Saturday, 22 March 2008

“iPod Air” multi-touch iPod Nano [Updated]


Do you recall the rhetorical flourish with which Apple launched the iPod Nano in 2005? Steve Jobs proudly announced that whilst the iPod mini was the best selling iPod in history, today they were going to replace it. In fact, they launched a smaller model with a new enclosure and a colour display. They “replaced” it in the sense that the new model had a new name – “nano” rather than “mini”. The fact that Apple would cold-bloodedly “replace” a best seller was held as an indication of the company’s relentless pace of innovation. Despite the rhetoric, the Nano was indeed a remarkable breakthrough device, and it certainly upstaged Motorola’s Rokr handset, which was launched alongside it.

Over the following three years, Apple has consistently upgraded its iPod line in September, immediately prior to the holiday sales period. This is probably not indicative of a natural cadence in the pace of Apple’s innovation, but rather a marketing decision that holding back new iPod lines to launch for the holidays maximises hype around the product, and consequently maximises sales. Perhaps. But things are starting to look a little different now, with the economy weakening, and investors getting jittery. During the last economic downturn in the late nineties, Steve Jobs famously said that Apple’s strategy was to innovate its way out of the recession. And there’s no doubting the results that this strategy has achieved. Perhaps now is the time for a similarly bold move. One obvious candidate would be to bring a new iPod product to market now, rather than waiting for the holiday buying season. Whilst such a move may sacrifice some holiday buzz later in the year, it would be preferable to making price cuts to stimulate sales – cuts that would undermine iPod’s price positioning longer term. It would also help to ensure that the iPod line does not lose its lustre, which could potentially lead to a loss in market share.

So, perhaps it’s time to boldly “replace” a best selling iPod line again. And what better candidate than the iPod Nano itself? Whilst the Nano has retained its name for three years now, the product itself has changed substantially. The Nano is now larger than before, with a bigger display and the ability to play video. However, this screen is still relatively small, and it seems doubtful that many Nano owners get much use out of video playback in practice – it’s more of a gimmick than a useful feature. So if the Nano line were to be replaced, what should its successor be? MacPredictions thinks that the answer is twofold: replace the clickwheel interface with a multi-touch display, and with the space saved from the clickwheel, make the screen larger for a better video viewing experience, whilst retaining the device’s overall dimensions. And the name? Of course… iPod Air.

So does multi-touch on the Nano successor imply the introduction of the iPhone OS? Not necessarily. The iPod Air would be too small to support many features of the iPhone OS, including the virtual keyboard and the 20 icon home screen. Given that text entry has never been very important on iPods (and was only recently added, with the introduction of search functionality) the iPod Air can probably do away with the keyboard in favour of a more basic character picker. The 20 icon home screen could be replaced with a 9 icon screen. But this does beg the question – does Apple really want to get into the territory of supporting multiple resolutions on the iPhone OS? Application developers for other mobile devices will know what a pain it is to develop different variants of their games and apps for different devices. The hegemony of Apple’s iPhone platform is one of the attractions of its newly launched SDK.

Whilst there are certainly drawbacks to introducing a second screen size to the iPhone OS line, the benefits are so substantial that MacPredictions believes Apple is likely to do it anyway. The physical dimensions of the iPhone and iPod Touch lines are limited by the physical requirements of the interface – the icons must be large enough to touch with one’s fingers. And yet, the iPhone is quite a large devise, and some customers will always prefer something smaller. The huge popularity of the Nano is also indicative of the appeal of smaller devices. So in order to roll multi-touch out across the entire product line, and in order to introduce the much anticipated “iPhone Nano” at some point, Apple will have no option but to develop a variant of the iPhone OS interface designed for smaller devices.

