Wednesday, 31 December 2008

iServe "Library of Congress" marketing concept

OK, so the Library of Congress is estimated to hold 82.6 terabytes of data, but it's a nice idea :)
Click on the image to see it in all its high-res glory, including library image from iStockPhoto

Expecting a tablet from Apple? Keep taking the pills.

In the Mac rumorsphere, there are some memes that, like stubborn stains, refuse to fade away. One such errant idea is that of a tablet computer from Apple. Over the past decade, it seems almost every commentator has at some point anticipated such a device, and yet, to date it has not materialised, and it's unlike that it ever will.

Steve Jobs has always seemed pretty smug about sitting out of the whole pen-based computing thing. On his return to Apple in 1997, killing the Newton (a stylus-based device) was one of his first executive decisions. And there seemed to be a degree of schadenfreude about his analysis of Bill Gate's failed Tablet PC concept. (Gates famously predicted that by 2006, the tablet "will be the most popular form of PC sold in America").

So, the rumor community, reluctantly giving up on the cherished notion of a Mac tablet, have moved on to speculating about the possibility of an enormous iPod touch instead. Apparently it's obvious that we want our electronics bigger, rather than smaller. We tire of being able to hold an iPod in one hand and sling it in our pockets, and would prefer something much larger and heavier, with a lower resolution screen, so that we can play iPod touch games on a device that they were not designed to run on, and are not really suited for.

Apple is, in all probability, working on a next generation iPod touch with different dimensions and weight - but they're doubtless thinking about how not make it thinner and lighter, not bigger and heavier!

G5 PowerBook next Tuesday, anyone?

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Apple's Home Server Solution - you heard it here first!

In the current rumor recession, the blogosphere has become ravenous over mere morsels. The iPhone 3G rumor is barely worth commenting on, beyond observing that various iPhone accessory manufacturers seem to be having some fun. Of more interest is 9to5Mac's take on the possibility of a home server from Apple. This is something that MacPredictions anticipated way back in March - here it is again, for your delectation.

Apple TV, Take 3: turning a hobby into a business

Last year's update to Apple TV may not have been an aesthetic improvement (certainly not from a user interface perspective), but it did go some way to addressing functional shortcomings with the original product. Nonetheless, it didn't deliver the cut-through that Apple was clearly hoping for in 2008, and continual references to it as a "hobby" indicate an ambivalence on the company's part, presumably due to disappointing sales.

So what is going wrong, and what should Apple do about it? On one level, it appears that this is a area in which Apple is well positioned to clean up. With the world's most "popular" DRM system, most successful digital music and video store, and expertise in both software and hardware design, who could be better positioned to define this emerging space? But there are lingering problems with Apple's offering which probably account for the product's ongoing inertia:
  • People don't want too many boxes under their TV, and Apple TV is just another box
  • There's functional crossover with boxes they already have (e.g. Cable On Demand, XBox 360 Netflix)
  • Apple TV doesn't have presence in (the right) stores when people are choosing PVRs
  • Apple is not a recognised brand in this space
  • Cable/Satellite services offer free boxes, or deals on boxes
  • TV products must accommodate regional variation, Apple's marketing is global
  • The Apple-esque styling of Apple TV is an acquired taste (tiny remote, anonymous box)
There is one obvious solution to all of the above problems, but it would somewhat go against the grain for Apple: license the platform to 3rd party developers. This would allow everything from the Nintendo Wii to the latest DVD recorders from Toshiba and Samsung, to integrate with iTunes, delivering both the reach and the range that is essential to create a mass-market for a product that Apple seems to struggle to achieve alone.

It would be difficult medicine for Apple to swallow. Every bit as sour as the humble pie that Microsoft guzzled when they moved in the diametrically opposite direction, by abandoning their "Plays for Sure" licensing strategy for music players in favour of the vertically integrated Zune.

Occasional MacPredictions correspondent Doug Best anticipates something similar. In a recent e-mail he says "Apple is investigating the possibility of releasing the Apple TV OS as a separate box purchase. In other words, take an old iMac or Mini that's just laying around, install the Apple TV OS on it, and boom, you have an Apple TV. Sell it for $79 and it probably has more profit margin than the Apple TV itself. And then those users are buying iTunes content."

Perhaps the product that Doug is alluding to is in fact Snow Leopard, where the Front Row product may finally be merged with Apple TV. In which case, upgrading to Snow Leopard would effectively enable you to convert an old Mac Mini into an Apple TV - especially if it includes an option in System Preference to boot straight into Apple TV mode.

Not sure whether Doug's ideas are based on a source, of if it's just informed speculation, but it's not such a large step on from selling the OS retail, to selling it wholesale (albeit, a gigantic cultural leap for Apple, who are currently pursuing Psystar in court for distributing OS X on non-Apple-branded hardware).

PS: This is MacPrediction's 100th post :)

Monday, 29 December 2008

Communion with Apple in 2009 - where, when, how and what?

With the downgrading of next month's MacWorld from a Stevenote to a Philnote, MacPredictions doesn't expect any major announcements, beyond a launch date for Snow Leopard, and some incremental updates for iMac, Mac Pro, Cinema Displays and Mac Mini. Nonetheless, the new year will inevitably usher in a major new product announcement at some point.

Apple have accounted for their non-attendance at future trade shows by observing that the Apple Store provides them with a more effective way of interacting with consumers all year round. This is doubtless true, but as much as we all love our local Apple Store, its hardly a substitute for keynotes to launch products.

On that point, it's worth remembering that Apple's own Worldwide Developer Conference is still in the calendar, and remains likely to be graced by the obligatory Stevenote. Then, there's the annual media event to launch the new batch of iPods in the fall. And lets also not forget that Apple has been known to host other ad-hoc special events when they have a new product to launch to the media.

In fact, it's probably a blessing that Apple is moving away from the annual MacWorld keynote format. After all, whilst they've had their moments, (2007's launch of the iPhone being a particular highlight), they do have a tendency to turn into two-hour snooze-a-thons, when announcements are thin on the ground, and Steve makes up the time by jamming with his old pal John Mayer.

Ironically, we may be in for more events, not less, in 2009 - they'll just take the form of shorter, more focused media events, when Apple has something to say. And despite the recession, Apple is likely to have plenty to talk about in 2009. Last time the economy slowed, after the dotcom collapse, Apple famously innovated their way out of the recession. The result was their prescient digital lifestyle strategy from which we got such innovations as iMovie, iTunes, iPhoto and iPod. Apple's investment in R&D is now at an all-time high - who knows what they'll deliver this time. Plenty to speculate on in this blog in the coming weeks...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

What can we expect from a Schiller MacWorld, and beyond?

With Apple's recent de-emphasis of MacWorld, we may expect the announcements that Phil Schiller has to make to be reasonably low-key. The consensus view seems to favor a demonstration of Snow Leopard, with an earlier than expected release. The release date of 10.6 is, however, unlikely to coincide with MacWorld itself. Based upon previous OS X launches, it's more likely that it will be announced and demoed at MacWorld, but not launched until March.

Some have argued that Apple is rushing 10.6 to market before Windows 7 is released. But this also seems unlikely, for two reasons. Firstly, Apple was always planning to release 10.6 by Summer 2009, which means it was going to be out before Windows 7 anyway. And secondly, 10.6 is not a normal Mac OS X release - since it's focused almost exclusively on stability and performance improvements, rather than marketable new features.

In fact, given the focus of 10.6, it's likely that it will be a free release for users of 10.5. After all, with new features limited to arcane things like Exchange support, Grand Central and all-Cocoa apps, to charge consumers for the update would look a lot like charging to fix bugs in the existing product.

Instead, we can expect a relatively low-key Snow Leopard announcement - which perhaps goes some way to explaining the choice of Schiller rather than Jobs to headline MacWorld.

There's plenty more in the pipeline of course. The new Mac Mini will be an evolution, rather than revolution, and recent revelations indicate that it is likely to be launched at MacWorld. The new unibody 17" Macbook Pro (pictured above), will almost certainly be released at some point in 2009. But is unlikely to be ready for MacWorld, instead being quietly added to the Apple website in May. I'm basing this prediction on the rollout of the previous revision to Apple's notebook enclosures. In that instance, it was the 15" model that was released last, trailing the launch of the 12" and 17" models by around 10 months.

