They say that only two things in life are certain — death and taxes — but when you’re a Mac user, the other certainty is that Apple will do something big for Macworld San Francisco. The annual Mac pilgrimage is now just a few days away, and as with years past, rumors are flying high about what Apple may or may not do, announce, and/or release at the largest Mac consumer show of the year. And while nobody really knows for sure what Steve Jobs will unveil at MWSF, if you’ve read the tea leaves, and have listened really closely to the things he says, and look for those telegraphed punches that Apple sends out, you can almost read the writing on the wall.
So, to jump into the fray of MWSF rumors and hypothesis, I decided to do a little digging around. I’ve gone back over notes from MWSF keynotes past, keynotes from other conferences and product releases, and I’ve even enlisted the input of Mac authors and bloggers who write for O’Reilly and the Mac DevCenter.
This article is broken down into three sections:
- The $64,000 Question?
So, without further ado, let’s get on with the show.
When you look at what Apple’s done in the past, it’s pretty easy to make some assumptions about what they might release at MWSF. The first, hugely obvious one is a rev to iLife.
Since MWSF is a huge opportunity to reach consumers, it makes total sense for Apple to update and announce releases of their main consumer apps, the iApps, better known as iLife. Based on prior history, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’ll see iLife ‘06 release at MWSF. Of course, then, the bigger questions are:
- What will that rev to the iLife suite consist of?
- Will more pieces be added to the puzzle?
Both are valid questions, so let’s start with the first one. It makes sense for Apple to offer updates and revisions to all of the iLife apps. My guess is we’ll see more refinement to applications like iMovie HD and GarageBand, and I’m really hoping that iPhoto will get an overhaul to the point where it could be considered Aperture Lite. And we know we’ll see another rev to iTunes, even if it’s some sort of incremental update, just to keep with the spirit of offering an updated app for the suite. Maybe iMovie and iDVD will gain more themes and possibly more effects, but not so much so that it’ll keep consumers from purchasing Final Cut Express or going full-tilt and purchasing Final Cut Studio for all the advanced video editing and DVD production tools.
So what else can Apple add to iLife ‘06 to make it the next-greatest thing since sliced bread? The first thing I’d like to see added to the next rev of iLife is a version of Front Row that’ll run on any G4 or better Mac. One of the more shocking announcements earlier this year wasn’t the ROKR iTunes-equipped cellphone, but instead the new G5 iMac that just happened — in a typical Steve Jobs “Oh, by the way…” style — to include a little application called Front Row. We could see that something like this was coming, but there was no heads up. To make matters worse (or better, depending on whether you’re a glass is half-full kinda person) is that Front Row wasn’t made available as a stand-alone application that you could buy or download from Apple’s online store. Nope, if you wanted Front Row, you had to belly up to the bar and purchase a new G5 iMac.
As you can imagine, this chapped the hides of many of the Mac faithful, and it wasn’t long before Front Row showed up on BitTorrent. And not long after that, it wasn’t long before people figured out how to get Front Row running on everything from their current PowerBooks to the Mac mini.
So what’s so appealing about Front Row that it has people scrambling to get a copy of it now instead of later? Well, for one, Apple hasn’t said “Boo!” about it since releasing Front Row with the new iMac. And of course, that’s sparked a new round of rumors that Apple might be working on some sort of home theatre/media center device that’ll include Front Row. Time will only tell, but from my own opinion, that’s what I’d love to see. I really don’t see the value in sticking a G5 iMac in my living room, but what I really want is an Apple-branded media center device that has wireless and connects to my surround-sound stereo system and wide-screen television. But now I’m getting ahead of myself, so more on this in a bit…back to iLife ‘06.
So yeah, I think adding Front Row to iLife makes total sense. Front Row gives you a front-end to iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie, so why not make it available for use with pretty much everything else you might want to stream through to your television or stereo system. C’mon, you can see this punch telegraphed from a mile away. It’s coming.
