Predictions for MacWorld 2008

Predictions for MacWorld 2008

Macworld is right around the corner and for tech pundits like me this means that open season on prognosticating has arrived. The pursuit of Apple leaks this time of year is a perk that comes with Apple fanboyism. The practical among us will wonder why we bother, but the answer is simple – it’s fun.

No other company in the world has the ability to delight its audiences with new products the way Apple does. These yearly revelations include home run hits and the occasional head-scratcher. Regardless of the outcome, half of the fun is in guessing what new product might be introduced and what existing product will get an update.

This fanaticism even extends to the ring master of Apple’s annual circus, Mr. Steve Jobs. Apple’s messianic leader, who quarterbacked the company’s miraculous return from the jaws of death less than a decade ago, takes center stage whenever there are good announcements to be made. With his key note confirmed several weeks ago, we know there is going to be good stuff for stock holders, fan boys and Apple haters alike.

Famous for his reality distortion field, whereby seemingly innocuous announcements are greeted by standing ovations and raucous applause, Jobs has a charisma that is fuori classe. He is in a different league than the other CEOs, essentially the Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky of the tech sector. Not only does he have superior hype-generating skills, he can sell his product in a way the average consumer understands. What’s that, you want more hyperbole? Steve Jobs is the best sales person in the world. Furthermore he is fantastically adept at keeping his talented workforce focused and secretive.

As someone that watches the industry with an eagle eye I convince myself each year that I might get some predictions right, but those are just my delusions. In reality I only ever one or two small bits partially right. Like a fantasy sports fan that thinks he or she could GM a successful pro sports franchise, this is really just spare time fun with sports elements replaced by tech (and Apple specifically).

So with that disclaimer out of the way and for those of you left reading this article I give you my predictions. Enjoy!

Sure Bet Announcements:

  • Jobs will announce some terrific sales results, probably another record quarter for Mac and iPod. Items that will be singled out: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, new iMac and the continued success of the portable lineup. Notebooks will represent proportionally more of overall sales, continuing a long trend in Apple’s sales mix.

  • MacBook Pros and Mac Pros will get CPU updates in the form of Intel’s Core 2 and XEON die shrink (Penryn and Wolfdale). Intel’s Tick Tock road map continues to move with the desired clockwork precision and this has paid huge dividends for Apple whose products are no longer crippled by PowerPC.

Yeah, I know these are pretty safe predictions, but you have to start somewhere.

Highly Likely:

  • LED back lights will be in all Apple LCD products by . This includes displays and notebooks.
  • Further green initiatives. Related to the LED announcement – there might be a small marketing push around this (perhaps an endorsement of some kind). Intel’s performance per Watt might also come up. Jobs issued a statement in saying that Apple was committed to becoming a greener corporate citizen, what ever that entails or however they envision that, I would expect there to be substantive changes or procedures in place before the one year anniversary of the statement.
  • Many have been calling for a MacBook Pro sub-notebook, a spiritual successor to the 12 PowerBook. I don’t think we will see that need addressed from within the MacBook Pro line. Small notebooks (as much as I personally like them) are a small portion of the overall market and tend to cost a premium.
  • MacBook refresh with LED back lighting. The 13″ display size is a good compromise between the 12″ and 14″ iBooks that preceded it. I don’t think any new screen sizes will be announced.

Not too crazy:

  • HSDPA modems from AT&T for MacBook Pros and perhaps a subsidy plan available direct from the Apple Store. Given the iPhone partnership I am surprised this has not already happened. Apple can handle activations; they have a long term deal with AT&T, why stop at the iPhone?
  • More details on the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch SDK and how applications will be distributed. My guess is that native apps will need to pass a quality control certification, much like games for video game consoles. Certified products will be distributed electronically via Apple’s existing infrastructure; iTMS.

That’s crazy talk:

  • There are many rumours circulating of a ultra portable MacBook Pro. I don’t think that is what we will get. Instead, I think we will see the MacBook Touch.’

Artist’s “fake” MacBook Touch (view large image)

  • MacBook Touch: If you have used an iPhone or iPod Touch you might understand the enormous potential of this device type – I think Apple understands it now even if it caught them by surprise. Multi-touch is going to be huge and pervasive in the apple lineup – it is just getting started. This device will be a 10-12″ tablet form factor PC whose appearance will be similar to the iPod Touch (only bigger). It will have a glass front with black trim (with a single Home button) and a matte aluminum posterior. Input will be through multi-touch (but it will have host USB for attaching a keyboard). The interface will be more like the iPod than Leopard’s desktop. It will be simplified and fast. It will not have any moving parts, instead relying on 32 or 64 GB of flash memory. Like an iPod Touch, there will be almost zero start up time. I expect the CPU will be an Intel ARM or low power X86 chip (more likely the latter as Intel attempts to displace ARM in the lower power device space). The clock-speed will be 1.0-1.2 GHz to keep temps down and avoid the use of active cooling. Battery life will be 6-8 hours. Wireless will be 802.11x, Bluetooth and possible a data service from AT&T designed just for this device.
      • 10-12″ LED LCD featuring Multi-touch – personally I think the 10″ would be good, but a 12″ would fit a hole in Apple’s portable lineup better
      • 32 or 64 GB of Flash memory
      • Glass and brushed aluminum construction
      • OSX light the embedded version of the Mac OS rather than full Leopard
      • 1 – 1.2 GHz CPU – Intel x86 or ARM core
      • Long battery life, 6-8 hours
      • 802.11abgn, Bluetooth (including stereo audio profile), Built-in HSDPA (optional)
      • MagSafe adapter, and possibly a nice minimalistic dock (think bigger iPod dock)
      • User friendly remote access between the MacBook Touchand a host device.
  • MacBook Touch: It will have iWork applications embedded (or they will be available for purchase at launch). Applications will be bought and installed through the iTunes store. When plugged into a Mac or Windows PC a large portion of memory will be available for copying files over. Apple’s iSync and .Mac services would really flesh this product out.
  • MacBook Touch: This is a companion device. It does not replace a desktop, but it might replace a notebook for many people. It is the fully realized version of a device that Bill Gates described to the media several years ago prior to the launch of TabletPC.
  • As Apple’s stock price continues to soar, there might be some talk (and worry) of succession planning at the top. Although I think it is really early to think of Jobs retiring, he probably has a pretty good idea who the next person at the helm should be. We might start to see Jobs share the spot light with his protege and seeming heir apparent, Jonathan Ives. Jobs has handed the reigns of Apple over to a pure business person once already in the past and that was a disaster. What Apple needs after Jobs, if the company’s steep upward trajectory is to be continued, is a person with similar drive and vision to that of Jobs. Right now there only appears to be one person that even comes close to fitting those shoes.

Those are my picks, but frankly I am more interested to hear yours. Years have passed since I knew anyone at Cupertino, and those folks would have never uttered even a hint of what was coming (believe me I tried at the time). So this has been an exercise in playful cloud watching and what-if’ing.

What do you, our valued reader, think will be unveiled at Macworld? Let the games begin!





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