Finally, there have been plenty of rumors doing the rounds about a smaller, non-3G iPhone. However, given the importance of 3G in the iPhone proposition, it seems unlikely that they'll release a non-3G version at this stage. A smaller form factor is more likely, although the size of the user interface elements in a multi-touch environment is a significant physical limitation on just how far Apple can miniaturize. The screen can't go much smaller without requiring the introduction of a variant of the iPhone UI, and it's very unlikely that Apple would consider this. Also, Apple is unlikely to update the iPhone until the current model has been out for a year, (since it would risk alienating existing iPhone 3G users). Which means the next model will probably be released at WWDC in the Summer. Best guess is that the new iPhone will have a slimmer, metal, iPod touch style enclosure and a better camera with video support, in 16GB and 32GB flavors.

Steve Jobs' no-win situation

Benjamin Franklin once told a tale of an old man riding a donkey, with his young son walking by his side in the muddy road. When passers-by criticized the old man for making his son walk in the dirt, he invited his son to join him on the donkey's back. But a new group of passers-by criticized this arrangement too, arguing that it was unfair on the donkey to make him bare such weight. So the old man dismounted, to walk alongside the young man on the donkey. But further criticism followed from yet another group, who criticized the young man for monopolizing the donkey at the old man's expense. Exasperated, the old man and young man responded by both walking, leading the donkey with no rider. But this arrangement also incurred the criticism of passers by, who argued that it was ridiculous for both men to walk in the dirt, when one of them could ride.

Whilst everyone is familiar with the phrase "you can't please them all," Franklin was making a different point. Sometimes you can't please any of them, and it's fruitless to try.

Steve Jobs finds himself in just such a predicament. As the press hounded Apple this year for information on Jobs' health status, the company responded by saying this was a personal matter. Fair enough, one might say. What could be more personal than someone's medical records? But this response didn't seem to satisfy a juvenile contingent within the media, who sought to whip up a controversy on a slow news day.

Jobs' charismatic and visionary leadership has played no small part in Apple's remarkable turnaround. And it is obviously for this reason that commentators are so antsy about his health. They have criticized the company for being too exposed to one single employee. In an attempt to rectify this perception of over-dependance, Jobs has, on more than one occasion, contrived to share the stage with other executives. But this seemingly reasonable step has only resulted in further hounding about Jobs' health. "He's not up to doing an entire keynote by himself?"

Franklin adds a characteristically wry and unexpected twist to the end of his tale. The two men, despairing of how they might please all passers-by, ultimately decided to abandon their donkey, and proceed on foot. Only to receive criticism from passers-by for embarking on such a grueling journey without adequate transport.

In a similar fashion, this week, Apple abruptly announced that it was pulling out of future MacWorld Expos, and Jobs would not be delivering a keynote this year. If they imagined that this might settle the journalists' rumblings, they were certainly wrong. Like Franklin's passers-by, they'll moan whatever the company does. They just like moaning.

Steve Jobs is a remarkable public speaker. His vision, passion and energy are infectious. His charisma is magnetic. There can be no better way to launch the company's products than with a keynote from the guy that supplies Apple with its vision. Who knows what tomorrow brings? Why worry? For today, let the guy do what he does best, and, like Franklin, pay no heed to the idle criticism of passers-by.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Lawrence Lessig and Seth Godin need to bone up on Apple

I've been obsessing about all things Apple for almost two decades, but I've only started writing about it recently. Conversely, since the meteoric rise of the company, many who have been writing about other things for many years have only recently weighed in on Apple... And it shows.

Two books recently caught my eye in this regard, and I'm happy to offer a hand in getting the facts straight. Firstly, digital marketing Guru Seth Godin's new tome, "Tribes," which gushingly describes how we may all become leaders. One of Godin's favorite leaders turns out to be Steve Jobs, whom he returns to over and over again to illustrate almost every conceivable facet of leadership.

Of course, I agree with Godin, as far as adulation of our dear leader goes, but then, tragically, inaccuracy strikes, and pedantic Apple fans like myself are forced to object. Godin claims: "Steve Jobs was wrong about the Apple III, wrong about the NeXT computer, wrong about the Newton. Insanely wrong. You know the rest." Well, for the record, Jobs didn't invent the Newton. In fact, one of his first executive decisions upon his return to the company was to kill the struggling PDA division. If we were to be charitable, we might assume that Godin means that Jobs was wrong to scrap the Newton - but how does he know this? If that's what he means, it's a pretty weak argument. And in fact, there are plenty of better examples of Apple getting it wrong that Godin could have chosen: the G4 Cube, anyone?

The second text that caught my eye was from the (otherwise brilliant) Lawrence Lessig, who oddly argues in his new book "Remix" that the Apache web server is subject to "fierce competition from proprietary server companies such as Microsoft and Apple." Apple? Really? Last time I heard, Apple was using Apache as it's web server solution for Mac OS X. Besides which, (sadly) few would seriously consider Mac OS X as a platform for web hosting.

Know any more high profile writers who could benefit from some Apple fact-checking? Let MacPredictions know.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Apple Search Engine Non-Rumor

MacPredictions anticipated a rumor recession, but never anything quite this severe! Now we're being subjected to non-rumors: yesterday's hot news first reported by Tech Crunch, is that Apple isn't building a search engine. This is probably just as well, since Apple would probably be just as bad at search engines as Google has proved to be with smart phones.

But, on the basis that where there's smoke, there's fire, we can infer from the reports that there is something up with Apple and search. Albeit that interpreting the rumorsphere is sometimes a little like talking to lassie.

Of Apple's various bits of kit, the one most desperately in need of a search engine is undoubtedly iPhone. Whilst the recent 2.0 update introduced search to Contacts, it bizarrely didn't introduce it to the iPod app, despite the fact that regular iPods (at a fraction of iPhone's price) have offered this feature for years.

What's really required is a system-wide search tool - probably called Spotlight, with a nice blue magnifier icon, which searches metadata across all installed apps, including Mail, SMS, iPod and Contacts. An especially handy feature for the well-connected, who may search for Bono, in order to get both his phone number and back catalog in a single, unified search result.

It's hardly rocket science - this is a feature that the humble Palm Pilot (remember them?) was able to offer from day one. Let's hope it's on the iPhone team's to-do list... oh no, they don't have one of those yet either...

Delays to new headphones may point the way to voice memos and speech recognition on iPhone and touch

Recently, this blog argued that optimizations in Snow Leopard may result in Speech Recognition and Text to Speech making their way into the iPhone. Of course, iPhone already offers some speech recognition support via 3rd party apps, such as Say Who. And today, Google has made a big splash with their announcement of speech recognition for their iPhone Google app. But the true potential for speech recognition on iPhone will only be realized when it is introduced system-wide. And here's some unadulterated speculation of just how that might work...

Firstly, there are two categories of speech recognition: speech-to-text processing and direct voice input. The former is what you get from apps such as MacSpeech Dictate. The latter is what you get out of the box with a Mac - in Apple parlance, it's known as "Speakable Items". The advantage of Speakable Items is that the system only needs to listen out for a short list of possible commands, rather than attempting to interpret infinite possible combinations of words from the entire dictionary. Speech-to-text is processor intensive, and may be tricky to get working on an iPhone. Direct voice input is pretty straightforward by comparison, and is already offered on numerous competitor handsets.

So what kinds of services would direct voice input enable? Firstly, I'd argue that it's all to do with headphones. It's not interesting to be able to bark voice commands when you're already interacting with the touch interface. It's only really interesting when you're on the move, and can't get the phone out of your bag - say you're driving, or walking, listening to music. Imagine being able to press the headphone button once (to pause the music, plus to activate the speakable items listen command). Then you could give one of the following commands:
  • time: the phone's voice tells you the time
  • call [name]: this one's obvious!
  • last call: the phone's voice tells you the last caller
  • last text: the phone's voice tells you who just sent you a text
  • last e-mail: the phone's voice tells you who just sent you an e-mail
  • open [app name]: the app is launched (ideal for apps with voice interface)
  • play [song name]: play's song in iPod app
This feature may even be one of the reasons why Apple's new headphones with mic have been delayed. We've already had software updates for the 4GB iPod nano, and the 120GB Classic iPod, but notably no update (yet) for the iPod touch. Rumor has it that the iPhone 2.2 update is due imminently - this will presumably add support for the new headphones, although, Apple claims the mic will only be supported on the 2nd generation touch. Apple will also presumably add an iPod Touch (and iPhone) app for voice memos, since it would be strange to offer this on the iPod nano, but not the more powerful touch. Since the latest builds of the 2.2 software don't appear to contain a built-in Voice Memo app, Apple probably plans to distribute it as a free download from the store - in a similar fashion to Remote.

