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  • Rumors About New Apple Gear and the Consquences

    May 22nd, 2012

    Without letup, the rumors persist that Apple plans to boost the size of the iPhone’s display when a new model is introduced this fall. A few sites have begun to consider the consequences of that change, should it occur. But it’s not that Apple normally looks backwards when changing products, which is why the cases for iPods, iPhones and iPads would be rendered obsolete by a major case redesign.

    But the current iPhone design first appeared in 2010, so changing it in the fall of 2012 isn’t as disrupting as it might have been if the iPhone 4s became the iPhone 5. Accessory makers have had plenty of time to profit from the existing designs. The real issue is how developers would be impacted should the next iPhone receive a larger display.

    Now the cheap way out would be to just reduce the space above and below the screen, keep the case the same size, but increase the display’s diagonal measurement to four inches. That’s the cheap way out, and I don’t think Apple would play that game because it would represent far too much of a change for existing iPhone apps. The move to the Retina Display was mostly one of adding higher resolution artwork, but otherwise allowing apps to be the same visible size.

    Once the screen ratio changes from 3:2 to something else, even if it makes widescreen videos look prettier, developers have to redesign apps to conform. They’d either have to build a “universal” version to accommodate both sizes, or provide a separate downloadable version, a so-called “large display” variation. Apple would be encouraging a level of fragmentation, shades of Android. To be fair, the Android situation is far, far worse, but I’d like to think that Apple doesn’t want to go there.

    Instead, a larger iPhone display, should it happen, will likely retain the same 3:2 ratio. It would require careful redesign to keep the case from growing too large. It’s even possible that Apple might be constrained to choose something less than four inches, say 3.75 inches, which would at least satisfy some of the people who demand a larger iPhone screen. The key here is convenience and portability. You shouldn’t be forced to don a clown uniform to fit an iPhone in your pants pocket. Unfortunately, product reviewers, such as Consumer Reports magazine, don’t concentrate on such potential shortcomings in giving a smartphone a favorable rating. And forget about a 3D screen, please!

    When it comes to the next generation of Mac note-books, the predictions go beyond just ditching the optical drive, which makes perfect sense, so long as external drives remain an option. Instead, some prognosticators are announcing the death of FireWire and Ethernet. If you want either, there will always be an adaptor for the Thunderbolt port. While I cannot predict what Apple will do, today’s MacBook Pros are used in workflows that require high-speed wired networks and FireWire. Keeping these ports shouldn’t affect the case size and weight of the final product, so why inconvenience people? The MacBook Air is clearly intended towards mostly portable use.

    The predictions also talk of USB 3.0, which is backwards compatible to older USB versions, but I’ve seen scant mention of the emerging 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, which will afford networking speeds that, according to the Wikipedia entry, “enable multi-station WLAN throughput of at least 1 Gigabit per second.” In other words, on a par with gigabit Ethernet. With computers and routers capable of supporting the standard — and a few 80211.ac routers are already available — the need for Ethernet will diminish. Or maybe Apple would consider moving to 10Gb Ethernet, although the hardware is still pretty expensive.

    There are also the hardware configurations that some suggest Apple will discontinue. First there’s the 17-inch MacBook Pro. Yes, I gather that sales aren’t near as high as the 15-inch model, but a lot of content creators require the larger MacBook Pros for studio work in the field. People like me still want the larger screen, but it’s all about Apple’s commitment to that audience despite low sales.

    The same concerns apply to the Mac Pro. The newest Xeon chips are shipping, and it would cost relatively little for Apple to develop a new model with faster processors, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, and all the other goodies. Apple makes huge profits from the fully-outfitted Mac Pros, so there seems little incentive not to keep them available.

    Sure, I suppose that Apple could amaze us all and deliver a Mac Pro in a new dress, ditching that butt-ugly cheese grater cabinet in exchange for something slim and elegant. Just the other day, I was helping a colleague resolve some problems with Final Cut Pro on a 2006 Mac Pro. As I lugged the thing down the stairs to his car, once again I was reminded of the fact that this is one overweight beast in serious need of a diet.

    Now speaking of consequences, as Microsoft decides how much to charge for Windows 8, I wonder how they’d react of Apple makes Mountain Lion free. We already have the iOS precedent, and the move would encourage Mac users to upgrade real fast. It’s a sure thing Apple doesn’t have to worry so much about lost profits, but making Microsoft freak as they attempt to find a competitive price for Windows 8 would be a most enjoyable way to spend a summer.



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