Will There be New Year Surprises from Apple?

By Graham K. Rogers


Road to SF For the last couple of years at the end of December, part of me has been preparing for trips to MacWorld. This year, Apple will not be at the Moscone Center (although MacWorld is still running): no Steve Jobs, no Keynote, no new products. Maybe.

The upside is that all those hundreds or more of Apple employees, who had been directly or indirectly involved in the rollout of new products, will have their first new year at home with no early January deadline. Maybe.

This is Apple and there are always new products or upgrades at some stage of development -- software and hardware -- but Apple can now choose the time of announcements, rather than be limited by the deadline of an early January MacWorld.

Usually, around the same time, Las Vegas is a centre of technical wizardry with the annual CES Conference, which this year runs from 7 - 10 January. A quick look at the list of over 2,000 exhibitors, shows names like Adobe, Microsoft, Sony and Logitech. It is expected that some significant announcements - Palm for example -- will be made. It is not beyond the possible that Apple may also announce some product or enhancement at the time of CES: the ever-present rumours are drumming away in the background. As CES nears, the intensity will increase.

The current range of computers, iPods and iPhones is maturing, and will benefit from regular evolution (in processor speeds, for example), or with the gradual changes in technology. Some have suggested that USB 3.0 may be coming our way in the near future and the question of Blu-Ray has been floating around for a while. As the iMac range has just been updated, there is less chance that this would feature, but there is always a chance that the MacBook Pro computers could be in for some changes, particularly as the i5 processor used in one iMac now has a version for notebooks. Also, in the middle of December details were leaked about the 6-core Intel Core i7-980X (the Gulftown, also called the i9) and several commentators speculated that this could find its way into the Mac Pro.

With the arrival of Snow Leopard and its 64-bit capabilities, I would expect a number of updates to Apple's own software, most notably Aperture, iLife (iPhoto, GarageBand, iMovie et al), and iWork (Keynote, Pages and Numbers). It is in Apple's interests to bring these in line with the 64-bit OS and there is a product cycle: the software is always being revised. Aperture needs to keep ahead of Adobe's Lightroom and there are a number of additions (such as focus) that professionals would appreciate without spoiling the look and feel.

The components of iLife have seen a number of improvements over the last couple of years, but also a couple of backward steps: changes to iMovie, for example, were so drastic that the update last year had to compromise on steps forward with the preferred features of earlier. The growth in social networking may suggest more features that make this easier. Several such sites (YouTube, Flickr, Facebook) are already linked, either directly or using plugins.

The iPhone will see a new version sometime during the year, probably around June. Already early versions are being tested around San Francisco. This is part of the normal product cycle, but there is speculation on improvements and networks, such as CDMA and 4G (already on test in some US cities).

A recent Apple acquisition, Lala, which is a music-sharing service, strongly suggests that changes to iTunes features are coming, although some features may not be available outside America.

Cupertino The biggest speculation concerns a device between the iPhone and the MacBook. We have heard it called a Tablet (or iTablet), iPad, large iPhone and netbook. There have been countless comments, and even supposed images of something; but the truth is that no one outside Apple really knows.

One thing that bothers me about this rumoured device (if it exists) is that the rumours used to support its existence cite several deals for media content. Many of these might well preclude a world-wide rollout in much the way that the iTunes Music Store was restricted by the copyright holders: the owners of the content. An additional wild card comes into play here as the device is alleged to run 3G. While some countries are beginning to test 4G, there seem to be some problems with 3G in Thailand; but I am sure Bangkok Post readers will be aware of this.

If the launch is to be March or April, an announcement might be forthcoming in the new year. Why would Apple not steal some CES thunder, especially as this year they do not need to have a device up and running for demonstration at the Moscone Center? With Apple always expect, "one more thing."

My best wishes for the new Year to all readers.

[Since writing this, as in previous years the rumours have taken on a slightly more concrete form. I discuss these in this week's podcast (#232).]

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