Is Kevin Rose untouchable?

Have you seen this month's Inc magazine? OK, so it's not the kind of magazine I normally read either. But whilst waiting for a flight at Philadelphia airport tonight, I saw Kevin Rose staring at me from the front cover of Inc, on the newsstand.

I bought a copy, to read the article, entitled "How Kevin Rose captured the hearts and minds of the most desirable customers on the face of the planet." It painted a picture that was somewhat different from the convivial bon-vivant we know and love from Diggnation.

It portrayed Rose as the next Rupert Murdoch - you decide whether that's a compliment or not, I couldn't tell. It also described the breathless adulation that Rose encountered at a recent Diggnation live event in New York. This certainly tallies with my experience in (attempting to) attend Diggnation at FOWA in London, last month. This was not like attending an esoteric geek-meet, it was more like a U2 stadium gig.

Well, to cut to the chase, this article got me thinking. Many have speculated that Apple's policy towards protecting their secrets has changed in the light of the company's lack of response to Rose's iPod nano leak. But an alternative explanation comes to mind. Has Rose become untouchable? As Nicholas Ciarelli (aka Nick De Plume, aka Think Secret) himself speculates, "perhaps Apple is now seeking to avoid legal fisticuffs with more established companies that are less likely to cave in to its demands." Rose is more than just a company, of course, he's an online legend, with thousands of follows (whom, if Inc's photoshoot is to be believed, chase him around wherever he goes, like dewey-eyed sycophants.)

Unlike Inc magazine, I'm not implying that Rose is powerful on a Rupert Murdoch/Mr Burns level, but rather that he's become what is known in the UK as a "Queen Mum." Or in other words, someone in the public eye who is regarded so fondly that not a word can be said against them. It turns out that Manuel from Faulty Towers also falls into this category, as Russell Brand learned to his cost, whilst George W Bush and the Jonas Brothers do not.

Of course, it is possible that Apple have decided to relax their attitude towards leaks, but I doubt it. It's very likely that their security efforts are focusing more on prevention, rather than those tell-tale take down notices of yore. But I can't help suspecting that Apple doesn't dare to take on Rose, because they can't afford to incur the wrath of his fan base.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The implications of Snow Leopard for iPhone

Apple are in the process of performing origami on Mac OS X, to reduce the disk space footprint of everyone's favorite OS. This effort will be much appreciated by all those who have forgone a spacious hard drive for the tighter confines of a solid-state drive.

But MacBooks are not the only OS X based systems to come with solid-state drives. iPhone and iPod Touch are even more constrained in terms of storage. Of course, the iPhone version of OS X is a very different beast to Mac OS X, and we shouldn't expect iPhone to be running Snow Leopard.

Nonetheless, system components from the Mac, such as QuickTime, have, in some form, made their way onto the iPhone, and it is reasonable to expect others to find there way there in due course - especially once they've been re-factored to reduce their storage footprint.

Next up to make the transition in MacPredictions opinion is Speech Recognition and Text to Speech (TTS). Plenty of mobile phones already boast voice interfaces, but not the iPhone. And it would be a very Jobsian sentiment to say that they held off on introducing this until they'd got it exactly right, and that it turned out they'd already solved it in Leopard in a way that outclasses any voice functionality currently available on a mobile device. The challenge is, of course, cramming such a storage-intensive component into a confined space. And that's where Snow Leopard's refactoring comes in.

Expect to see Job's proudly demonstrating Apple's Alex Voice reading an e-mail at high speed on an iPhone at January's MacWorld.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Secrets of the Genius Bar

Apple may be one of the world’s most innovative companies, but they’ve been known to make the odd mistake. Strangely, whilst most moaning about the company tends to focus on trivial issues, like which apps make their way onto the App store, more fundamental problems frequently go unnoticed.

To redress these omissions, MacPredictions introduces a new occasional feature: “Secrets of the Genius Bar” where we shall explore those issues that are (probably) keeping Apple Store staff awake at night. Here are three to get us started. Know any more? Let me know.

1. Nike+iPod reset bug on 4G iPod nano
The beautifully multicolored new nano’s are afflicted with a major software flaw for users of Nike+. The unit intermittently resets upon completing a workout, losing all workout data in the process. Some think it’s associated with the congratulation message you receive on achieving a personal best, but others have experienced it without getting a congratulation message. Since capturing your workout data is the whole point of the product, this is a serious issue.

2. Time Capsule stalls on “Preparing Backup”
If you interrupt a backup to Time Capsule - for example, by putting your MacBook to sleep whilst a backup is in progress - the next time you attempt a backup, it will likely fail. Typically, it will hang on the “Preparing Backup” stage. Waiting for anything up to 60 hours may coax it into completing that backup, but the problem tends to reoccur - Time Capsule then becomes incapable of performing incremental backups - and will instead attempt full backups every time.

3. Macbook Air screen bezel becomes damaged through regular use
The Air is so delicate that pressure arising from carrying it around in a normal laptop bag may result in the top of the screen’s bezel from becoming shiny and worn as it rubs against the trackpad button when the unit is closed.

Update: The latest software update for the 4G iPod nano claims to fix the Nike+iPod reset bug - time will tell if this is truly the case - in the meantime, most uses are unlikely to risk allowing Tiger Woods to finish his congratulatory message.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The rumor-recession begins

We've enjoyed a boom in terms of Apple news in the last few weeks. We got greedy, and now comes the crunch. The sad fact is that we're now entering an Apple rumor-recession, and we can't expect a bail out from the authorities in Cupertino any time soon.

Talk of Snow Leopard's Cocoa apps, and speed bumps for iMacs is thin gruel. There's nothing for it but for us to tighten our belts and weather the winter, and hope that MacWorld 2009 brings us something new. But what? iLife'09? Jobs jamming with John Mayer again? It's hard to see what we now have to look forward to.

The future looks bleak, and we at MacPredictions want to do our bit to re-invigorate the rumorshere. There's one product that we can think of that we love to bits and is surely due for an update... iPod Socks. Yes, they're fabulously stylish and perfect for keeping your treasured iPod scratch-free. But they're a little tight for an iPhone, yet a little too big for a nano. And those colours are so last season... so outré.

We give you... the socks that every iPod and iPhone will be wearing Spring 2009.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Today's announcements, anticipated last year

(December 2007)

(March 2008)

Last year, this blog made a post entitled glossy black frames everywhere, where we speculated that the new Macbook Pro would have shiny black frames around the screens, and adopt low-profile plastic keys like the Macbook and iMac. We also anticipated a new Cinema Display with a glossy black frame:

"It will of course have an aluminium outer enclosure, perhaps with some shiny chrome, black fittings and generous radial corners, but when you open it up, you can expect to see a thin, glossy black frame around that screen, and low profile white keys on that lovely shiny metal base. We can expect to see glossy black bezels around Cinema Displays in the new year as well."

Turns out we were right on both counts, just a year ahead of our time.

In other respects, our later mockups were pretty close - if only we'd combined the top of one mockup with the bottom of the other!

We were also correct in guessing that if Apple introduced a glass trackpad, it would be because of the feel under touch, rather than for an LED display in trackpad, and we said they may introduce glass screens:

"It's more likely that, if the new Macbook introduces glass as a material at all, it will be used in some other way: maybe a glass screen like the iMac, or if the trackpad itself is glass, this would probably be just for the feel of the material under the finger, rather than because Apple wanted to put a screen on the trackpad."

