Checking Out Possible 2012 Macs

January 6th, 2012

It’s a given that, when Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor lineup debuts some time this spring, there will be new Macs to go along with that product introduction. So you’ll see more performance, and lower power consumption. Intel’s now-decent integrated graphics may even get a little more decent.

Now Apple sometimes makes special deals with Intel to beat the competition, and I wonder what sort of financial arrangement that entails, since Apple doesn’t participate in that “Intel Inside” marketing scheme. So, for example, new Macs introduced in 2011 got Thunderbolt, a high-performance peripheral port that was developed by both Apple and Intel. This year, the Windows PC world will have their crack at this feature, courtesy of those new chipsets that embed Thunderbolt. Maybe then we’ll even see more than a handful of products that take advantage of a feature that, in essence, puts the power of the internal slots on a Mac Pro on every other Mac.

Y0u may expect that the iMac will continue in its present form, although Apple will surprise us from time to time. That, among all-in-one PCs, the iMac gets a third of the sales, is a tribute to the ongoing popularity and flexibility of a product that is a direct descendant of the very first 1984 Mac.

What’s happened to the iMac is that it has become a credible tool for many content creators who cherished the power and expandability of a Mac Pro. It’s not a total replacement, but Thunderbolt, plus some sort of breakout box that handles PCI cards, would go a long way towards erasing some key advantages of the Mac Pro, other than it being external, of course. As Intel’s desktop chips grow more powerful, with extra cores, the performance advantage of the Mac Pro has been whittled down to a small number of apps that require six or 12 cores. Over time, you’ll see lots more cores on the desktop chips too, maybe enough to minimize the need for two of them.

Since Apple already sells customized iMacs with two drives, a regular hard drive and a solid state version, it would be a neat idea to have an accessible rear slot to allow you to easily swap drives. It may go against Apple’s design sensibilities, but it would be a practical way to set up an iMac as a more sensible and expandable personal computer. The positioning of the drives and the design of the cover could, I suppose, be done in a way that’s fairly seamless and not likely to be visible without looking real hard. Besides, do Mac users really look at the behinds of their iMacs that closely, and would it hurt product placements? I doubt it.

Sure, there will be a new Xeon lineup this year, thus creating the possibility of a 2012 Mac Pro. Apple would only have to update the graphics hardware to the latest and greatest, add some SSDs to the bundles, plus a pair of Thunderbolt ports. Suddenly the Mac Pro would be up to date without a huge expenditure in development dollars. This would make it feasible for Apple to continue to build these workstations.

But it’s also true that Apple has gone for volume sales in a huge way, and the Mac Pro doesn’t generate much volume. The controversial release of Final Cut Pro X seriously upset some video editors who have gone to Avid systems and Adobe Premiere as a result. But a more consumer-friendly FCP delivers a whole new audience who find $299, plus the cost of a couple of extra modules, low enough to buy in large quantities. These prosumers surely include budding movie makers who couldn’t justify the cost of the full-blown FCP application suite, and a Mac Pro. Today’s iMac at a fraction of the price becomes the ideal video production tool.

So far, I’m not saying anything that presents more than minor changes over existing products, nor is it a stretch of logic.

As you probably know, three quarters of the Macs sold these days are portables. Here there is speculation about a 15-inch MacBook Air, following the design scheme of existing models. Whether the MacBook Pro would change much is an open question. Some speak of a slimmer model, also without an internal optical drive. But that depends on how many MacBook Pro users still require those drives, and whether most of you can live without one except in rare cases where, perhaps, an external version would be sufficient.

Don’t forget that people protested when Apple killed the internal floppy drive beginning with the first iMac. Sure, you could buy an external floppy drive, and that alternative was sufficient for a couple of years until floppies disappeared entirely. Well, at least you had the chance to copy the floppies onto a CD; oh wait, it took a while before Apple realized you needed a CD drive with recording capability.

Nonetheless, I don’t see much reason for Apple to have to change a lot on the Mac platform. It’s not as if there’s any real innovation with Windows PCs these days. But making the mid-range iMac a more compelling replacement for a Mac Pro is a given. I do not, however, expect the Mac Pro to go away right away, although its days are clearly numbered.

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7 Responses to “Checking Out Possible 2012 Macs”

  1. dfs says:

    Seems to me that the iMac is the reigning champ of the desktop line. How to improve it? Well, I’m not sure that SSD is quite ready for prime time. I doubt it will really come into its own until the technology becomes cheaper, larger, and more stable over time. That will take a couple or so more years. In the shorter run, probably the smartest thing Apple could do to improve the iMac would be to give it true HDTV resolution, ideally combined with other improvements to make it more TV-like, up to and including tuning circuitry. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating that the smartest way to get further into the TV market might be for Apple to leverage what it already has by making the iMac more of a computer-cum-TV rather than take what strikes me as the risky gamble of marketing a new line of Apple TV’s.

  2. Yacko says:

    “Well, I’m not sure that SSD is quite ready for prime time.”