Is there anything else Apple can add to iLife ‘06? Um, well, uh, how about that Photo Booth app? Again, it’s something you can only get with the new iMac. C’mon! Apple’s decision to release hardware-only software releases would be like Nike releasing the best damned sports shoe and telling everyone that it’s only available in a men’s size 6. Would Shaquille O’Neal hack off 16 inches of his foot to wear the shoe? Hell no! So why should I be forced to buy an iMac to get Front Row and Photo Booth? Yeah, I know, your goal is to sell more hardware, blah, blah, blah…but c’mon! People want this software, and when you see a demand for it, you need to spin on your heals and find a way to sell this stuff quickly. You know it will sell. You know we’re all a bunch of crack addicts with high-limit credit cards…give us what we want.
So, okay, now that I’ve maligned both Apple and all the Mac faithful (myself included) in one fell-swoop, let’s move on…
iWork, uWork, we all work for, well…da man. Okay, back to the ballgame.
Long ago, Apple introduced their lightweight “office” application suite known as AppleWorks. Problem was, AppleWorks wasn’t really a work-grade application suite, and it’s been the forgotten stepchild ever since it was first introduced. Then, just before Macworld SF 2003, rumors started flying around that Apple was working on a revision of AppleWorks for Mac OS X. And there was much rejoicing. Then Steve Jobs jumps on-stage at Moscone, and introduces…Keynote. Apple even gave us press folks NFR copies of Keynote so we could play around with it, test it out, tell people what a great app it was, etc. And it was. Keynote was a good 1.0 application, but it didn’t have anything else to go with it. Keynote gave us a superior presentation tool, it opened and exported files for PowerPoint, it employed QuickTime transitions, and it made me very happy. But it needed a best buddy and a couple of friends to go with it.
Then MWSF2004 came along and we saw…bubkis! Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Well, at least in the way of accompaniments for Keynote. Nope, Keynote was left in its 1.2 phase and there was no announcement of any sort related to AppleWorks or any other apps to go along with Keynote. So we sailed through the rest of 2004, using Keynote and dreaming of the day when it would have a couple of buddies to go out to the pub with. But alas, nothing else came out in 2004. It wasn’t until, oh, around this time last year that we started to hear rumors of an application for creating documents. One of the rumors even said that the application’s name would be Document, which of course made me start thinking about emails I would send to friends, “Hey, here’s a Document document.” Of course, if Document really was an early name for the app, it’s obvious that someone else within Apple (probably the janitor in Building 3) realized this was a goofy name and they decided to change the name to Pages. So now we have Pages documents, which doesn’t sound too bad, but let’s not get caught up on the name. We finally had a friend for Keynote, and Keynote itself was updated to version 2, and both were packaged as iWork.
Will MWSF2006 bring anything new for iWork? Or will iWork-related apps be restricted to odd-numbered year releases? It’s hard to say, but one thing’s clear, iWork is a consumer application suite, and if Apple wants to compete with Microsoft Office (come on, please, Please, PUH-LEEZE!), they’ve got to add a few more pieces of software to the iWork suite, and what a better place to announce these changes than at Macworld.
So, what does iWork need? Well, it needs a spreadsheet application for one. Something that’ll open and work with Excel spreadsheets, and not just the most basic form of Excel spreadsheet, but something that does what Excel does and more. What would this app be called? Well, Buddha only knows, but one thing’s for sure, Apple wouldn’t call it iSpread (insert tactless humor here). Let’s see, we have Keynote for giving, um, presentations, Pages for, um, creating documents, so if we’re getting a spreadsheet application, maybe they’ll call it Numbers.