Once again, 9to5Mac wins the prize for most on-the-money predictions, and Kevin Rose's prediction about Blu-Ray turned out to be a flop, albeit he did concede last week that it wasn't from one of his good sources. Seems I was wrong about those spy-shots over the weekend though - looks like they were real after all.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Glass trackpad? Transparent speculation!

Some people in the rumorsphere are claiming that the next generation MacBooks will sport "glass trackpads". The implication is that they'll have little LED displays under your finger, like an iPhone interface, doing... goodness knows what.

The truth is that anyone with an ounce of user interface knowledge will intuitively understand that this idea does not work. When you're using a trackpad, you're looking at the screen, not the trackpad itself. So you simply would not see whatever is on the trackpad display. Besides which, the position of the trackpad means that it's largely obscured by your hand when you're using it. In order to use a trackpad as if it was an iPhone, you'd need to hold you Macbook up to your eyes using one hand and use the trackpad with your other, staring at the trackpad, rather than the screen.

The best illustration of how flawed this concept truly is comes from the recent fake spy shots illustrating the Mac OS X Dock moved from the main screen to the trackpad. If we can get past the obvious problem that there wouldn't be space for many apps on a Dock that size, can you really imaging performing tasks like dragging a document from the main screen down to the trackpad?

It's more likely that, if the new Macbook introduces glass as a material at all, it will be used in some other way: maybe a glass screen like the iMac, or if the trackpad itself is glass, this would probably be just for the feel of the material under the finger, rather than because Apple wanted to put a screen on the trackpad.

Whilst an iPhone-style trackpad is an amusing idea, let's be honest, it isn't going to happen. All that this kind of rumor serves to produce is the frustrated whining that we've come to know and love on the MacRumors messageboards after every major Apple product announcement. So for the record, let's also clear up that the new MacBooks won't solve the current economic crisis, won't offer a cure for cancer, and won't usher in a new age of world peace.

Friday, 10 October 2008

New Kevin Rose Rumor on Macbooks

Kevin Rose, has dug up another Apple rumor in anticipation of Tuesday's Apple notebook event. According to his sources, the new Macbooks will sport Blu-Ray drives. A plausible supposition - certainly as a built-to-order option.

Hi to everyone who was at Future of Web Apps in London, UK, where Kevin and Alex were recording a live Diggnation. I was one of the guys standing out in the cold without a pass. Doh!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

As expected, Apple notebook invite arrives

Whilst some had practically given up hope for an Apple Event next week, the invites have finally arrived. So it's time to brace ourselves for an intensive week of geeky speculation.

Did you get one in your inbox? Nah, nor did we.

Two observations, based upon the invite design:
  • Use of the term "notebooks" implies that we might be talking about more than one model (i.e. not just Macbook Pro, but also Macbook and maybe even Macbook Air)
  • Use of silver Macbook Pro in photo might indicate that the exterior enclosure design is not going to change as much as anticipated

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

MacPredictions calls 'fake' on latest Macbook Pro spy-shot

The latest spyshot appearing on MacRumors and Engadget looks like a fake, in my opinion. Whilst the recessed keyboard, Air-style, is consistent with this blog's predictions, there's one detail that doesn't ring true, and gives the game away: the mike and headphone jacks. On all Apple laptops, they have grey plastic inner lining, whereas in this "spyshot" they appear to have a shiny metal lip, flush to the exterior enclosure. That just doesn't look pretty against a matt aluminum surface, and it isn't Apple's style to get a detail like that wrong.

Other points of interest - the alleged Macbook in the photo does not appear to have the new trademark bulge/taper design sported by the Air, and expected to appear on the rest of the range. Also, whilst several forum posters have argued that the image depicts a "brick" enclosure, tooled from a single block of aluminum this photo clearly shows a join where the top surface component butts with the side panel. (MacPredictions thinks the single brick of aluminum theory is far-fetched anyway, so this isn't the reason we think the shot is fake).

Update: There's something very un-Apple-like about the entire row of jacks featured in this spy shot. With the depth of the side reduced, it simply looks ugly, and a retrograde step from the neat flap solution on the MacBook Air. It's surely more likely that Apple's patented collapsible port door will finally see the light of day (see image above, originally from AppleInsider).

Update x2: MacRumors is starting to have doubts about the veracity of these recent spy shots. Roll on Tuesday!

With enemies like Microsoft and Google, who needs friends?

Greenlight Capital fund manager David Einhorn's recent comments on Microsoft are just about the smartest thing I've ever heard an analyst say about the company. Microsoft's quixotic obsession with Google is surely resulting in a poor allocation of their extensive resources.

Regardless of what some commentators might think, Google is hardly an obvious competitor to Microsoft. Microsoft's core market is desktop software, whilst Google's is search. If anything, they're complimentary rather than competitive business models. And to paraphrase Mark Twain (and Steve Jobs), reports of the death of client-side software have been greatly exaggerated.

Google's dominance in search has yet to translate into the much prophesied online "software as a service" model. On the contrary, client-side software seems to still be on the ascendent - witness the fuss made over the iPhone app store, and Android marketplace. Remember how people scoffed when Apple took the line of promoting web applications as an alternative to an SDK? Web apps may be neat, people reasoned at the time, but they're no replacement for a good old fashioned client-side app. The idea that the web would "become the OS" (whatever that means), is going the way of the "thin client" fallacy - an amusing piece of esoteric nonsense.

The fact of the matter is that even as the web goes from strength to strength, it looks less and less like replacing client-side software. Even with all the Google Web Toolkits, Google Gadgets and Yahoo! Widgets, the web does not look set to replace client-side software any time soon. Web apps like Google Docs and are all very well, but they are regarded by most as a supplement to, rather than replacement for traditional applications.

So whilst Microsoft has been focusing on a phantom menace, what's been happening behind their backs? Well for one thing, the failure of Vista to gain popular support, and the success of Apple's "Get a Mac" campaign means that Microsoft has all but lost the argument in their absolutely core business of Windows desktop.

And developers are going crazy over competitor platforms like iPhone and Android, whilst Ballmer's "developers! developers! developers!" speech is now just a fond, distant memory. Microsoft's Office division has not come up with any innovations or significant new apps in years. And in some respects, their premium productivity suite is now seriously rivaled by Apple's budget iWork offering.

This is surely unforgivable. Windows and Office are Microsoft's crown jewels - and they need some polishing. Given the company's state of market dominance, something must be going seriously wrong to allow Apple to make these inroads.

Whilst Microsoft's eyes have been off the ball, Apple has built genuine competitors, not just to Windows Vista, but also to Windows Media, Windows Mobile and Windows Media Center. It strikes me that the key difference in approach between Microsoft and Apple of late is that Jobs has kept Apple very focussed - doing a small(ish) number of things very well - whilst Microsoft has devoted most of its senior management focus to the weakest areas of the business. They may have done better had they truly taken Ballmer's Developer! mantra to heart, and sold off their failing MSN division years ago.

But what of Google? Android has got a lot of press attention, but as far as I can see, this is more to do with the fact that Google is a backer, rather than anything intrinsically significant about the product itself. It is hamstrung by an ugly, clunky user interface, which lacks many key features. The product seems little more than an imitation of iPhone. In fact the only significant selling point for the product is that it is open source. But this alone is not enough - many Linux desktop distros have gone up against Windows, but none has gained a foothold. Being Open Source won't get you very far if you're not very good. As Nokia's CEO candidly observed, whilst Apple has rapidly become a 'credible competitor,' Android offers nothing new. And let's be honest, if Apple was seriously worried about the competitive threat that Android represented to iPhone, they'd ask Eric Schmidt to step down from his role on Apple's board.

Google's side-products tend to be side-shows rather than serious commercial enterprises. They have never risked taking their eyes off the ball when it comes to search & advertising. Microsoft, on the other hand, has allowed itself to be seriously outmaneuvered by Apple - a smaller competitor. And as a result, they now have a great deal of work to do to shore up their core markets.

In the meantime, the future still looks pretty rosy for Apple, who seem capable of grabbing an increasingly large slice of the home computer market, to compliment the enormous slice that they've already taken of the digital music industry.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Top 5 Stevenote hack-clichés

As Apple's October 14 event ineluctably approaches, serious Apple-followers must steal themselves for the pompous, posturing mainstream hacks who will be shortly arriving on our turf, burning the lawn with their barbecues and leaving cigarette butts on the stoop when they leave. Yes, Stevenote season is upon us.

