Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reality Distortion and Fanboy Jubilation

Mac fanboys of the world are indded rejoicing, for Steve Jobs has his next keynote in about 8 hours. The entire gadget world is all atwitter as to what new announcements will burst forth from the reality distortion field today.

My bet? Not a HUGE amount. Nothing revolutionary, or disruptive like the iPhone, and original iMac; but I'd guess a lot of product refreshes and revamps.

Why do I say not huge? Well, honestly, the hype leading up to this Macworld has been a bit disappointing; Also, Apple revved the processors on their workstation and server platforms last week with no great fanfare, and no other changes.

Finally, there's the usually reliable apple store thermometer. When Steve is announcing new products, the Apple store always closes down for a while. The bigger the product announcement (or the more different products announced), the longer the store is down before he announces.

It's 8 hours (actually about 7 now) before the speech, and the store is still up; so nothing HUGE (update: turns out it went down a little bit after I posted this).

So, what are my actual predictions:

1. A new micro notebook: This one has been rumored for over a year; but so far little more than photochoping has come of it. The buzz is very high, with many supposed leaks (all proven false so far), and some interesting possibilities. I think it would make a lot of sense, and I'm sure they are readying a product for announcement, but I don't know if it will be today. I give it about a 50/50 shot, and if they do announce today, it will be a forward looking "available in q2" type announcement.

If it does announce today, I think it will announce with built in wireless broadband; to explain the "there's something in the air" banners all over the expo center. In fact, wireless broadband may become a standard or optional feature on several products; though I don't think the announcement on the 3g iPhone that we all know is cming, will be til the next Macworld.

2. A revised iMac: Not exactly a risky prediction sense it's been leaked all over the place... of course the leaks could be a lie. The revision will be a basic tech update, with a change in look to match whatever the new cinema display redesign is... bringing us of course to prediction 3

3. A refresh of the CinemaDisplay line: The line as it is is being outstriped by cheaper competitors. Apple needs to keep their lead in this VERY high margin product area for them. Expect a spec bump, a slight price drop for current capability, no size changes, and a cosmetic revision moving further into the new "silver and black" Apple style. LED backlighting may appear; but if it does, it means a price bump, which in this soft market may not be the best choice.

I think both are fairly likely; almost certain this year, but I'm not sure if they'll be at this macworld.

Also, we may see wireless HDMI, or wireless display port show up. Something novel, and elegant; that matches the aesthetic that Apple wants to project.

4. A laptop overhaul: At the very least, we should see the display panels updated; and may see LED. I'm also thinking a cosmetic update to match the rest of the line.

5. A revised AppleTV: Either that, or they just quietly drop it. It's a dog as it is currently; but if they revised it to be a better media server, maybe add PVR capability (I doubt it) and solid HD outputs... maybe. I've heard rumors both ways on this one. If we DO get a new product, expect it to be silver and black as well.

6. A “media server” version of the Mac Mini: If the ATV gets dumped, this will be a complete replacement for the Apple TV. I actually think this is more likely than trying to salvage the AppleTV; and again, look for the black and silver.

7. A chassis refresh on the whole desktop line: This one is I think the most controversial prediction I'll make; but I think the current Mac look is going to be scrapped to bring branding in line with the iPhone and iPod touch. Yes, they just had a proc rev on the MacPros, but they didn't make any big deal out of it; and Steve is apparently quite taken with both the overall look of the iPhone, and with the idea of a consistent aesthetic and industrial design.

The fact is, there hasn't been a major update since the MacIntel announcement two years ago, and the last major cosmetic update was almost three years before that. Much as I like the aluminum cheesegrater (I really do actually. I'd love one); Steve doesn't like 5 year old industrial design (anymore anyway; the Apple 2 had the same design for 10 years), and I think they are going to strengthen their brand image by unifying around the new silver and black aesthetic.

Again, I'm sure this will happen this year; but it's only 50/50 this macworld.

8. BluRay drives available as an option on some models: This one I'm a bit iffy on. Like Bill Gates, I believe Steve Jobs would rather eliminate optical media entirely, and just distribute everything online. That said, their customer base has been clamoring for BD (and especially for BD authoring), so it would surprise me if we didn't at least see it creep in as an option on some models.

Oh and on a related note, I expect an announcement of TRUE HD movie downloads from iTunes, at least from Disney; and of course the already leaked movie rentals through iTunes (which is I think a stillborn idea. Digital rentals are just silly).

Well, we'll know in 7-8 hours how much I got right, and how much I muffed.

What's your guess?

UPDATE 1 - 10:42 mst : Well the iPhone stuff I didn't bother with, because it had all been leaked already; but the airport/nas box combo is a great idea, and if they executed it right should be a great product.

Looking at the design of it though, I'm guessing my chassis refresh prediction isn't going to happen, and the cinema displays are going to keep their current look (I'm still hoping for a spec upgrade).

UPDATE 2 - 11:00 mst : I was right about the HD movie, and the APpleTV refresh. This one looks like it might make the ATV viable finally, especially with a price drop to $229. No cosmetic change though. Oh well.

UPDATE 3 - 11:27 mst : Oh my god, that is the greatest laptop ever invented. Seriously this thing is as awesome as the original ThinkPads, and PowerBooks. All that in a 3/4" thick package, for $1800... damn. I so want one.

UPDATE 4 - 11:40 mst : Randy Newman is definitely very very high right now

Ok, so I'm about 40 up/ 60 down here. No cosmetic update, no bump in LCD specs (I'm pretty surprised about that one) which the iMac and laptop update would also have been wraped into, and no BluRay.

I'm not counting the media server as a wrong guess, because I did guess they would refresh the apple TV and the media server doesn't make sense with an ATV refresh.

They did announce HD movies, and the MacBook Air.. available in 2 weeks (yeah, right. maybe a few hundred). I'm guessing we wont be seeing many for at least three months.

The new TimeCapsule... that was out of the blue. I'm digging it. If it ends up being a good useful NAS box then it should be a big hit. I know I'd love one.