Mac Musings

iLife and Tiger and Macs, Oh My!

What We Might See at the Expo

Dan Knight - 2005.01.06 - Tip Jar

Macworld Expo 2005 starts Monday, and the rumor mill wants to be sure everyone knows that Apple will unveil a US$499 headless Mac, a flash-based iPod, iLife '05, and iWorks, which may or may not be an updated version of AppleWorks (nee ClarisWorks).

The long-awaited, oft-rumored PowerBook G5 seems to have fallen off the radar. As for Tiger (OS X 10.4), the release date is anyone's guess.

Macworld Expo is Apple's big opportunity to launch new products, and Apple likes to have at least one paradigm-shifting "just one more thing" product Steve Jobs can announce at the end of his keynote address.

Tiger

Apple released OS X 10.0 (Cheetah) on 2001.03.24, and 10.1 (Puma), which many consider the first usable release of OS X, six months later. It was 11 months before 10.2 (Jaguar) was released on 2002.08.24, and 10.3 (Panther) followed on 2003.10.24 - 14 months after Jaguar.

Tiger was previewed at the Worldwide Developer Conference last June, and looking at Apple's history of OS X updates, it's a real possibility that OS X 10.4 will be announced at Macworld next week. Expect Steve Jobs to show it off, even if it won't be ready to ship for a few more weeks or months.

Consumer Software

ClarisWorks 1.0 was one of the first programs to really take advantage of System 7.0, and the wonderful little all-in-one program quickly unseated Microsoft Works as the first choice integrated app for the Mac. Versions 2 and 3 brought some nice improvements to the program, which hasn't seen much in the way of new features since.

ClarisWorks has always included a competent word processing module, a very nice spreadsheet, a database designed not to cut into FileMaker Pro sales, decent drawing and painting tools - all of which worked together very nicely. Renamed AppleWorks after Apple closed their Claris division, the program was Carbonized to run under both the classic Mac OS and OS X.

AppleWorks is a nice program with a few serious bugs (try cutting and pasting styled text in OS X - it makes a mess of things) that's feeling decidedly dated. An up-to-date version of AppleWorks that's X-only and uses the latest on OS X and interface technology is long overdue.

The problem is that Apple mostly gives away AppleWorks, bundling it with iMacs, eMacs, and iBooks. I'm sure they sell some copies, but it's become more of an incentive product than a profit center. Apple would need a compelling reason to create a whole new version.

Apple's focus seems to be more on the iLife bundle - iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand. Again, these are bundled with new Macs, but they are also sold to people who want the latest version.

Keynote has been widely praised as an alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint, but it hasn't seen any major updates.

This is only speculation, but here's what I'd like to see Apple do - release iLife '05 with the current iLife apps plus Keynote and an X-only version of AppleWorks that strips out the old presentation module (which Keynote makes unnecessary). Sell the works for $79 and get a lot more copies of Keynote out there.

Mac Hardware

The Power Mac G5 was updated last June, although the 2.5 GHz model didn't ship until July. Faster would be nice, but that depends on IBM producing faster G5 CPUs. I don't think that's going to happen quite yet, but Apple could introduce speed-bumped Power Macs as follows:

  • 2.0 GHz single to replace 1.8 GHz single, $1,499
  • 2.0 GHz dual (PCI) to replace 1.8 GHz dual (PCI), $1,999
  • 2.3 GHz dual (same speed as new Xserve G5) to replace 2.0 GHz dual, $2,499
  • 2.5 GHz dual price dropped to $2,799

Just an educated guess, but I think it's a definite possibility. And maybe IBM will have slightly faster chips, allowing Apple to hit 2.7-2.8 GHz. At the same time, perhaps we'll see Apple offer 16x dual-layer SuperDrives.

The iMac G5, Apple's other G5-based model, has only been on the market for four months, so I don't anticipate any changes until March or April (at the earliest).

The eMac has been updated every twelve months, and the next update isn't expected until April. Since the eMac is designed for the education market, the timing works very well with plans for the upcoming school year. I don't see any change in the eMac until then unless Apple introduces a headless Mac.

Has it really been nine months since Apple moved the PowerBooks to 1.33 GHz and 1.5 GHz performance? The original PowerBook G4 was introduced four years ago at the Expo, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see new PowerBooks announced next week.

The question is, G4 or G5? Motorola keeps improving the G4 with larger caches (1 MB on the newest chips vs. 512 KB on the CPUs in current PowerBooks), and G4s don't build up as much heat as G5s, so I'm guessing we'll see the last generation of G4 PowerBooks at the Expo.