Why Numbers? Well, if you go over to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s web site (USPTO site), and do some fine digging around (like I did), you’ll discover that Apple has trademarked a couple application names that could — just maybe — be used as the name for a spreadsheet application. Here’s what I found:
- Numbers (Trademark Serial #: 78646677)
Description: Computer software
Filing Date: June 8, 2005
- iCalc (Trademark Serial #: 78596181)
Description: Computer software
Filing Date: March 28, 2005
- Graphulator (Trademark Serial #: 78560028)
Description: Computer hardware; computer software
Filing Date: February 3, 2005
So, there you have it: Keynote for presentations, Pages for documents, and Numbers for spreadsheets. The naming sounds logical to me, but we’ll have to wait until next week before we really know anything for sure. Not that my Magic 8-Ball isn’t trusty, it’s just that you never know what could happen at Macworld. I can’t see Apple using iCalc or Graphulator for the name of a spreadsheet application, but then again, you never know. Of the three possibilities I found on the USPTO site, Numbers makes the most sense, then maybe iCalc to stick with the whole iApp thing, but Graphulator? Seriously, now. We already have Automator. Graphulator? Please don’t do it.
But wait! Could there be more?
Yes, after further digging around, I wonder whether there could be a lightweight database application in the works. Why? Well, again, the USPTO’s site coughed up this tasty tidbit of info:
- iFile (Trademark Serial #: 78680095)
Description: computer software for management of personal and business information for individuals and groups, computer software for data synchronization, calculation, expense management, database management, document management, project management, electronic mail, electronic messaging, online chat rooms, data sharing, text editing, word processing, contact information management, task list management, graphics, automated reminders, time management, scheduling, and publication of information to a website, and instruction manuals in electronic form sold as a unit supplied therewith
Filing Date: July 27, 2005
If iFile is real, the part about “publication of information to a website” makes me think that there could be some sort of tie-in with .Mac so you can publish information to your .Mac HomePage or to a .Mac Groups page.
Okay, kids, here’s the part of the show that’ll make your Visa card melt in your wallet. Ever since Steve Jobs announced Apple’s switch from IBM to Intel chips, we’ve all been chomping at the bit, waiting for Apple to release something other than an over-hyped developer box (which, by the way, you have to pay for and then return it to Apple by the end of 2006…yep, Think Different…nyet).
Intel PowerBooks and iBooks
So, what might Uncle Steve have up his sleeve for us at MWSF2006? Well, if you believe the rumor sites, the first in line is an Intel-based iBook. Ho-freakin’-hum. Seriously, folks, who all out there wants to see Apple make an iBook their first entry point with Intel-based Macs? Not me. Two years ago, when Apple unveiled the 12″ and 17″ Aluminum PowerBooks, Steve said it would be the year of the laptop. 2004 gave us a new line of PowerBooks that have since been seriously hobbled by IBM’s decision to screw us all by deciding to focus their chip development for cars and game consoles. Great! Thanks, Big Blue. But enough of my angst over the way PowerBooks have continued to lag behind in speed and performance over WinTel laptops.
If you were at WWDC2005, or if you caught the replay of the keynote, you could see the look on Steve Jobs’ face when he said Apple was making the switch to Intel. All we can guess is that IBM blew an opportunity with Apple by not delivering the chips they said they would, and that pissed off Apple. Out with IBM and in with Intel. Fortunately, Apple had been working on an Intel version of Mac OS X right from the very start, just in case such a thing ever happened. So yes, rumors of the Marklar project were true way back when, and Apple finally got fed up and called IBM’s bluff. Good for you, Steve! (Hey, when you can see all of the dual-core G5 chips going up to Redmond to feed Xbox 360’s, and not over to Cupertino for the Power Mac line, it doesn’t take a genius to see that something’s amiss.)
So now that IBM’s out and Intel’s, um, In, which boxes are going to be the first to be branded as “Intel Inside” Macs? To me, Apple needs to rev the PowerBook line — and fast! Let the iBooks, iMacs, Mac minis, and the Power Mac line come later. Apple needs to bring out the bitchin’ fast PowerBooks at MWSF2006, and release all three sizes — 12-, 15-, and 17-inch models — at the same time. (Please don’t make us wait another 9 months to see the 15-inch PowerBook like we did when you announced the Aluminum series. (Don’t make me sing bars from the Spice Girls disc, “Give Me What I Want, What I Really, Really Want.”)
