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  • Can We Talk About the Mac Again?

    April 28th, 2010

    For reasons that have little to do with what Apple is actually doing, they’ve managed to dominate the headlines in recent days, mostly because of that brouhaha over that loss and eventual recovery of a prototype of the next generation iPhone. But that, of course, has little to do with Apple’s existing products and services. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the final form factor of the next iPhone and its internal workings will be quite different from the one widely splattered over the net in recent days. And, no, I don’t think Steve Jobs would alter the design out of spite.

    However, there’s plenty of real Apple news to talk about, such as the recent MacBook Pro refresh and what may be announced during the WWDC in June. That’s where Apple is expected to unleash the next iPhone along with the announcement of the final shipping date. Sure, the media will be closely examining the spec sheets to see how closely they match that infamous prototype. There’s also the possibility that you’ll get an early look at Mac OS 10.7, although that is debatable I suppose.

    But remember that Apple provided preliminary details for Snow Leopard well over a year before it was released, just to prepare developers. Assuming that 10.7 doesn’t arrive until late summer or fall 2011, which would be a fairly sensible timeframe, that doesn’t stop them from delivering a technology preview this year, so developers know what to expect, and you can discover more features for Microsoft to imitate in their next version of Windows.

    When it comes to the hardware, it doesn’t seem as if Apple is yet poised to do anything drastic in terms of changing product form factors. Even the hot selling iMac doesn’t look that much different from its predecessors, and that includes the imposing 27-inch model.

    The WWDC is likely to bring a long-awaited update to the Mac Pro lineup, but there’s little or no indication that it will look any different from the current models, even as the internal parts are updated with the latest Intel chips. And, no, I don’t expect to suddenly see AMD chips on new Mac workstations, despite those published reports of a possible deal. If it happens, you might see AMD processors in, say, a Mac mini to provide a cheaper road to a performance boost. But whether AMD equals, matches, or exceeds Intel is a matter for the PC magazines that benchmark those things. Most computers are sufficiently fast these days.

    Indeed, if you look through the entire history of the Mac in the aftermath of the Intel transition, you won’t see serious alterations in how the actual products look. The tapered construction of the latest and greatest Mac portables is, at best, a minor change over the previous models. You can, for example, take a Titanium PowerBook G4, place it next to the Early 2010 MacBook Pro and see a direct family resemblance between the former to the latter. On the other hand, that may be a good thing, because it delivers a consistent look from model to model, in the same fashion that you can compare a vintage Mercedes-Benz to a 2010 model and know they came from the same company.

    Beyond the expected Mac Pro upgrade, you probably won’t see much if anything new when it comes to Mac hardware until the fall, when the MacBook and iMac will probably get refreshes to reflect the latest and greatest Intel hardware — or perhaps a mixture of some AMD parts.

    Some suggest that Apple might choose to design their own processors for Macs, but it appears that their acquisitions of chip design establishments are focused towards the mobile platform, which will likely provide the lion’s share of the company’s income in the years to come.

    However, I do not expect Apple to slow development of new Macs, since they are still the “hub of your digital lifestyle.” That remains true even though the majority of iPad, iPhone and iPod owners actually use Windows. You can’t argue with the sale of roughly three million Macs each quarter, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to see that figure grow to four million by the end of the year. Apple’s computer sales continue to beat the PC market by a fair margin, even if some of Microsoft’s shills want you to believe that Windows 7 upgrades are moving at a faster clip. That’s why Microsoft’s stock has remained relatively flat for years, whereas anyone who invested in Apple during the bad days would see a huge profit from even a modest investment.

    Indeed, were I not a tech writer, I would have made that investment way back when, and would now be sitting pretty and preparing for a lucrative retirement. Then again, writing these columns and hosting two radio shows is much more fun, even if it’s not as profitable.

    In any case, I expect you’ll see loads of neat stuff in forthcoming Macs and the Mac OS. But the days of revolutionary changes are probably gone, at least for now.



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