Saturday, 31 May 2008

Mobile Me

With recent changes in 10.5.3 making a rebrand for .Mac all but certain, Mac Prediction turns its attention to what that rebrand might entail.

With the anticipated addition to the .Mac package of iPhone consumer push services, Apple’s 2006 registration of the “Mobile Me” trademark is widely suspected to indicate its new name. Of course, it’s not the first time that Apple has rebranded the service - it renamed it from iTools in 2002. Ironically, iTools would have been a more appropriate name, and had they not changed it back then, they probably wouldn’t need to change it again now. It seems that even Apple weren’t anticipating the phenomenal success of its forthcoming mobile business back in 2002.

Whilst “Mobile Me” may initially sound a bit of a clumsy name, so did MacBook Air to many when they first heard it, but the initial scathing remarks from some Apple fans have mellowed over time. With a liberal dose of Apple-gloss, people will get used to Mobile Me as well. On the positive side, Mobile Me gives .Mac a much clearer mission statement - it becomes a package of Internet services to keep you in touch with your digital lifestyle, wherever you go. At home on your Mac, at work on your PC, and on-the-move with your iPhone.

Those three contexts - home, work and on-the-move - bring to mind a recent sneaky change that Apple introduced in their 10.5.1 update. Whilst historically (and somewhat counter-intuitively) shared resources in Mac OS X featured a .Mac globe icon, this changed without explanation in the 10.5.1 release to a “paper dolls” icon of three men holding hands. Whilst this subtle change could simply have been an intelligent enhancement to prevent confusion between file services and .Mac services, in retrospect, it was perhaps indicative of the forthcoming Mobile Me rebrand. In time-honored style, we’ve knocked together a mockup to see how that might look.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Mobile Me - the new name for .Mac

Earlier this month, Mac Predictions speculated that a change was coming to .Mac to link it more tightly with Apple's iPhone product - potentially bundling free .Mac membership to all iPhone subscribers, and selling it as a stand-alone service to support a new sim-free iPhone option.

"Blogging Robots" (via 9 to 5 Mac) has found evidence of plans for a name change to the .Mac service. This is entirely consistent with our previous iPhone bundling prediction, since .Mac would be an odd name for a an iPhone-related product.

We suspect that the newly relaunched Mobile Me (or service will include all the existing .Mac features (excluding iCards, which is surely past it's sell-by date!), plus:
  • Push IMAP e-mail
  • Push contacts & calendars for iPhone
  • Visual Voicemail for sim-free iPhones
  • iDisk for iPhone

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The real reason behind the current iPhone shortages

9 to 5 Mac has posted an excellent speculative piece on why there are currently shortages in iPhone supply. In a nutshell, they speculate that it's a deliberate ploy on Apple's behalf to constrain supply in order to generate extra demand when the new 3G model is launched, whilst also mitigating against the risk of complaints from those who bought the old model immediately prior to the new model's release.

read more | digg story

Sunday, 11 May 2008

3G iPhone

From time to time, the Apple rumor community gets the bit between its teeth and starts to pull. Often, everyone pulls in different directions, but sometimes all the pundits pull together, and then we must pay strict attention. Now is one of those times. There is an emerging consensus building that on June 10, at WWDC, Apple will launch a thicker, plasticky 3G iPhone, alongside the existing model. The new phone would have two cameras, one on the front, and one on the back, and GPS. Trouble is, MacPredictions doesn’t believe a word of it, and here’s why.

All metal enclosure
We’ve seen some pretty unlikely “spy” shots of the supposed 3G iPhone, with claims that the beautiful metal rear of the current iPhone will be replaced with an all plastic enclosure. This seems unlikely when you consider how, less than 12 months ago, Jobs launched the 2007 range of iPods proudly boasting that they now have all-metal enclosures. The iPod touch, for example, has a similar form factor to the iPhone, except that it has a metal bezel, rather than the mirrored-plastic one on the iPhone. Apple’s current design trends are moving away from plastic enclosures, not towards them. I expect the new iPhone to look like a slightly thicker iPod touch, with a black or silver metal bezel, and less plastic.