Update
Coincidentally enough, 9to5Mac published a story today entitled "iPod Air" pointing out that someone had registered the domain name ipodair.com. For a brief moment, it seemed like the whole MacBook Air thing was happening again, but sadly it turns out that Apple were not the registrants of the domain (even though it's currently re-directing to Apple's iTunes page). Previously, Arn from MacRumors registered the macbookair.com domain in advance of the svelte laptop's announcement. This triggered a defensive registration of similar domains by Apple. However, ipodair.com was registered in January, and Apple does not appear to have reacted by registering any variants. Perhaps they're just playing it cool for the time being.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Second Generation Penryn Macbook Pro with new enclosure [Mockup]


In February, this blog predicted that Apple would update its ageing MacBook Pro line with new enclosures following the slim, curvaceous form of the new MacBook Air. Later that month, Apple released a minor upgrade to the MacBook Pro's specs, but no new enclosure. Undeterred by this setback, MacPredictions continues to believe (based upon speculation, rather than any hard evidence) that Apple is likely to redesign its MacBook Pro enclosures this year. It's just not like Apple to have an inconsistent design style across one of their lines for very long. Remember, for example, when the PowerBook switched from the titanium enclosure to aluminium. First the 17" and 12" models were released. For a few months they were sold alongside the 15" titanium model, until eventually that too switched to the new aluminium enclosure. Apple's introduction of the Air may be indicative of a similar phased rollout.

DailyTech claimed in February that Apple would be updating the MacBook Pro line again in June to introduce new second generation Penryn processors. Perhaps then we'll see the entire line consolodating on the new air-style enclosures.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Apple iServe with iTunes Server [Mockup]

Earlier this month, at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, Steve Jobs was asked about the possibility of an “XServe Mini” to bring Leopard Server-style services to consumers at an affordable price. AppleInsider reported that “Jobs seemed like he wanted to say something, but then punctuated the awkward silence with the typical refrain of not being able to say anything.” Why did Jobs hesitate? Perhaps because he had just such a product in mind.

For what it’s worth – here’s what MacPredictions thinks that it might be (all speculation, as usual, no inside sources).

As consumers are buying more and more content from the iTunes Store, storage is becoming an increasing issue. Put simply, sooner or later your Mac or PC will run out of disk space. And this problem is only going to get worse as consumers increasingly switch to HD content. A home server is the obvious solution, but there are some problems to address:
  • It needs to be easy to setup and administrate
  • It needs to be extendable – consumers storage requirements will continue to grow
  • It needs to be resilient
  • It needs to be affordable

The solution that MacPredictions envisages combines several products:
  • AirPort Wireless Base Station
  • Apple TV
  • Time Capsule
So it would sit in your living room, under your TV, it would store all of your iTunes purchases, so you can watch or listen to all your content on your home entertainment system. It would provide a simple backup solution for all the Leopard-based Macs on your network. And it would serve internet access wirelessly to the entire household.

The final component would be a new software tool – iTunes Server, that would automatically sync content purchased from iTunes onto the server, and it would serve iTunes content seamlessly to all authorised clients on the network, as if the content was stored locally. It would enable the user to set rules to determine which content is synced to which clients, and it may even provide the ability to remotely manage Macs – so for example, parents could set the parental controls for their kid’s Mac.

The server would offer some RAID options, with the ability to dynamically add addition capacity to a single logical volume, with a neat hardware enclosure design enabling drives to be stacked in a tower configuration, without any hassle with cables.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The search is on - for iPhone 2.0

Who knows what the eagle-eyed people at blargkaboom were searching for when they discovered a magnifying glass icon in the top-right corner of a screen shot used in a slide presented by Phil Schiller during last week's Stevenote. The slide in question (entitled "Push Contacts") appears about 9 minutes and 30 seconds into the presentation.

This neat discovery tells us a couple of things. Firstly, it clearly indicates that at the top of the Contact List in iPhone 2.0, there will be a handy search box. About time. Secondly, it indicates that there are new features in the frame for 2.0 that have not been officially announced by Apple, and that there may be more clues in those lovely high definition video streams that Apple has so kindly provided. Some of these new features will probably also make their way into the Beta release that will be distributed to a select group of enterprise customers shortly. Seems like Spring may shape up to have plenty of Apple rumors after all.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Post-keynote depression

With the dust just beginning to settle after last week’s SDK keynote, a mood of despondency pervades the Apple rumour community. When will the next clue emerge for us to obsess over? Are we entering a dry spell? A harsh lent? With the Stevenote feast now over, must we now wait until WWDC for more? Hadn’t we all gotten so used to those weekly Tuesday announcements. Now we’re left with nothing but a Beta SDK and creative block. If we could just come up with the one mobile app to rule them all…

Desperation has risen to such a point that we must make a meal out of a story like this – but it’s thin gruel. Thin gruel.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