Whilst Steve Jobs may have his own unique style, the hacks who cover his keynotes certainly don't. Almost without exception, they all trot out the same hackneyed clichés every time they receive one of those cherished Apple invites. Of course, as an IT hack, it's essential to effect an air of nonchalance, as if an Apple keynote is just another event - not dissimilar to any other company's product launch. When in fact, the truth is that as they're waiting in the darkened auditorium for Steve to take to the stage, their actual mental state more resembles that of a twelve year old girl before a Hannah Montana concert. In order to cover their tracks and preserve their professional dignity, these gibbering hacks must pepper their dull prose with key phrases that at once separate them from us unwashed fan-boys, and provide them some seeming distance from the company - even if this is at the expense of the facts.

So, just for fun, I've compiled a top 5 of the worst:

1. "Apple Faithful"
I hate this term. It's a way for lazy jornos at these events to claim that they're not as pumped as the rest of us, whilst also making out that there's nothing special about this company, we're just idiots who drank the kool-aid.

2. "Famously Secretive"
Granted, Apple are secretive, but using these two words in relation to Apple is now soooo over-done, you wonder what the hacks writing this stuff are really being paid for.

3. "Mercurial CEO"
Most CEOs have a temper - it's a part of the job description if you're going to get things done. The funny thing is that this is not just a cliché, it's also about 10 years out of date. Anyone who really follows these things knows that Steve has mellowed since success and cancer.

4. "Reality Distortion Field"
This was funny a few decades ago, but we've all heard it a thousand times now. Also, it's another sneaky way for reporters to distance themselves from the rest of the crowd - 'of course, dear reader, I'm never taken in by all this sales hype' - yeah, right.

5. "Trademark Black Turtleneck"
So the guy wears a turtleneck. Get over it. Can this seriously still be news? Sure, there was that 1998 keynote at MacWorld Tokyo where he wore a suit, but still.

The brick has landed

9to5Mac have finally "revealed" their rumor. I can't help thinking that we're getting as much hype about the rumors as we are about the actual product announcements these days, but I guess that's just the strangely recursive world of the blogosphere.

Turns out Brick refers to tooling a solid block of aluminum with lasers in order to fabricate an enclosure for new Macbook. Furthermore, this work will be carried out at an purpose built manufacturing plant, owned by Apple, using proprietary technology. It's no wonder that this slipped out before the Apple event, since keeping an entire factory a secret would be a challenge for any organization.

Whilst this is quite an amazing rumor, the hype surrounding this whole "brick" business will doubtless result in some users on the MacRumors message boards moaning about it for weeks to come (you know the sort of thing).

Saturday, 4 October 2008

9to5Mac brick clues point to laser-cut aluminum enclosure

It's going to be another big weekend for the Mac rumor community - since, we can expect invites to be despatched next week for the much-anticipated October 14 Apple event.

You've got to love 9to5Mac - a relatively new entrant onto the scene who has led the blogging community over the past 12 months with a series of accurate scoops.

But they're playing with their fans' affections right now with this whole brick clue business - drip-feeding us with a series of tantalizing clues over this weekend. I only hope they come up with the goods in the end, or there will be tears.

What can we make of the clues so far? A brick, an image of a laser and a lump of aluminum.

Popular speculation point to one of four theories:
  • Blu-Ray in some form (BRick could be an acronym)
  • Fancy power adapter (see previous post)
  • Aluminum enclosure made from a solid block of metal (sounds unlikely)
  • Induction charging (takes me back to the heady days of the last time 9to5Mac linked to this blog)
The reference in one clue to author Neal Stephenson might suggest that this is something to do with his latest book, Anathem - which I'm currently ploughing through. More than any book I've read before, it resembles a brick. There's also a bit in the book involving lasers, but they're red, rather than green...

My best guess is that 9to5Mac's new info concern laser cutting aluminum. Apple has a track record of devising innovative uses for this technique in their enclosures. For example, this is used to allow the green light to be seen through solid aluminum on the wireless keyboard and the MacBook Pro's/Air's iSight light. You can also see it in the mike grills on the MacBook Air. 

The advantages of laser cutting aluminum is precision - perhaps they'll use it for fancy new speaker grills, or a real aluminum keyboard? Perhaps they'll make tiny perforations in the entire wrist-rest in order to introduce multi-touch to the entire surface, eliminating the requirement for a trackpad.

Update: Looks like this is where 9to5Mac got their laser image from. It's the forth result on Google Images for the keyword "laser". From this, we can probably conclude that "laser" is the only significance to be inferred from the image (sadly it seems this has nothing to do with the hylean theoric world.)

Monday, 22 September 2008

"SmartBrick" - Apple's one-cable MagSafe port replicator

Speculative excerpt from Steve's October 14 keynote (inspired by 9 to 5 Mac's mysterious brick post):

These new Macbook Pros are so portable that they really are desktop replacements. And we know that more and more of our pro customers are choosing to use them instead of a tower. The great thing with that is that at the end of the day, you can just pick up your desktop computer and take it home with you. And then you can work from home with all your pro apps right there. Whether you're editing in Final Cut, or doing some retouching in Photoshop. It's all right there where you left it.

But there's one problem with all this.

The cables.

If you're a creative professional, you probably have a whole heap of things connected to your laptop. You've got USB devices, gigabit ethernet, external monitors... That's a lot to keep plugging and unplugging every time you want to leave the office. In fact, it can really make you feel like you're chained to your desk.

Now our competitors have had a go at solving this problem, but we don't think that they've done a very good job of it, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you've ever tried to use one of these "docks" or "port replicators." They replace lots of easy plugs with one very difficult plug - not much of a time saver.

So we wanted to do something about this problem. And we thought - "what if there was just one cable that does everything". Now we've managed to get rid of a lot of cables over the years. Thanks to Airport and Bluetooth, we don't need to use cables for keyboards, mice and networking any more. But there's one cable that we're maybe never going to get rid of - the power cable. So that's where we started. We wanted to find some way to get everything you need to go through that one cable. But how can we do this?

The answer is in the brick. Now we've never liked power bricks. That's why we're always looking for ways to hide them. Like the way we made the iPod charge through the same USB cable that you use to sync with your Mac or PC. But now, we realized that there was a whole lot more that we could do with these things. So today, and I'm very please to introduce you to a smarter breed of power brick - the SmartBrick.

So what makes it smart?

First, we've added a USB hub. So that you can plug all your USB devices into the brick. The USB signal then travels into your Mac right alongside the power. That way, we've got rid of a lot of cables already.

Next up is gigabit ethernet. For most of us mere mortals, Airport Extreme is plenty fast enough, but for our pro customers, who are handling these huge media files, Airport doesn't always cut it. They need gigabit networking. So that's exactly what we've built into our brick. And again, it travels right down the power cable. Plus, the other neat thing about this is that it works great with TimeCapsule. If you have loads of big files on your MacBook, it can take a long time for TimeCapsule to back them up wirelessly. But if you hook your TimeCapsule up directly to the brick, backups are done in no time, whilst you're recharging.

And finally, there's video. Again, for us mere mortals, one screen is usually enough. But if you're going to do things like editing video, you may want an extra external screen. And these DVI connectors are not easy to plug and unplug. You've got to do lots of screwing and unscrewing every time you want to clock-off for the evening. So with our SmartBrick, going home just got a whole heap easier. It's as easy as pulling out our patented Magsafe connector. Just give it a tug and you're done.

What's interesting about these bricks is that we've found a lot of our pro customers already buy a spare brick, so that they don't have to lug it home with them every night. They have one brick hooked up to their desk at home, and another all ready to go when they get into work. Well now, this gets even better. With two SmartBricks, you'll never have to go through cable hell again.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Microsoft dignifies Apple's attacks with a response

I've been trying not to comment on Microsoft's new ad campaign - but it's in such a state right now that I'm overwhelmed with schadenfreude, and I can no longer resist.

I've never been keen on Apple's "Get a Mac" ads. It just doesn't seem sporting to knock the competition directly. I much prefer to see advertising that focuses on positive messages. However, it's hard to deny the success of the campaign.

