• The Apple Hardware Report: Now About the Rest of the Year

    September 27th, 2012

    Despite the smattering of complaints about the iPhone 5, few dispute the fact that it will be yet another major success for Apple. The fact that Apple “only” sold five million copies as of the first weekend has cooled the stock ardor for a bit, but it appears investors will soon take a reality pill and the stock price will soon resume its upward march.

    One thing: There are now suggestions that, even if sufficient inventory was available, it would have been near impossible to sell more than a couple of million more iPhones that first weekend. There are just so many orders that can be rung up, although introducing the thing in more countries would make the difference for at least a few years.

    In any case, what else does Apple have in store for their devoted fans?

    Well, there were reports recently that stocks of the iMac had dried up, fueling expectations for a new model. Certainly Apple’s a little late to the game, since the Intel Ivy Bridge chips the iMac would probably use have been out for a while. Some suggest that Apple is gearing up for a more substantial upgrade, perhaps similar in scope to late 2009, where the iMac suddenly became an extremely powerful personal computer that rivaled the Mac Pro and occasionally exceeded that workstation in performance.

    I suppose it’s possible for Apple to slim it down, and ditch the optical drive, though I think that’s less necessary on a desktop computer. It can still be made thinner, without ditching a component that at least some users regard as still essential. Regardless, I’d like to see Apple ease the hard drive replacement process. It’s traditional with iMacs over the years that you have to take the things almost totally apart to add or replace a drive. Since Apple sells versions with both traditional and solid state drives, an easy installation scheme for both would be a real advantage, particularly for professional users.

    However, it doesn’t seem reasonable to make a Retina display version. The price premium for, say, a 27-inch high-resolution display, would be too much except, perhaps, as an option.

    But most of the attention is being focused on the prospects for an iPad mini. With more and more cheaper tablets out there hoping to grab the low end of the market, some wonder whether Apple will use the same scheme they employed with the iPod by releasing a mini or “nano” version. For quite some time now, there have been photos of alleged prototype components depicting an alleged 7.85-inch model.

    Such an iPad would offer more screen real estate than the existing 7-inch widescreen tablets from Amazon, Google and Google partners. Sure, Steve Jobs made an often-quoted statement that he thought customers would need sandpaper to use a smaller tablet. But a somewhat larger version, with the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the standard iPad, would offer sufficient screen real estate.

    But when might such a beast arrive? For robust holiday sales, the rumors point to an October arrival, right after the furor dies down a bit over the arrival of the iPhone 5, but not too late to compete head on with Kindles, Nooks and all the rest.

    The main question is how much an iPad mini might cost. If Apple is charging $299 for a 32GB fifth generation iPod touch, what would they get for a larger iPad with comparable storage? $399. That would encroach on iPad 2 territory, or perhaps that model is due for end of life. A 16GB iPad mini for $299 would be just the ticket to go against the various and sundry $199 competitors, offering the full iPad experience. And remember that the cheapest tablets are restricted to 8GB storage.

    Perhaps Apple will also cut the prices of the iPod touch to differentiate the models a bit more. Remember that the these products aren’t shipping until October, so there’s time for Apple to revise the prices. Certainly analysts would have been thrown off the track, and it would probably not be a serious problem for Apple to credit those who placed preorders. Usually merchandise isn’t charged against a customer’s credit card until it’s near ready to ship anyway.

    Would there be anything else in Apple’s arsenal? Maybe another Apple TV, or perhaps a revised software update that would support direct hookup to cable and satellite providers? Regardless of where Apple takes their hobby, there appear to be few signs pointing to an actual TV set, at least for this year. Has that ship sailed, or did Steve Jobs simply drop those comments about inventing the greatest TV interface ever to spook the competition? They’d be spending millions to design products meant to compete with a fictional Apple competitor. Maybe Steve is up there laughing at their lame attempts to make TVs more user friendly in setup and regular use.

    Perhaps Apple might also flesh out the MacBook family with a 13-inch Retina display variant, and maybe there will be a new Mac mini. Or a surprise, something the rumor sites haven’t picked up on yet. Apple has been known to pull things out of left field, but it’s getting harder to keep secrets these days.

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