SDK Announcement Summary

Available now:
  • Beta iPhone SDK
  • iPhone Developer Program
  • iPhone Enterprise Beta Program
Available in "late June":
  • iPhone 2.0 firmware update (free)
  • iPod Touch 2.0 firmware update (price TBC)
  • iTunes App Store
  • Games, including Sega’s Super Monkey Ball and Electronic Art’s Spore
Apple has delivered exactly what they promised, albeit a week later than scheduled. The iPhone SDK is available today for free download from Apple.com (albeit their servers are currently struggling to cope with demand). Nonetheless, some iPhone fans will be disappointed that nothing new has been delivered for the end user today.

So let’s take a look at what today’s announcements reveal about the future of iPhone from the end user’s perspective. Firstly, we now know that that 2.0 firmware will be released in late June – whilst that doesn’t preclude any further incremental updates before June, it certainly makes them less likely.

Here’s what we know we can expect from June’s 2.0 update:
  • iTunes App Store – enabling users to wirelessly download and install iPhone apps, which will then presumably be backed up on next sync. It will also be possible to purchase apps via iTunes on a Mac or PC
  • New icon for iTunes WiFi Store - a small detail, but hey!
  • PowerPoint attachment support – this is revealed in today’s press release
  • Mass move and delete messages in Mail – also in today’s press release
  • VPN support – could come in handy for techies and corporates alike
  • Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support – only interesting to companies that have Exchange servers
Presumably there will be more to the 2.0 update than that – we’re guessing that Apple is holding back some of the cool stuff for another Stevenote closer to the time. Strange though that during the SDK announcement, when Scott Forstall listed the features of the new “Cocoa Touch” application framework, he made no mention of a “File Picker” (i.e. Finder-style file browser) to go along with the “People Picker” and “Image Picker”. Hopefully this is a top-secret feature that’s been deliberately left out of the SDK beta just to tease us. Hopefully.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Analyst predictions: UBS vs RBC Capital Markets [Updated]

MacPredictions loves to keep a close eye on analysts. It's always amusing to see what they're getting up to - especially when they go head-to-head on the Mac Prediction front. In the ring tonight - UBS versus RBC Capital Markets. What's at stake? The release date for the 3G iPhone.

AppleInsider reports that UBS are predicting that the 3G iPhone will be released this Summer, sporting a new chip solution from Infineon (nice touch with the extra detail there). Whilst MacNN reports that RBC Capital Markets are predicting a delay to the iPhone's launch, due to testing and fine-tuning on partner networks (another nice detail to add credibility). But who is right?

Admittedly, since Apple has not announced the 3G iPhone, it's uncertain what a "delay" may mean in practice. However, if the 3G iPhone does come out this summer, that's one point for UBS, if not, then the honours go to RBC. MacPredictions is keeping a score card - we'll let you know how things develop.

Update:
Look who's just leapt into the ring - it's Citigroup's Richard Gardner, who has apparently just returned from a trip to Taiwan (again with the convincing details) citing sources indicating the launch of a 3G iPhone in Q2 (as reported by Silicon Alley). Since we're already in Apple's 2008 Q2 (their year starts in October), we assume this means calendar quarter Q2 - an even earlier ETA. Who will win this battle of the banks? Mac Predictions can hardly wait. 

Saturday, 1 March 2008

“Touch OS X” - Branding Apple’s Handheld OS [Picture]


With the launch of Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch SDK this week (albeit probably still in Beta), it’s surely time for the company to sort out the branding of its mobile OS. Currently, Apple refers to the system that iPhone and iPod Touch share as “OS X”, (sometimes mistakenly referred to by journalists as “Mac OS X”). And as anyone writing about Apple knows, it’s a real mouthful to keep referring to “iPhone and iPod Touch”. The problem will presumably only get worse as Apple releases even more products running their handheld OS – “iPhone, iPhone Nano, iPod Touch and iTablet” will hardly trip off the tongue. And software developers will need a snappy name to describe what their apps run on – not just a list of devices.

It therefore seems inescapable that Apple will need to review its mobile branding strategy, and our money is on “Touch OS X”. It seems like there’s no better time to make the switch than at this week’s forthcoming SDK Keynote. As usual, the mockups on this page are just for fun, and MacPredictions has no inside sources.