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Mac Rumors: Sense and Nonsense

Dan Knight and

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2002.07.08 Guesses for Macworld Expo

We haven't been frequenting the rumor sites, but we have been watching things like the "Special Deals" on refurbs at the Apple store, items Amazon.com had marked "discontinued or unavailable," and the recent deluge of current and recently discontinued iBooks and the like at Small Dog Electronics.

When Apple has no refubs for sale, something is afoot. We expect to see the entire portable lineup speed bumped at Macworld New York. We don't have any hard facts (remember, we are not a rumor site), but we wouldn't be at all surprised to see Apple introduce a 1 GHz PowerBook G4, leaving the current 800 MHz model as the entry-level PowerBook. Another tweak we could see would be a 200 MHz system bus.

Once that happens, there's no reason for Apple not to boost the iBook and move it from the current 100 MHz bus to 133 MHz. Our guess: 933 and 800 MHz models are possible, but we think 867 and 733 MHz is far more likely.

Of course, the bigger question is the Power Mac. Apple may be able to unveil a G5, assuming IBM or Motorola is able to produce such a chip in quantity. We're not holding our breath, but we wouldn't be shocked to see it, either.

We're more likely to see the continuing MHz progress, along with Apple moving the Power Mac from the current 133 MHz bus to 200 MHz or even 266 MHz. We'd love to see a quad processor Power Mac G4/1200 at the Expo - except that Dan won't be there and Anne will be incognito. Maybe we'll see a return to the "Two Brains Are Better Than One" for all but the entry level Power Mac.

That's a lot of guessing, but nothing out of the realm of possibility.

Likewise, as everything else improves, we anticipate a 1 GHz flat panel iMac while the CRT-based iMac and eMac maybe move to an 800 MHz G4.

Beyond the computer, a 20 GB iPod is a no-brainer - and we both really wish Apple would offer a deluxe "platinum edition" iPod with a really humongous drive.

Another idea that occurs to us is doubling the songs in your pocket with QuickTime 6, since MPEG 4 seems to be able to produce song files with the same quality as MP3s in half the space. Is the MP4 revolution about to begin?

Where else might Apple go with the digital hub concept? DV camcorders and digital still cameras are out of the question - too many brands and too much competition already. If Apple does introduce a new hub product, it will be in a fairly small niche where Apple can distinguish itself.

And completely unexpected at the Expo: A compact, inexpensive desktop Power Mac that works with an existing monitor. We both love the idea, but we think the only way it could ever come to pass is for us to throw in the towel and say Apple will never produce such a computer.

Sometimes you just can't win.

2002.01.04 Dreams for Macworld Expo

Today is not a good day to buy a Mac - any Mac. Wait until after Monday's keynote address to see what Apple actually comes up with.

Just a reminder: This is Low End Mac, and our primary focus is the Mac. We haven't posted an iPod profile, just as we haven't done profiles of Apple monitors or printers. We may discuss the iPod and other peripherals, but our core focus is the hardware and software that makes up the Mac experience.

As we discussed that, it struck us that while Apple will undoubtedly be rolling out some faster models and quite possibly some new consumer electronics (possibly in partnership with others), there are some things Apple could do to improve the Mac experience.

These are speculation, not predictions.

Beyond USB: Mice and keyboards don't have to be plugged into computers. There are already a few wireless mice and keyboards on the market. We think there's a fair chance Apple will make the ability to work with a new wireless mouse and keyboard a standard feature. Both input devices could normally charge using solar cells. No more mouse tail getting caught in things.

Beyond Aqua: The biggest complaints about OS X seem to stem from the user experience, not the underlying OS. Aqua is gorgeous and processor intensive, thanks to bouncing icons, puffs of smoke, unnecessary transparency and shadows, and those inexplicable horizontal stripes. A simplified Platinum-like appearance could both speed things up (especially on older, slower Macs - think of the ones with the old ATI Rage chips) and make switching between X and the classic environment less glaringly obvious.

Killer PCI Graphics: Apple should team up with Nvidia to offer a GeForce card for PCI Macs. This would allow those with the beige G3, blue & white G3, and "Yikes!" G4 - as well as OS X-unsupported Macs and clones - to enjoy a much better graphics experience.