Whilst the initial ads concerned legitimate differences between Macs and PCs, such as Apple's bundled iLife software, the campaign took a different turn with the problematic release of Vista, and started to tackle perceived shortcomings in Microsoft's new OS directly.

When I first heard that Microsoft was finally going to respond to the Apple campaign, I thought that our favorite computer company may be in for some payback. After all, for every blue-screen, there's surely a spinning beach-ball. And with the help of Seinfeld, an ideal frontman for this sort of thing, what could go wrong?

Plenty, apparently. Microsoft's first two ads were frankly bizarre - focusing on the already affable Gates, who is largely un-afflicted by Microsoft's current image problem, and who has recently left the company. We got lots of Gates, but no articulation of Microsoft's product vision.

Let's be honest - Microsoft's switch to the new "I'm a PC" campaign is every bit as much of a U-turn as Apple's last minute switch from a 4/8GB nano to an 8/16GB offering (for which, ironically we have Microsoft to thank).

So how do the new ads measure up? Somewhat better, surely, but I'm not convinced that it's entirely dignified for Microsoft to be crediting Apple's negative campaign with such a direct response. It also opens them to further comeback from Apple.

I predict an Apple "Get a Mac" ad in response as follows:

Mac: "Hello, I'm a Mac"
PC: "Hello, I'm a PC"
2nd PC, dressed as cowboy: "Hello, I'm a PC"
3rd PC, dressed as astronaut: "Hello, I'm a PC"
4th PC, dressed as a woman: "Hello, I'm a PC"
Mac: "What's all this about PC? Who are all these people?"
PC: "Oh, them? They're all PCs like me. We get all over the place you know - and we're really cool."
Mac: "Well, of course, everyone knows that there are PCs everywhere, but I still don't get why you're doing this."
PC (looking crestfallen): "Because apparently when people see me in these ads, they don't like me very much. They don't think I'm 'cool' like you"
Mac: "Well, I like you, PC. I like you just the way you are."
PC: "Really?"
Mac: "Sure. I think we get along just fine. These days you'll find both of us together all over the place - at home, at work, on the ranch..." gestures to cowboy PC.
PC (reaches out arms in conciliatory gesture): "Group hug?"
Mac (weary expression, embraces PC and pats on back)
Other PCs (join in the group hug)
Mac (rolls eyes)

Update (20/10/08): Apple has now responded, with two ads arguing that Microsoft is attempting to gloss over problems with Vista by spending money on advertising.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The truth behind Kevin Rose's sources - and other keynote washup bits

Well, Kevin Rose pretty much scooped the entire event, huh? Thus ensuring a new fickle following of Mac fanboys for Diggnation in the run up to future keynotes. The rumored October 14 Macbook event is likely to deliver a big spike in traffic for Revision 3's servers.

So where is Mr Digg getting his dirt? That's the question that Steve Jobs is presumably pondering right now. According to Rose himself, he has two sources - one that gave him the iPod nano photo, and the other that gave him iTunes 8 info. He seems much more concerned about protecting the latter source than the former. This, combined with Steve Job's aside that iPod accessory partners sometimes announce products earlier than he'd like, leads MacPredictions to conclude that one of Rose's sources works for an accessory manufacturer, whilst the other works for Apple. Both sources are clearly really good, so providing that Apple doesn't manage to silence them, Rose is the king of Apple rumors for the time being.

Upon reflect, I have to concede that Shaw Wu was on the money again, anticipating a somewhat disappointing keynote. Don't get me wrong - I think that the new Nano is awesome, but the truth is that even without Rose's leaks, there would have been few surprises at this event. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the numerous mentions of John Mayer, despite his recent high profile defection to Blackberry. But this was clearly all a parting gesture, since Jack Johnson is now Steve Job's number two crooner (Bob Dylan will surely always reign supreme).

MacPredictions did reasonably well. We clearly were off the mark with the whole Blu-Ray thing. Wishful thinking perhaps. But the last minute Nano mockups were on the money (albeit based on the Rose leak). We even guess right about the whole accelerometer shake-to-shuffle feature.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Will Tuesday be Blu-Ray day for Apple?

Kevin Rose has truly stolen the show this time in terms of pre-keynote rumors. Like a modern day Cassandra, all his prognostications appear to ring true. Spy shots of the new iPod nano appear to be the real deal. And Ars Technica are claiming a source corroborating his iTunes 8 prediction.

However, with an evolutionary rather than revolutionary new nano, and a few neat but hardly earth-shattering additions to iTunes, many are already grumbling that this keynote may not "rock" to quite the extent that the invite implies. But Apple is already making moves to counter this skepticism, with uncharacteristically "off the record" advice to invitees that the announcements are going to be big, and that they really must attend.

So if the announcements are truly going to rock, then there must be something more than what we already know. And perhaps we can find the clues in what has leaked to date.

MacPredictions' guess is that the big theme for 2009 will be HD. We already know from Mr Rose that iTunes 8 will finally get HD support (a feature previously, and rather frustratingly, limited to Apple TV). We also know that there will be some improvements to the on screen playback controls. It's reasonable to guess that we'll also see an update to Front Row to bring it in line with the new Apple TV interface - or better still, an update to both Front Row and Apple TV, since, let's be honest, the Apple TV UI ain't that pretty any more.

Continuing the theme, it's not such a wild guess to anticipate that Apple will finally announce their Blu-Ray strategy. Whilst Apple has been understandably reticent about Blu-Ray, in the hope that their HD download service will make it redundant, it would surely be Sony-style craziness to deny their hardware division the benefit of offering Blu-Ray options simply to appease their content division. (Remember what happened to Walkman when Sony's music division forced them not to adopt MP3.) Blu-Ray surely is as ephemeral as DVD anyway - it will eventually be replaced by downloads, but why not make some money off it whilst the going is good.

Rather than extending the DVD Player application, MacPredictions anticipates that Blu-Ray support will be added to iTunes 8. They may even do deals with rights owners to transfer Blu-Ray content to iPods. They'll certainly need to add all of the great on-screen controls that DVD Player already boasts - which iTunes store downloads would also benefit from.

On the hardware side, we anticipate a new Blu-Ray player accessory for the MacBook Air, with an integrated USB hub, a built-to-order Blu-Ray drive option for the Mac Pro and a new top of the line iMac with Blu-Ray.

This Blu-Ray theme may also explain why MacBook updates were seemingly in the frame for this keynote. They would otherwise have seemed a little random for an iPod/iTunes themed event. Our guess is that the new MacBook Pro with Blu-Ray is just not ready yet. It's quite possible, though, that it will still be announced, with availability in October.

Update: Peter S Magnusson (founder of Virtutech,) is setting out a similar argument in his blog - proposing a new Blu-Ray enabled Apple TV - something this blog speculated about last year.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

iPod nano 4G - 2009 colors [mockup]

Does Shaw Wu know the meaning of the word "underwhelming"? If this comes to pass, consider MacPredictions whelmed.

Is this the iPod Nano 4G? [Mockup]

Using the latest in forensic reconstruction, our team at SVU (Special Visuals Unit), have been able to reconstruct the following image of the suspect in the case of the Kevin Rose Nano.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Apple Music Event invite arrives on schedule, but sadly not in our inbox. [Update]

OK, so no new Macbook Pro on Apple's website yet, but MacPredictions was right about the Music Event invite. Sure, it was a pretty obvious guess, but hey...

So now we have another bone to chew on. What clues are hidden in this new invite image? The "Let's Rock" caption reminds me of Twin Peaks, but I'm sure that's not what Apple are alluding to. Sadly, I think they're just trying to be hep.

The use of the current iPod interface, however, is more of a clue, since it may indicate that the UI will not be changing as much as this blog had anticipated. The use of an image from the current ad campaign - not dissimilar from that of last year's invite - may indicate that the marketing is not changing much either. So what's new?

On closer examination, the UI is not altogether the same - the star ratings do not normally appear in that position, and the progress bar at the bottom would normally have time elapsed on the left of it and time remaining on the right. I suspect, however, that rather than hinting at things to come, this is merely creative license on the part of Apple's PR department.

