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.