Trade In Program: Thanks to dozens of Apple retail stores, Apple's "store within a store" at CompUSA, and Apple dealers around the world, they have the infrastructure to take old Macs in on trade, refurbish them, and make them available to needy schools at minimal (or no) cost. By limiting the program to PCI Power Macs and 'Books that predate Rage 128 graphics, Apple could make it more lucrative for Mac owners to trade up to something that will do a much better job running OS X while at the same time not providing overly antiquated older Macs to schools. This has the added benefit of helping Apple grow in the education market - and it's something Dell wouldn't dare duplicate. (Remember, 1997-98 was the heyday of the Pentium II.)

These are just random thoughts about the kind of thinking different Apple could do to make Mac users happier and grow their share of the market.


2001.06.28 Expected at Macworld Expo

We're less than three weeks from the next Stevenote address. Rumors are rampant. Here are our educated guesses.

  • Faster G4. Duh! G4/466 will be history. Even odds G4/533 will stick around as a cheap entry-level model for a few months and then vanish. Apple may finally pass 733 MHz - 800 MHz is likely, 866 possible, 933 maybe, 1 GHz not expected. (Another possibility is a 200 MHz motherboard, which would mean CPU speeds would be a multiple of 100 MHz.)
  • Faster G4 MP. If we can't match Pentium MHz, maybe we can overwhelm them with processors. Count on a faster dual processor model. We may also see a high-end quad processor G4.
  • New iMacs. Practically a given. We don't think Apple will completely ditch the CRT yet - simply to keep the entry-level iMac affordable. We expect to see a speed bump to 500/600/700 MHz. Or Apple could surprise us with a 133 MHz bus in the new iMac, which would give us 533, 600, 667, and 733 MHz as possible speeds.
  • The Cube. We don't expect to see the Cube at the Expo, which is a shame. It's a lot of power in a small package, a lot more affordable than the larger G4, and offers all the expansion most users will ever need. We'd love for Apple to surprise us with a faster Cube, but we're not holding our breath.
  • Revised TiBook. We expect some changes, but nothing big. Possibly a faster CPU, and more likely a Combo drive (CD-RW/DVD) option.
  • More build-to-order options. CD-RW, combo drive, and SuperDrive will be available for most versions of the iMac, all versions of the Power Mac.
  • Something new: software. Just a guess, but we think iWeb or iPage would make sense. Now that Mac users can listen to iTunes and create iMovies, a nice WYSIWYG design program for creating Web pages would be logical. (Dan really loves Claris Home Page and wants something that easy for OS X.)
  • Something new: hardware. Possibilities are a G4 Server that ships with Mac OS X Server and includes a lot of drive bays - and maybe more PCI slots - or a small, modular, headless iMac (like the base in the article below).
  • Something way cool. Hey, this is a Stevenote! Expect a surprise. Maybe AirPort2, 5-7x faster using the 5 GHz band and Atheros chip.

We fully expect some sort of head-to-head with the hot new Power Mac G4 and the fastest Windows machine on the market. And we anticipate the next revision of Mac OS X will be available, as will the next revision to Mac OS 9.x.


2001.06.06 Next gen LCD iMac conceptiMac hoax?

Several days ago we received a much larger version of the image shown here from someone wondering if we thought it was a realistic portrayal of the next generation iMac. We had to say, "Sorry, no." Since we're not a rumor site, we left it at that.

Today The Register has published the same image, wondering if this is the LCD iMac many of us expect. We still don't think so.

Why not? Because the iMac is first and foremost a consumer machine. This small footprint gem looks like a technological marvel with a price to match - we'd guess somewhere in the $1,500-2,000 range, which means it'll never replace the iMac. Assuming it's even a real project. (We wouldn't put it past Apple. It shows the kind of innovation we expect from them.)

The base looks like the 2001 iBook. Our source tells us ports are on one side, and the media drive (CD, DVD, whatever) on the opposite side. We think that's impractical for a desktop, prefer the front-loading design of the TiBook, and suspect the base can probably be rotated 90° to put the CD/DVD drive in the front.