To redeem themselves, Apple needs to make PowerBooks the first line of Intel-based Macs. PowerBook users have been the lot who’ve been overlooked for far too long. Sure, we get a little speed bump here and there, or some new feature like the Sudden Impact thingamabob, but what we really need is speed. Again, don’t make me quote Tom Cruise from Top Gun (”I feel the need. The need for speed.” Crap, there you go, you’ve done it again!) Give us faster PowerBooks and please don’t make us wait until WWDC2006 rolls around or until the end of the year…give them to us now. I realize that MWSF is a consumer show, blah, blah, blah, but “consumers” don’t just use iBooks and iMacs and Mac minis. When I go to the local coffee shop to work, I see more students with 12″ PowerBooks than I do with iBooks, and even rarer, those toting around Mac minis. (Okay, in all fairness, I’ve not seen the latter, but still, it’s not chic to be seen in a Portland coffee shop with anything other than a shiny PowerBook.)
So what would I like to see in an Intel-based PowerBook? First and foremost: speed. I want a blazing fast PowerBook with a kick-ass graphics card that’ll let me run apps like Aperture or Final Cut Pro without making me think “Man, when did the sloths take over my Mac?” Oh, and I don’t want to be working on my PowerBook with “Chuck’s nuts roasting on an open fire…” playing through my mind. It’s gotta be fast, and it’s gotta run cool. From what Steve said in his WWDC2005 keynote, that’s what we should get — cooler running, faster processors — so make it so. More pixels on-screen would be nice, too (courtesy of better graphics cards), but what I really want is speed.
The next thing I want in a new PowerBook is a casing that doesn’t act as a force field to AirPort/WiFi signals. I have the oldest PowerBook at O’Reilly (I’ve had this 667 MHz TiBook since August 2002), and the Titanium case makes it impossible for me to use wireless in my home and on the road. My solution has been to use a Linksys PCMCIA card, but I shouldn’t have to. I’ve also heard from people who have the Aluminum PowerBooks who have the same problem. So, what could Apple do to give us cool looking laptops that don’t shield AirPort signals? That I’m not sure of, but maybe we should move away from metal casings on PowerBooks. Sure, they’re pretty, but the whole purpose of having a laptop is to be able to work wirelessly, and when the case shields the signal, there’s a problem.
Built-in iSight Cameras?
Oh, and as far as that rumor goes about building an iSight camera into the lid of the new PowerBooks…please don’t do it. Whoever did the market research on this should really be taken out back to Building 5 and handed a mop. To me, that just adds another bit of unnecessary gadgetry and I can see where many of these will get damaged, forcing people to send their prescious workhorse PowerBooks into AppleCare to repair the camera. Seriously, the one thing I hate having to do is give up my laptop for 3-5 business days to fix something minor. Case in point: the latch on my PowerBook’s lid has been broken for months, but since I use my PowerBook every day, I can’t afford the time away from it to get a 10-cent magnetic latch fixed. Things like this should be things that can be fixed in an Apple Store; I shouldn’t have to give up my laptop for a week, and if the new PowerBooks sport built-in iSight cameras, that’s what we’re all going to be faced with.