9to5 Mac are arguing that the jumping guy is holding a 4G "Kevin Rose" nano, but this could just as easily be a current 3G nano held at a bit of an angle.

Aw shucks - there don't seem to be any clues in there after all. Role on September 9th.

Update: Upon reflection, it strikes me that "Let's Rock" may be an oblique reference to the accelerometer in the iPod Touch. Maybe it's going to be introduced to the rest of the iPod line. It would come in use for the "Kevin Rose" Nano, detecting when to switch to landscape mode. It could also introduce a new gestural interface component - rocking from left to right could be used to go forward and backwards between tracks on a new Shuffle that only requires a single button to enable/disable rocking gestures. You could even shake the shuffle to enter shuffle mode.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Apple to quietly launch new Macbook Pro via website, rather than press event?

Ars Technica cites “grapevine” sources claiming that Macbook and iMac updates may not be launched via a big press event. This seems very plausible to Mac Predictions. After all, when Apple launched the first Intel Macbooks, which introduced a brand new enclosure, glossy screens and a built-in iSight camera, this was done with minimal fanfare and a simple press release in May 2006. It’s quite plausible that the new Macbook Pro will get a similar low-key launch, with Phil Shiller taking a few press enquires by telephone, and not much more. Dare we trot out that old Mac Rumors forum classic “new Macbook Pros on Tuesday”?

Update x2: Since the Hurricane Gustav crisis seems to be over, Apple will presumably be able to proceed with any PR activities as planned.

Apple music event invitation this week

This week looks likely to see the release of Apple’s customary cryptic media invite to their annual music special event. Whilst the company has never told us to expect these events on an annual basis, expect them we do. After all - it’s a pattern that has been established over the past four years. In early Fall, Apple invites the press over to their campus - or some place nice in San Francisco, to usher in the new season’s iPod offering. And why would it be any different this year? After all, the iPod lineups is starting to show its age again, and it needs a spruce-up as we approach the holiday buying season.

In order to get an idea of what to expect - let’s review the last few such invites. Each has been a formatted HTML e-mail with the customary, oddly shaped JPEG with rounded corners at the top, and squared corners at the bottom. Why they do this, I don’t know, since the intended audience is surely us great unwashed crowd of bloggers and forum posters, rather than the actual recipients of the e-mail. A nice PDF or a web page would surely be a better option. But hey...

Each invite features a cryptic headline and a teaser image - as follows:

September 5, 2007
Headline: “The beat goes on.”
Image: iPod dancer ad
Products: color shuffles, video nano, iPod classic, iPod touch

September 9, 2006
Headline: “It’s Showtime”
Image: Searchlights
Products: 2nd gen nano, iPod games, 2nd gen shuffle, Movie downloads

October 13, 2005
Headline: “One more thing”
Image: Theater curtains
Products: Front Row, Video iPod, Video Downloads

October 26, 2004
Headline: “Steve Jobs, Bono and The Edge invite you to attend a special event”
Image: Apple logo on grey background
Products: iPod photo, U2 iPod, bizarre “they’re digging in the wrong place” rejection of video

Of note from the list above - the event occurs around the same time every year, but it has been moving earlier each year. Since the invites usually go out a week before the actual event, this year looks likely to breaking that trend, but it is still probable that the event will be in early September, giving Apple sufficient time to ramp up for the holidays. That means invites must go out this week.

The second thing to note is that the events tend to have a theme. 2004 was photos and U2, 2005 was video, 2006 was movie downloads and 2007 was... OK, well 2007 was just cool new iPods.

There are several possible themes for this year:
  • Greater affordability
  • Touch technology across the range
  • All Flash lineup (abandoning hard drive in classic iPod)
  • Rental - fill your iPod with music
  • Sharing - share you music wirelessly (like Zune!!)
These last two points would be evidence of Apple flip-flopping like a presidential candidate. But Steve’s been known to make u-turns in the past. Most famously, he argued that competitors introducing video to their MP3 players were “digging in the wrong place,” a year before Apple did exactly the same thing themselves. Steve also criticized PC manufacturers who made all-in-one LCD computers with the motherboard hidden vertically behind the screen two years before Apple launched an iMac with precisely the same design.

In every case, when Apple makes such a u-turn, the rationale is something like this:

“Our competitors have tried to do something like this before, but we don’t think they got it right. We didn’t want to launch this until we knew we’d cracked it, and now I think you’ll agree, this is something really special.”

I can’t wait to hear Apple-haters railing with frustration when Steve says this about their new music rental service. The sad thing is, it’ll be almost true, since music rental on an iPod is a much stronger proposition than music rental on any other device. Especially with the iPod's tight integration with iTunes.

More on this when the invites finally arrive - although sadly, I doubt there’ll be one in my inbox!

Update x2: Since the Hurricane Gustav crisis seems to be over, Apple will presumably be able to proceed with any PR activities as planned.

Monday, 25 August 2008

The perfect Mac OS X desktop background?

Where do you find the perfect desktop background for Mac OS X? In an old copy of “The Art of Industrial Light and Magic”, or some rare background art from “Star Trek: The Animated Series?” No.

In a rare aesthetic mis-step, Apple selected a fake pink nebula for Leopard’s default desktop background. I’d like to think that Steve Jobs is devoting a great deal of time to this thorny question: where do you find the perfect desktop background for Mac OS X? Well Steve, if you’re reading this, here’s the answer...

On a spring morning, when the air is crisp, the sky is blue, and the breeze is light, take a short ferry trip from Toronto's Ferry Docks to Center Island. Walk out onto the pier, until your field of vision is entirely consumed by the tranquil beauty of Lake Ontario. Take a picture. Job done.

I’ve been using Lake Ontario as a desktop background for many months, and I’m please to say that my pink nebula migraines are now but a distant memory.

Don’t allow your Leopard experience to be marred with the uncomfortable feeling that you’re living in an episode of Voyager, where Janeaway has foolhardily entered another mysterious nebula, with no means of escape. Plot a course out immediately. Download my Toronto pic here - or check out Mac Prediction’s reader Annelie Rosencrantz’s gallery. Got any other ideas? Please send them in.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

So do we believe Kevin this time?

It’s hard not to like Kevin Rose. He seems such a likable guy, and for some reason, it’s pretty effortless to waste an hour of my left each week watching Kevin and Alex get drunk whilst talking inanely about absolutely nothing. But likability is not the issue. The question is - what are his Apple rumor credentials?

It’s very hard to say. He has a hit and miss track record on Apple rumors - a lot of what he predicts come true, and a lot of it doesn’t. My personal opinion is that KR is not the kind of guy to make stuff up, and so if he says he has sources, he probably does. With his talent for drinking alcohol, I’m guessing that when he gets predictions wrong, it’s because he’s not listening to his sources closely enough, or he’s embellishing what they tell him with what he considers reasonable assumptions (e.g. two batteries for the original iPhone, and a front-mounted camera for the iPhone 3G - hmm).

Anyway, KR’s spy shots of the new Nano look very convincing. Roll-on Apple’s annual music special event.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Apple Store Watch - updates coming for MacBook Pro, but not MacBook

This blog has commented before on the way in which the layout of Apple Stores sometimes gives away clues as to what Apple has in the product pipeline. This is because the relative positions of the product lines within the store indicate how Apple are thinking about their current lineup. If a line is tired, and due for an update, the Apple Store tends to promote it less.

There are a lot of rumors doing the rounds at the moment pointing to an update of the MacBook, but if you look at what’s happening in Apple Stores around the world right now, that seems unlikely. Whilst the window displays are entirely iPhone and iPod focussed, in-store the MacBook is being promoted heavily, occupying the first two tables, and a prominent wall display. By contrast, the MacBook Pro is tucked out of sight at the back of the store. This could indicate that the Pro will receive an update before the MacBook, in which case, it will be leaping to the front of the store again, with a fancy new window display next month.

The iPhone, which was all but neglected for most of this year in the Apple Store in London now has a much stronger presence again - taking over half of the wall displays and two tables. Albeit, the tables are at the back - but this is probably down to the local difficulties with selling the product in-store - long queues and no upgrades for existing iPhone owners are still unresolved issues.

