DisplayPort…

      I don’t think Apple is looking for a substitute for eSATA—they’re moving on to where they want/expect/direct us to move. Sometimes they’re right (USB), sometimes not (FW on the iPod—which I thought was great, but the Windows world apparently didn’t), but they never worry about legacy.

  3. DaveD says:

    My Apple prediction record is abysmal.

    I had purchased a Creative Nomad MP3 player in 2000. Small, plays around 12 MP3 songs, has FM and was quite satisfied with it. In late 2001, Apple had introduced a big MP3 player called the iPod capable of holding a thousand songs. I asked myself as to why anyone would want a PMP using a hard disk for storing that many songs. One key benefit was that it had FireWire. Putting 12 songs into my Nomad via USB 1 took time. I was expecting the beleaguered Apple would experience another round of “Newton” bad press and days of the iPod in the marketplace were numbered. Oh there were bad reviews, but something happened. The Mac-only, FireWire-based device began to get a lot of attention. Something about being easy to use.

    I wish Apple for another decade of success. If there is an upcoming game-changer device that doesn’t weigh as much as my MacBook, doesn’t cost as much as the MacBook Air, still fast and poweful, my arm will be so thankful.

  4. ken h says:

    iTablet, or whatever is one of those niche things. (like everything Apple, but sometimes the niche gets BIG) Thats how business in general should work. If your product suits the needs of the people who buy it to the degree that its value matches or exceeds the price, and if the supplier makes enough to be profitable, you have a success. And you should.

    In my my work, I walk around a lot, take notes, and then later transfer, try to remember what I was thinking when I made the note (thats a different problem of my own) write a final version to be put into a document.

    A keyboard just won’t work for that. I have to find a place to place a laptop and then type. With handwriting, I can write and observe at the same time.

    Even after 20 years, I still believe that hand-writing recognition has to be one of the great things of the future. I have poor quality hand writing, yet even a Windows pocket pc with a stylus was workable. It did an adequate job of deciphering my handwriting. It’s just that the overall quality of the pda I had was so poor that the cost of operation was just too high. The case was too flexibile, it you put it in a pocket, the flex caused everything to get loose. Can’t even remember the brand of the pda.

    Apple could build the quality that I need. iPod touch would do it, but the fact that it needs to be connected to the web to work is silly beyond belief.

    A 10 inch pad with handwriting recognition without a connection requirement, but available when I need it, Apple quality build, I’d go $800. Pages: Yes, it is my choice for that kind of work. Microsoft Office, complexity for the sake of …………..who knows?

  5. dfs says:

    There’s one more thing that we can expect to see from Apple in 2010, which might seem like a minor thing but really has important implications for future sales. With Snow Leopard released, there is still an all-pervasive lack of software that takes advantage of its new technologies, Grand Central exchange and Open CL. In order to maintain its forward momentum, Apple has an urgent corporate need to start the ball rolling by releasing a new generation of software which does this, and this might have the effect of stimulating other developers to do the same. So I expect that Apple will do this, probably starting with their high-end professional software, but also following up with new high-tech versions of iLife and iWork. In the Bad Old Days, Apple had a nasty habit of developing a technology and then failing to expoit it in its own software (remember Open Doc and GX printing?), and this of course sent the wrong message to other developers: if Apple wouldn’t make an investment in its own technology, why should anybody else? And so these technologies ultimately flopped. I bet Steve is too bright to make this same mistake. In the long run, computer sales will suffer if nobody can take advantage of the new possibilities they offer.

  6. dbg78 says:

    My assessment for 2010 (one thing we *should* get, and two that we probably won’t):
    1 – Very likely: A MacBook Air with 4(!) GB of system RAM. The MBA is now the last remaining Apple computer with only 2_GB of RAM. And seeing as how the MBA’s memory cannot be upgraded, Apple should offer a super-splurge model with 8(!) GB. (Same as they did originally with the then-cutting-edge $1000 extra SSD!)
    2 – A definite 50/50: Blu-Ray on the iMac. Apple is in the digital (not disc) delivery business, so it’s unlikely that Apple itself will offer a Blu-Ray unit. But then again, the new screens are 16:9 Blu-Ray ready, and the DisplayPort input (on the 27″) opens the door for a wide range of HD peripherals, Blu-Ray external SuperDrives, etc.. So you never know.
    3 – Probably not: A camera on the iPod Touch. Apple is positioning the iPod Touch as the lead-in (for tweens) to the iPhone. Shooting video on a MP4 iPod Nano is one thing, but having a social-networking (aka Facebook/Twitter/Flickr) feature on a (otherwise quiet) mobile internet device that Apple wants in classrooms and libraries? Probably not. (Also, having the camera remain an iPhone-only feature helps distinguish the two different devices to non-techies.)

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