Consumers won’t benefit from having a built-in iSight camera. It’s the same reason why I won’t purchase a television with a built in DVD player or VHS player: when that component of the device breaks, you’re screwed, and so will be the case for when that built-in iSight breaks. We’re screwed. We’ll have to send in our PowerBooks or iBooks or iMacs just to get a $50 camera replaced. Loss in your customer’s productivity should be part of the equation, Apple. And if you can’t guarantee that I’ll get my Mac back in less than 3-5 business days, at least give me AppleCare Pro: out today, back tomorrow service. If it can’t be fixed in an Apple Store, they ship it out to a repair center where it receives priority fixin’ and is sent back to the customer that night.
iTheatre: The Mac Home Theatre Experience
Okay, this one’s seen lots of rumors lately, but the one thing that I think we should expect to see is some large move from Apple into the home theatre space. Prior to MWSF2005 there were lots of rumors floating around that Apple might be working on a home theatre device, known as iHome. Instead, all we got was the Mac mini, and don’t get me wrong, the Mac mini is a wicked-fast little machine (hey, it’s faster than the aging TiBook I’m writing this from), but it wasn’t quite what people expected.
As mentioned earlier, Apple introduced a new app, Front Row, with the upgraded G5 iMacs. If that wasn’t a telegraphed punch, then I don’t know what the hell is. To me, Front Row was Apple’s way to test the waters; to see how the Mac faithful would react to a home theatre application.
So what’s the next step? Pairing a Mac mini-type computer with Front Row and packaging it in a box that fits in with my home theatre system. Something wide, black (with a chrome Apple logo on the front, obviously), and fits in the cabinet with all my other audio-visual gear. Make it the same width as my tuner, equalizer, DVD player, CD player, etc., so it doesn’t stick out like an obvious sore thumb. Make it look like it belongs in a stereo cabinet. The box should have wireless so I can stream photos and music and movies to it, and it should have a DVD tray so I can insert movies and/or listen to CDs.
Of course, the next question is, what type of machine will this be? Will it be TiVo-like, in that it has a hard drive and runs a full-blown version of the Mac OS X operating system? Or will it be some new hybrid device? Um, yeah, the latter.
For those of you who’ve been paying attention to the rumormills lately, you’ve no doubt seen the one about Apple buying up a bunch of flash memory. Something like $1.2 billion worth. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that, but that’s a shitload of flash memory. What the hell does Apple need with that much flash memory? Certainly it can’t all be for iPod shuffles and nanos. Okay, maybe some of it could be used for those, but come on, that’s still a shitload of flash memory.
My thought on this is that some of the flash memory will be used in the iPod line, but I think the rest will be used to run a lightweight version of Mac OS X in a home theatre device. Now I know you’re all thinking that I’m smoking from a crack pipe, but c’mon, think about it. If you have a component in your home theatre system, you want it to turn on when you hit the Power button on the remote, right? Well, that same theory would apply to an iTheatre device. You don’t want to wait for an operating system to boot and load from disc. If you have a lightweight version of the operating system that can live on flash memory, you’ll get an instant on, and when it needs to do something more complex, then and only then will it need to access the disc to launch a program or provide some other service. Again, it’s all about speed, and when it comes to your home theatre, you want that device to turn on when you want to use it, not 30- or 60-seconds later. Now, now, now!
My final thought on what I’m calling the iTheatre is that it should be priced at the same level as the Mac mini or less. Make the price comparable with other home theatre devices and you’ll sell a bunch of them. Price it too high, and you’re forcing the early-adopter market to be the ones to buy and play with them first while locking out the rest of the wider, broader consumer market. I’m sure that more people would buy a $499 device than a $699 device, unless the $699 device comes with an iPod nano.
More on Intel Macs
Just when you thought I’ve said enough about the Intel Mac line, think again. To remind everyone, Steve Jobs said that the transition to Intel would start mid-year 2006 and go through 2007. All of the rumor sites have been reporting that Apple’s ahead of their earlier projections, and my guess is that we’ll see all of the Mac hardware line switch to Intel in 2006, and I’d like to think that Mactel hardware will be introduced in the following order:
- Mac mini
- Power Mac
Apple’s bread and butter are the laptops, so it makes sense for PowerBooks and iBooks to be intro’d first with the Power Mac line (including the Xserve) coming later in 2006. And what makes me think that we’ll see all of these Intel Macs in 2006? Um, well, that would be the next big kitty: Mac OS X Leopard.