We can certainly expect updates to the iPod lineup next month. The fact that the Shuffle and Nano are being promoted ahead of the Touch, and the Classic is so hard to find, may indicate that the Touch and Classic lines are due for bigger changes next month.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Apple’s 2008 9-icon multi-touch iPod lineup [mockup]

Following on from MacPredictions previous post, where we speculated that Apple might introduce a 9 icon variant of the iPhone OS, for the Nano and Classic iPod lines, here’s a mockup to illustrate how they might appear. The iPhone interface combined with a smaller form-factor, could make the unloved classic, with up to 160GB, a popular choice once again.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Where are Apple’s diminishing margins going? A new 9-icon multi-touch iPod Classic and iPod Nano (“iPod Air”)

In Apple’s quarterly analyst conference call this week, the most interesting morsel to be throw to the company's sometimes loyal flotilla of commentators and pundits, was the forecast that margins would diminish in the coming quarter as a result of an unannounced product.

The most likely contender to be eating away at Apple’s healthy margins this quarter is a new iPod, since these are typically announced in the August/September timeframe. This blog continues to believe that the iPod Nano will be the next product to receive Apple’s multi-touch magic, with a stripped-down version of the iPhone OS, based upon a smaller nine icon screen. We also believe that this nine-icon interface could be introduced to the iPod Classic, meaning that the iconic click-wheel interface could finally be retired from Apple’s lineup.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Commenting on unannounced products? Pinch me!

In a short, but extraordinarily revealing interview with Greg Joswiak, head of iPod and iPhone product marketing, Joswiak gives Extremetech the lowdown on three burning questions about the future of iPhone: cut and paste, GPS driving directions (aka speech synthesis) and office productivity suites (think iWork Touch). MacPredictions is still heady with excitement that three of this blog’s favourite topics could be discussed so openly by such a senior Apple staffer.

In a nutshell, cut and paste is coming, so are GPS driving directions (and therefore, presumably, speech synthesis services) and Jowsiak sees no obstacles for the development of 3rd party office suites, except perhaps the absence of a “cross-application file structure.” Sadly, Extremetech did not apparently get a chance to ask the obvious follow-up questions - when will you introduce a Finder-style file browser, and will Apple produce an iWork suite for iPhone. Nonetheless, in one blog posting, Extremetech have given us more than we often get in an entire keynote. I think I need to go and find somewhere to lie down now.
(link via MacNN)

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Pink? Seriously?

It’s been a bitter-sweet weekend for Apple. Technical problems have dogged the launch of both the iPhone 3G, and MobileMe. Problems with Apple’s activation servers left many early adopters, who had waited in line for many hours, unable to play with their new toy. Problems with 02 & AT&T’s retail systems compounded the sense of chaos, resulting in slow transaction processing at many stores. MobileMe’s launch didn’t fare much better. It’s taken several days for Apple to get their service to reasonably responsive state - far longer than their planned outage time.

In both instances, Apple can take some comfort from the fact that they have been victims of their own success - the interest in iPhone 3G has been off the charts. I’ve personally never seen anything like it. In London UK, there weren’t just queues at the Apple Store in Regent Street, but at every 02 and Carphone Warehouse store across the city. It was quite remarkable, and bodes very well for the long term success of the new device.

But now that the dust has settled, there’s one remaining thing that troubles me. One little detail which will bug me each time I use my Mac from this day forward. Yes, it’s that friggin’ pink iDisk icon that Apple have foisted onto my desktop. Pink? Seriously? That combined with the pastel blue and the cloud makes MobileMe look more like My Little Pony than a cutting edge IT platform. I had thought that things couldn't get aesthetically worse for the Mac than Apple’s new Star Trek inspired desktop pattern for Leopard, but it seems I was wrong. Let’s hope that Apple snaps out the their My Little Pony phase soon.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Mobile Me Launches [Updated]

Dialogue boxes are popping up on Macs around the world, as we speak.

[Update] Looks like went down under the load. Apple's put a redirect in place, pointing  back to its marketing pages for the time being. Some lucky team of engineers in Cupertino are sweating right now, I guess!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

New Macbook Pro - AppleInsider pics

This blog has been predicting a Macbook Air-style facelift for the Macbook Pro line for some time now, and the chances of that just got a little more likely today with the publication of these spy shots from Apple Insider, which appear to show the new outer aluminum enclosure of something that looks like a 15” Macbook Pro, but with the more rounded styling of a Macbook Air case. Indeed, from the look of these spy shots, Mac Predictions mockups are looking pretty prescient.

Previous Macbook posts:

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

This round goes to Shaw Wu at American Technology Research

In April, Mac Predictions ran a piece on analyst predictions for the release of the iPhone 3G. Doom mongers RBC Capital Markets, who claimed that technical problems would result in the iPhone 3G being delayed until September-December, were (fortunately) completely wrong.

Most of the other analysts were in the same territory - as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would point out, their predictions seem to correlate more closely with each other, than the actual data. Perhaps some of them were just taking a guess at a WWDC release, or maybe they were simply following the crowd. Nothing wrong with that for a blogger, but analysts actually get paid for their predictions!

One analyst who deserve congratulations is Shaw Wu of American Technology Research, whose “late June, or July” timeframe proved to be the most accurate. At the time, he cited checks with supply chain sources, which should lend more credence to such claims in future.

Too early:
  • Gartner
  • Citigroup
  • UBS
  • Bank of America
  • Current Analysis

Pretty close:
  • American Technology Research
  • Piper Jaffray

Too late:
  • RBC Capital Markets

Sunday, 6 July 2008

More surprises in store for 11th? iWork Touch?

All has been quiet on the predictions front for a while now. The truth is, there just hasn’t been much to say, so Mac Predictions hasn’t said anything. In the meantime, this blog did enjoy getting the BBC’s attention with our last post - despite referring to them (with some accuracy) as the “British broadcast monopoly.”

But as the biggest day of the year for Apple approaches - iPhone 3G day - the time has come to post a new prediction. What surprises (if any) does Apple have in store for us this Friday? Here’s what we know to expect:
  • iPhone 3G launch
  • iPhone 2.0 firmware download
  • App Store
  • Free Apple Remote application for iPhone or iPod touch to control iTunes playback
This last item was inadvertently revealed by Apple with the developers pre-release version of iTunes 7.7. It’s a great idea - a free app, downloadable from the App Store, for iPhone and iPod Touch, which will presumably allow the user to browse an iTunes library on a remote Mac or PC, using a combination of Bonjour and WiFi. And in combination with Apple’s AirTunes solution for wireless streaming of music to a hi-fi, it may finally complete Apple’s living room audio solution. In terms of the remote interface on the iPhone itself, MacPredictions envisages that this will appear almost identical to the iPhone’s own iPod application - right down to browsing album art in Cover Flow.

Launching a free, high-value App like this is certainly a great way to incentivize users to trial the new App Store, although to be honest, Mac Predictions thinks it would have been more elegant to integrate this functionality into the iPod app itself - perhaps with the option to browse and pair with additional iTunes libraries via a new “Sources” menu in preferences, similar to Apple TV. In the iPod app, a new “Sources” icon would then appear alongside “Songs,” “Artists,” “Albums,” etc. But hey, who are we to challenge Apple on this point. If it must be a separate app, so be it!

...Anyway, what does Apple’s new, free Remote app tell us? Simply this: Apple has surprises up their sleeve for this Friday, and the Remote app may not be the only one. Our bet is that they’ll have more than just free App’s up their sleeves. It seems unlikely that Apple will take a back seat and allow 3rd parties to have all the fun with iPhone app development. That’s hardly been their strategy with the Mac after all. Sure, they bundle free apps with the Mac, such as Mail, Calendar, Safari, etc. But they have plenty of premium apps as well, such as iLife, iWork, Final Cut Studio, Aperture and Logic. Isn’t it likely that they’ll pursue a similar strategy with iPhone?

Why would they not have announced such a plan last month at WWDC? Perhaps because it wouldn’t be very diplomatic to highlight to their community of developers who are just beginning to embrace the iPhone SDK that they’re going to be competing against Apple itself. This blog still believes that the first paid-for apps to see the light of day from Apple will be the mobile for iWork, which we anticipate will be called iWork Touch, and it could be coming as soon as this Friday.