    Neither are hard drives now. The flood-induced shortage is maiming the industry. Good time for Apple to leverage that Israeli acquisition and get an affordable and reliable SSD in every OSX device.

  3. David says:

    The 21″ iMac has a true HDTV resolution display: 1920×1080. The 27″ iMac has an even higher resolution screen. The only thing missing is the TV tuner.

    However, I’m not convinced the iMac is really a good solution for television. Typically an iMac is used on a desk/table/counter with the viewer located 2-4 feet in front of the screen. Frequently it’s positioned in such a way as to make it impractical to add more viewers at 4-8 feet. Even if you can, it’s difficult to arrange lighting in such a way that viewers at an angle don’t see too many reflections.

    Once you get beyond 6 feet most viewers aren’t going to be happy with a 27″ screen. Sales of living room/family room/bedroom TVs peak in the 40-49″ range.

    Accessible drive bays would be a great feature addition to the iMac, but that goes against Steve Jobs’ vision of computers as highly capable “appliances”. Having said that I think external drives and cables are an even bigger insult to Apple aesthetics so maybe if they finally kill the Mac Pro they’ll relent and make a large screen iMac with accessible bays.

    I don’t see why they have to kill the Mac Pro though. As explained, slapping a slightly modified version of Intel’s latest reference motherboard into an existing case needing only minor tweaks to its port configuration costs very little.

    I sold Apple computers and peripherals in the retail area for a year in the mid 1990’s and 2 years in the early 2000’s. There are definitely some customers who, quite frankly, are more trouble than they’re worth. They consume a lot of time and rarely buy anything. In my experience none of them are potential Mac Pro customers. Every high end customer, even the cheapskate who bought a G5 from me and then walked across the street to get his display, RAM and hard drives from a PC shop that sold high profile stuff at only 5% markup, was a worthwhile customer who didn’t waste a lot of time or demand hours of free tech support. I expect the same is true at the manufacturer level. Mac Pro customers probably consume very few resources at Apple.

    If a low maintenance customer wants to spend $5000 and you don’t even make a $5000 computer you may never get the chance to explain why you think a $2000 iMac will meet her needs. If you do get that chance you’d better not screw it up. A customer who thinks her intelligence is being questioned or buys a machine on your advice and later discovers it’s not good enough is never going to forgive you.

    Much better for both parties if you simply meet those initial price expectations. Quick sale, no headache, no risk, and lots of time left over to sell a dozen iPads.

  4. dfs says:

    Yes, the iMac has a 16 x 9 aspect ratio. But, if I’m not mistaken, it is not currently capable of full 1080 HD resolution. When I watch TV on my 27-incher sitting a few feet away, I still see jaggies. And, although I wouldn’t want a 27-in TV in my rec room, in a dorm room or studio apartment, or as a secondary TV in a bigger household, it would probably do fine.

  5. DaveD says:

    I got an early 2011, unibody MacBook Pro that replaced a late 2001, titanium PowerBook G4. The replacement was not for the future. The PowerBook still works and it runs quite fast in OS 9. But, time has taken a toll on its performance in OS X with the increasing pace of obsolescent through software upgrades. OS X marches on and PowerPC applications have been fading away.

    Apple has been amazing that it is willing to take chances. When it pays off, the PC industry follow. I do like Apple to continue its Mac Pro lines if profitable. It is good to see one heavy duty “flagship” performance machine. As a notebook user, I would like the optical drive be gone. This could free up space for a bigger battery or have an SSD for files that don’t need to be rewritten often. Along with a regular hard drive for storing the big files and any other files that are not suited for placement on an SSD. Maybe Apple could be very successful in managing content on an SSD and drop the hard drive.

  6. dfs says:

    Actually, your next Mac might be in the dashboard of your car. Apple has a history of taking some piece of technology that existed in a terrible condition (say, the MIDI player) and turning it into a smash success. And certainly the message/navigation/entertainment system we get in cars nowadays is horrible. Most of them are ergonomic clunks, and some of them are positively dangerous because of the driver-distraction factor. Now, Apple is at least inadvertently assembling some of the important pieces necessary to make a great in-dash device if it cares to do so. Mapping has figured prominently in their recent corporate acquisitions (Placebase, C3 Technologies, Poly9), and of course they also have Siri technology at their disposal.

  7. bii gates says:

    Current mac pros can handle up to 24 ssd card internally or a huge mix of 3.5 and ssd. hard drives arrays can approach 200MBS as opposed to 800MBS mac with thunderbolts. Thunder boat breakout boxes besides high cost that make the imac actually more expensive have less then 1/4 of true pcie 2.0 bandwidth per slot, a thunder boat cable alone is $49.

    PCIE 3.0 is just about here further leaving thunderbolt behind.

    I believe linux and windows 8 will win over mac pro users as Apple leaves pro apps to third party vendors as they go after huge mass market quantity sales, sort of what honda did with the s2000 and acura NSX, those cars didnt make money but they got more people in the showroom and showed what honda could do besides build reliable appliances, without them Honda/Acura is just another Generic nice looking generic brand.

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