In his WWDC2005 keynote, after announcing the Intel switcheroo, Steve Jobs told developers that a beta for Mac OS X Leopard would appear at WWDC2006 and that it would release in late-2006 or early-2007 (around the same time Microsoft releases Longhorn, now known as Windows Vista), and that Leopard would run on the PowerPC and Intel Macs alike. If that’s the case, then why drag out moving the entire hardware line until a time after Leopard releases? No, that won’t happen. I think we can expect to see the entire Mac hardware line revved by the end of 2006, and certainly in time for Leopard’s release, whenever that will be.
The $64,000 Question: What’s the Next Big Thing?
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Apple evolve from being a hardware and OS company that built a few apps, to being the dominating force in the consumer music space with the iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Music Store. When Steve Jobs told attendees at the Macworld New York 2003 keynote that Apple was going to innovate out of the recession, he didn’t falter. We’ve seen Apple introduce the Apple Stores, and their success has a viral quality that introduces non-Mac people to Apple and its products. In this year alone, we’ve seen the following from Apple:
- The Mac mini
- iWork (including Keynote 2 and Pages)
- iMovie HD
- Final Cut Express HD
- iPod shuffle
- Speed bumps for iBooks and PowerBooks
- Final Cut Studio with Motion 2 and Soundtrack Pro
- Mac OS X Tiger
- A 2-for-1 stock split, followed by a constant upward trend in the price of Apple’s stock
- iPod nano
- A new G5 iMac with a built-in iSight, and Front Row and Photo Booth software
- An iPod that plays video
- Dual- and Quad-core Power Macs
So what can we expect to see in 2006? Here’s a bit of what’s on my wish list:
- Intel Macs all around by the end of the year.
- A home theatre device (iTheatre?) that comes with Front Row, AirPort, Bluetooth, and perhaps (if we’re lucky), some sort of DVR capability as well so we can record shows.
- Soundtrack Express. We have Logic Express and Final Cut Express, why not make a lightweight version of Soundtrack and market toward those who create Podcasts. Keep it loop-based, give it more of an audio-in, and tack on some one-click way to publish Podcasts either direct to iTunes (a benefit of buying the app), or to your .Mac HomePage or some other site.
- Bigger and better versions of the iPod shuffle and nano (”bigger” meaning storage capacity without an increased price).
- iLife ‘06 (I think that’s a given every year, though, at Macworld)
- iWork ‘06, with updated versions of Keynote and Pages, and hopefully Numbers and iFile.
- Upgrades to the .Mac services, along with a lower price tag. While I like .Mac (hey, I wrote a book on it), $100/year is pretty steep.
- Universal Binaries all around (as Intel Macs hit the street, everything will have to be a UB)
- iTunes Movie Store, the new video iPod is just the first piece of the puzzle (think bigger and look for the telegraphed punch people). The iTunes Movie Store would work with Front Row on the home theatre device, and would have some sort of subscription service that allows you to subscribe and automatically download movies and television shows.
Finally, the one thing I’d like to see from Apple later this year is Mac OS X Leopard (version 10.5). I know we’re not supposed to see the preview until WWDC in June, and that Steve Jobs said in his WWDC2005 keynote that Leopard wouldn’t release until late-2006 or early-2007, but I’d really like to see Apple ship the new OS in time for Christmas this year. It would be great if Leopard could hit the street before Windows Vista debuts so us Mac Folk could snub our noses toward Redmond once more.
Enter the Mac Pundits
As the final piece to this article, I’ve solicited input from some of O’Reilly’s Mac authors and bloggers to get their opinions on what Apple might announce at MWSF2006 and throughout next year. Here’s what they had to say:
Okay, so there you have it…I’ve blathered on long enough. Let me know what you think. And if you’re going to Macworld next week, stop by the O’Reilly booth and let’s talk Macs; I’d love to hear what you have to say.