One model, not a range
As Leander Kahney explains so well in his excellent new book “Inside Steve’s Brain,” one of Job’s many successful initiatives upon his return to Apple was a drastic rationalization of Apple’s disparate product lines. Apple will avoid fracturing the iPhone product line unless there’s a very good reason to do so - and after all, why would or should anyone buy the Edge iPhone when there’s a better 3G alternative? Besides which, the fact that supplies of iPhones appear to be dwindling globally should put pay to this rumor anyway, and raise questions about any sources that suggested the old iPhone would be sold alongside the new 3G model.

Not locked to a single network
This is one of the few rumors doing the rounds that MacPredictions does believe, and we’ve been predicting such a move for several months now. The fact is that the exclusive operator deals have been unnecessarily limiting demand for the iPhone, at a time in the product life cycle where Apple should be going for global domination. Whilst Apple is likely to continue to have exclusive network partners in each territory, it will probably move to distributing a “sim free” model. However, Apple may have some neat ideas up their sleeves to sweeten the with-contract deal, and continue to take their iPhone revenue on a subscription model (which appears to please their bean counters) - see next point.

Free .Mac services for iPhones sold on a contract
Whilst AT&T and Apple’s other network partners will doubtless not be pleased about the advent of a sim-free option, the introduction of a free .Mac account for iPhone contract customers is likely to sweeten the re-negotiated deal for them. The introduction of Exchange Push support is great for enterprise customers, but since RIM are now targeting consumers with their Blackberry devices, Apple will need to provide a consumer push service in order to remain competitive. The current rumors of push mail and calendar services from .Mac sounds entirely likely. It would be very appealing to Apple to get in on the service-provision act, alongside their network partners. Bundling .Mac would also provide an excellent platform from which to cross-sells Macs to iPhone owners. Who knows, perhaps Apple will also sell .Mac as a service to sim-free iPhone purchasers, including visual voicemail as part of .Mac where operators don’t support it.

One camera, not two. No GPS.
With every revolutionary Apple product announcement, there’s always an area of disappointment for some. Even with the announcement of the original iPhone, there was disappointment that it did not offer 3G. The reason for these disappointments is because Apple thinks about the entire product, rather than simply the list of features. They don’t add things just for the sake of it, or because it’s what their competitors are doing. Jobs is famous for saying that he’s as proud of what Apple hasn’t done as he is of what they have. So what will the disappointments be on the 3G iPhone? Firstly, I suspect that they’ll take a pass on GPS support - for two reasons. Firstly, they’ll want to save space and power consumption. Secondly, they’ll say that their amazing Skyhooks/GSM triangulation solution means they don’t need GPS. The other area for likely disappointment is video conferencing. A lot of rumor sites are claiming that the 3G iPhone will have a camera on the front for video conferencing. MacPredictions doubts this. Steve will say something like “a lot of our competitors have been doing this for a while, and we looked into it, and you know what? It turns out that no one uses it. People don’t want to do video conferencing on their phones. It’s great when you’re using iChat, sitting down in the privacy of your home with a beautiful big MacBook screen, but it’s not so great when you’re walking around with your phone.” Instead, Apple will hopefully choose to improve the existing camera - which badly needs focus, face recognition, higher resolution etc.

World’s thinnest 3G phone
Steve Jobs is not the kind of guy to get up on stage and say “oh yeah, we’ve finally got a 3G model - sorry it took us so long”. No. He’ll have some reason for why Apple waited. It’ll be to do with the size, heat and power consumption of the 3G chipset when they originally launched the iPhone. Technology has come a long way since then, and they’ve got some “awesome partner who has delivered a cutting edge solution working really closely with Apple’s engineers” (implying exclusivity on the chipset without actually saying it). The long and the short of it is that Apple will go for some eye-catching proposition for their 3G offering, like “the world’s thinnest 3G phone.” It may be even thinner than the original iPhone, and with an amazing battery life. And Job’s will round it off with something like: “we think you’ll agree it was worth the wait”.

So, for what it’s worth, that’s MacPredictions take on 3G iPhones. No mockups yet, but we’ll have them for you very soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

iPod Shuffle with Multi-Touch

OK, I confess. I’m bored with the current Apple rumor hegemony. Whilst I have to concede that everything is pointing towards a thick black plastic 3G iPhone, I don’t have to like it. (And for the record, those photos of the 3G iPhone doing the rounds have got to be fake - it’s hard to imagine Apple ever producing something so... well... Samsungy.)

