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Rumor or Speculation?

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- 2000.02.15 - Tip Jar

There's a growing backlash against rumors and rumor sites. Those who analyze predictions find the "best" rumor sites are no more than 25% accurate, and often far short of that. There was no Pismo at Macworld Expo. No 17" iMac or G4-based iMac has yet been announced. The next revision to Mac OS 9 is undoubtedly under construction at Apple, but it isn't available yet.

Rumors

But there's a clear distinction between rumors and speculation, one which both the reader and the Mac-centric web need to keep in mind. Rumor sites claim to have inside sources and claim a basis in reality - which makes it even more surprising that their stories are so far from the truth. As a rule, Low End Mac no longer links to rumors except on one page that only links to rumors and articles about rumor sites.

Before that decision, Low End Mac clearly marked such articles as rumors. But due to feedback from those who don't even want to know what the rumor sites are talking about, we've stopped posting new rumor links anywhere but our special rumors page. In fact, we don't even maintain a regular link to that page. If you don't bookmark it, you may never find it again.

That's how far we've gone to keep rumor in their place.

Speculation

However, that doesn't mean I don't visit the rumor sites regularly, looking for an inkling of what's ahead. But I don't take their claims at face value; I use them as a jumping off point for my own speculation.

Does a thinner, lighter PowerBook make sense? Will it have a faster CPU? Does it even matter if the CD-ROM or DVD drive is slot loading? Which parts of the rumor make sense - and which are nonsense?

Except for the G4 being stuck at 450 MHz right now, Moore's Law projects more speed every year and twice as much power every 18 months or so. Thus, it's self-evident that future computers will be faster than current ones.

Likewise, memory capacity increases at the same rate: about twice the storage for the same price every 18 months. It even applies to hard drives. Based on this, it's pretty safe to predict that the next generation of computers will have larger hard drives and that base memory will also increase regularly.

Then you look about you at the Wintel side of the industry. Faster motherboards are the norm, as is AGP video. Apple is embracing these standards, following the lead of the Wintel community. So predicting faster motherboards and faster AGP video is pretty safe.

Rumors claim a basis in reality; speculation works from trends. The Wintel world has thin-and-light laptops as well as desktop replacement laptops. It just makes sense that at some point Apple will divide the PowerBook line into two models: a lighter one and a larger one.

It Won't Stop

John Norton (iPalm, Pismo, and 17" iMacs: Stop the speculation!, MacMilitia) calls on the Macintosh community to stop the speculation. Sorry, John, but that isn't going to happen. The world has to know that change is constant. The computer buying public must be reminded that computers get faster and grow in capacity regularly so they won't buy believing that their computer will remain state of the art.

The rumor sites may be bad for Apple in some ways, especially since they claim to be based in reality when predicting Pismo in January. That probably did reduce PowerBook sales slightly, although anyone who needs a PowerBook should get one when they need it - not wait for a newer model that has no known release date.

On the other hand, you can't blame the rumor sites and the rest of us who speculate about Pismo. The PowerBook G3 (Lombard) has been available in exactly the same configuration since May 1999. That's an eternity in the computer industry. Moore's Law predicted the PowerBook G3 would be available in 466 and 566 MHz versions by now, but it hasn't happened. The choice remains between seemingly pedestrian 333 and 400 MHz models. (I'd be happy with either!)

Apple's Stuck

Apple is playing marketing games. They could release a PowerBook G3/500 if they wanted to, but won't - it would make the G4/450 seem less of a powerhouse. They could ship a Power Mac G3/500, and possibly even 550 or 600 MHz versions, but that would also make the flagship G4/450 seem second string.

Likewise, iMac speed bumps to 400 and 450 MHz will undoubtedly be on the back burner until the G4/500 ships.

Simply stated, Apple does not seem interested in shipping any computer that can compete with the Power Mac G4/450.

Thus, if Pismo is going to be available at 450 or 500 MHz, it won't be released until the G4 hits 500 MHz. And there's no point releasing Pismo at 400 MHz as long as there's an inventory of Lombards and it offers no increase in speed.

Except for the iBook, the entire Apple product line seems stuck in place, just waiting for the day IBM or Motorola can produce the G4/500 in reasonable quantity.

It's not a matter of can Apple produce an iMac or PowerBook at 450 or 500 MHz. They can. And it's probably not a matter of the next OS 9 revision.

More likely than any of these is Apple's refusal to release any computer with the same MHz rating as the fastest Power Mac. It's a marketing issue, not a technology one.

That's speculation. I don't have any insiders at Apple. I don't claim to know this. But I look at the rumors, the trends, and the known facts - and this seems to be the most reasonable explanation.

Based on this, I expect that when Apple does finally announce a faster G4, they will also announce Pismo and may announce iMacs 50 MHz faster than today's. (The iBook is so far behind the MHz curve that Apple can upgrade it any time they can do it without reducing battery life or increasing cost.)

If this information good for Apple? Probably not, but then it's not good for Apple to stop upgrading their entire line of computers simply because Motorola can't produce a G4/500 in an reasonable quantity. Apple should be more market driven, less marketing driven. The Wintel world accepts that a Celeron at 600 MHz isn't going to provide the same performance as a Pentium III or Athlon at 600 MHz; Mac users can make the same distinction between the G3 and G4.

Until Apple realizes that a PowerBook G3/450 and iMac/450 won't cut into Power Mac G4/450 sales, don't expect anything new before the G4/500.

That's my speculation.

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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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