  • 12" PowerBook G4, 1.5 GHz, $1,499 (Combo) and $1,699 (SuperDrive)
  • 15" PowerBook G4, 1.5 & 1.67 GHz, $1,899 (1.5 Combo) and $2,399 (1.67 SuperDrive)
  • 17" PowerBook G4, 1.67 GHz, $2,699 (SuperDrive)

As for G5 PowerBooks, I'm guessing June at the earliest before IBM will have sufficient CPU production, the chips will be running cool enough, and Apple will have overhauled the design to permit adequate cooling.

The slowest computers in Apple's line are the iBooks, which run G4s at 1.2 GHz and 1.4 GHz. These models were just introduced in October, so it's not reasonable to expect Apple to speed-bump them quite yet. That said, faster models using the G4 with a 1 MB cache can probably be expected in March or April.

I've already shared my thoughts on the headless Mac. In short, I believe that Apple could sell a US$500-600 headless Mac if they wanted to, but I question whether Apple is really interested in growing their market. That said, I think the timing is perfect for such a product release - this could be the ideal "one last thing" for the keynote.

iPod Hardware

It's inevitable that the iPod mini will get a 5 GB hard drive in the near term with no change in price. Rumors are afoot that such units are already shipping to some buyers. And later in the year Apple will undoubtedly bump the iPod mini to 8 GB or even 10 GB as larger drives become available.

I have to agree with Anne Onymus on the flash-based iPod. Less than 512 MB hardly makes sense, and over $200 would offer little reason to choose it over the iPod mini. Flash memory is pretty much bulletproof, so I suspect Apple will direct the flash iPod at the sports market - the more extreme, the better. "iPod sport" has a nice ring to it. My guess is $149 with 512 MB, $199 with 1 GB.

A 60 GB iPod (not iPod photo) is inevitable, but launching it at the same time as the iPod sport would just muddy the waters.

What I'd really love to see is an iPod Max, a model based on the same 2.5" drives used in laptop computers. Laptop drives are less expensive, available in higher capacities, and even come in 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm versions. The market would be people who are primarily interested in moving data or carrying a backup, so less battery life might also be workable, also helping keep the price down.

Shoot, they could even leave out the battery and only let it work when plugged into a FireWire or USB 2.0 port as far as I'm concerned. I just want to be able to back up and sync my work files and my iTunes library.

Apple could offer drives in the 20-30 GB range as entry-level models, then offer higher capacity and faster drives for those who need more storage or faster file access. Basic FireWire drives like this sell for as little as US$99, but with iPod electronics and FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, Apple could probably sell them like hot cakes at US$199.

Apple TV?

One thing I absolutely don't expect is Apple-branded televisions. Gateway has done it. Dell has done it. CompUSA now sells TVs alongside computers. And now HP is getting into the act.

Yes, high-end TV is a lucrative, profitable market right now, but it's not going to stay that way. That said, PC companies are great at bleeding red ink (IBM's PC division has been losing money since 2001), but adding a division that will see decreasing profits over the years is only a Band-Aid™ solution. It won't save Dell, Gateway, or HP.

Now it's possible that the headless Mac could be more than an eMac with the monitor removed. It could be a media Mac with connectors for your TV and stereo, not just a computer monitor and pair of mediocre speakers. It could function like WebTV (surf the Web), TiVo (record), iTunes server, and more.

Apple's smartest move would be to give the headless iMac good onboard video, decent memory expansion, and a couple of proprietary expansion slots so that TV tuner cards and the like would have to be specifically designed for the computer. (Apple used a similar strategy with their Performas.)

That said, I don't have a clue what Apple's really going to release for the consumer market. I'd like to see a headless iMac with TV output, the ability to record TV programs to hard disk, the opportunity to edit TV recordings in iMovie, and the ability to burn DVDs and CDs (for those willing to pay for an upgraded version of the basic $500-600 headless Mac).

If Apple is going in this direction, they need to strike before DVD recorders hit the US$100 mark - and I've seen them as low as US$140 over the holidays. It's going to e hard to sell a $150 or $200 upgrade to a SuperDrive when you can buy a whole DVD recorder for under $150.

What Else?

How about a few small things, Apple? Better sounding, better built Apple-branded ear buds and/or headphones for the iPod would be nice.

Or how about cutting the premium for a SuperDrive from $200 to $150 - savvy users can buy a bare-bones Pioneer DVD-108 16x dual-layer DVD±RW drive (Apple's fastest is 8x, and it only support single-layer burning) for about $100 these days. DVD burning just isn't worth that big a premium these days.

If Apple does offer a headless Mac, I suspect we'll see an Apple-branded 17" flat panel display that matches its styling at maybe US$300.

It's mostly guessing. Tune in next week to find out what Apple introduces and what Low End Mac thinks of it.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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