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.