So to take my mind off all things thick and plasticy, Mac Predictions has instead turned its attentions to the iPod Shuffle. It seems that the recent drop in price has done the trick in giving a boost to the Shuffle’s flagging sales, but at the obvious expense of Apple’s famously high margins.

There are, of course, two reasons why someone might choose a Shuffle - its price, and its size. For those who are not price sensitive, but are still drawn to the Shuffle’s diminutive form factor, there’s currently a gap in the market - especially since the new Nano has sneakily increased in size. This got Mac Predictions to thinking about what might be done to a Shuffle by adding a screen and Multi-Touch. At first this just seemed like a daft combination, until an idea so awsome, so simple, so... well, Appley, came along.

The screen is square shaped - perfect for album art, which is all it ever shows. The device is a little larger than the current shuffle, and it only has two buttons on the bottom - On/Off and Shuffle. Each time the Shuffle goes from one track to the next, it uses a neat “Push” transition (illustrated) to change album art. In shuffle mode, it transitions quickly between multiple album covers, moving in different directions to suggest shuffling. Swiping your finger from left to right across the screen cues the next track, and in the other direction it goes back to the previous track. Swiping your finger up and down controls the volume. Tapping on the screen toggles between pause and play. It’s that simple.

I love this idea so much - I hope that Apple is already working on it, or reads this blog and develops the idea, because I want to buy one!

Mac App Store

Last month, we published some speculation from MacPredictions reader Doug Best on the rumored forthcoming iPhone updates. His prediction of the introduction of a range of iPods with a thicker 3G model have subsequently been corroborated by a number of reliable rumor websites, so it seems like Doug is in the zone at the moment. Here below is another prediction from Doug - a logical and strategically sound idea for Apple to introduce an App Store for Mac along the same lines as the planned App Store for iPhone.

"The upcoming App Store for the iPhone is already seeing incredible interest, not only from developers large and small, but users eager to consume its goods, and investors watching to see how it unfolds; US venture capital firm Kliener Perkins Caufield & Byers, in fact, has unveiled a $100 million iPhone fund for developers. An incredibly rich ecosystem of software for Apple portable devices could be on the horizon.

An easy to access, easy to use online store for buying mobile software, where an individual developer's $5.95 application could theoretically get the same exposure as a Fortune 500 company - it's a model currently non-existent (despite efforts) for the Windows Mobile or RIM world. Could the App Store be the killer app for iPhone?

Apple thinks so. And so does Kleiner Perkins. And anyone who mulls it over for any period of time will probably come to the same conclusion. But what about an App Store for the desktop Macs?

Say what? An App Store for my iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook or Mac Mini? But I can already go to a brick and mortar and buy a box with a CD in it, or order it from Amazon, or often purchase and download directly from the distributor. What can Apple do to make it better?

Alot, Apple thinks. Let's talk through it:

They can bring all those titles together under one roof, make finding and buying them easier and prettier and more enjoyable then ever with Apple's legendary ease of use and interface expertise.

This also creates an incredible opportunity for smaller developers to get the kind of exposure they could only dream of otherwise; the public will find a wealth of software titles they may otherwise have never heard of; the OS X software universe continues to get bigger and better, everyone is happy.

Imagine being able to instantly search, browse, purchase and download almost any Mac software title out there. Of course, larger titles like games or Adobe CS3 may take hours to download, but Apple is planning on an option for those who don't want to wait or don't have broadband - make the purchase in App Store, go into an Apple Store (brick and mortar) and have it burned on disc right there and pick it up. In fact, from your iPhone/iPod Touch you could purchase half a dozen titles totaling several gigabytes, and then pick them up on DVD from an Apple Store. Or just browse the App Store from within an Apple Store while visiting and have it burned on disc to take with you. Secure mirrored servers will make it possible.

The savings in boxes, paper, and printing should make Greenpeace happy. And since Apple takes a small slice of eery sale, it's a handsome revenue generator for them.

Also, App Store can store purchase info and registration/serial numbers, and notify when updates are available. Buy a new iMac or have your laptop stolen. No problem, log onto App Store with your new Mac and re-download and install all your purchases.

Apple is also striving to make the online shopping experience more user-friendly. Imagine being able to "see" people online looking at the same products, and then ask them what they think or have they used it before, etc. Its a totally interactive shopping experience.