Although it looks like the LCD is permanently connected to the base (at least that's our guess from this angle), sources say the screen may be removed and hung on the wall (expensive art) or used as a display and input tablet (shades of Newton!). That would get costly, since the screen would need a battery, wireless communication with the base, and a CPU to process pen input. This is nothing we'd put past Apple, but it definitely isn't an iMac.

On the other hand, if the LCD is just a display sitting on top of the base, this could be The Tiny iMac we've asked Apple to produce since 1998. There's no reason a modular computer needs to be any larger than the current iBook. If Apple then gave you the option of using one of their LCD monitors or any standard monitor with the base, we'd have an LC-sized iMac replacement that could hit a new low price point in the consumer market and become an attractive choice as a home or small business server.

Adding a pen-input screen with a wireless connection to the base would be grand, but that definitely moves things out of the iMac range.

Is this really an iMac replacement, something to displace the Cube, or just an artist's flight of fancy? We have no idea, but if it is a modular replacement for the iMac, we predict it will sell like hotcakes to Mac users hoping to replace their pre-G3 hardware.

2001.04.30 The May Day Announcement

There's been a lot of speculation about tomorrow's announcement from Apple. Our random thoughts:

  • With Macworld New York still two months away, this is an opportune time to tweak the product line with new features, new speeds, and possibly new models.
  • If Apple can sell an economy iBook for US$999, as some speculate (we'd like to see it, but remain skeptical), a flat-panel iMac with the same 12.1" 800 x 600 display at about $700-800 seems very likely in the near future.
  • If Apple can sell an iBook with a 1024 x 768 screen for US$1,499, which seems more likely, a family of flat-panel iMacs with the same display and about the same cost as current iMacs is extremely likely in the short term.
  • With a glut of G4/733 processors, this would be an opportune time for Apple to release a dual processor Power Mac G4/733.
  • One thing we'd both love to see: a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD drive for use in the iMac, iBook, PowerBook, Power Mac, and Cube.
  • Faster Macs? The iBook is the laggard at 366 MHz. By adopting a 100 MHz system bus, 400 and 500 MHz configurations would give them the same MHz rating as the TiBook. (This would also let the iBook and TiBook share more components.) We can't imagine Apple clocking the iBook faster than the TiBook - and the PowerPC 7410 used in the TiBook apparently tops out at 533 MHz (so far), making faster TiBooks unlikely.
  • Faster Power Macs? Assuming availability of faster 7450 CPUs from Motorola, single- and dual-processor Power Mac G4s would make sense. There's little point to waiting for Macworld in July to announce the next level of speed when the G4 is so far behind in the MHz sweepstakes. Yeah, MHz isn't everything, let alone an accurate measure of performance, but the world seems fixated on clock speed, making it hard to market a "top end" model at 733 MHz while the Athlon reaches for 1.4 GHz.
  • While the idea of iPhoto is nice, we suspect Apple will wait until Macworld to announce it - and then make it a free download, just like iTunes.
  • The most likely announcement is a chain of Apple retail outlets. Now that Apple sells over one-third of all Macs through their own online store, the time is ripe for a physical presence in cities across the States.

2001.04.16 Next Gen Power Macs

Last week was an interesting one for rumors - Apple is apparently discontinuing the 667 MHz Power Mac for lack of a significant niche, Motorola is working on the G5, and the next generation of Power Macs will be faster and have more dual-processor options.

Can we say, "Well, duh."

Apple has discovered that offering the iMac and the Power Mac at four clock speeds just confuses customers. The current "fast, faster, and fastest" model for the iMac greatly simplifies things for Apple, the retailer, and the customer. The same will obviously apply to the Power Mac.

C'mon, what was the point of the G4/667? At first, it was a less expensive alternative to the G4/733, since it lacked the costly SuperDrive. Besides, Motorola was notorious for not meeting projections on fast chips, so there should be a lot of "failed" 733 MHz chips that worked just fine at 667 MHz.

Maybe it's Murphy's Law or just better engineering, but Motorola has apparently mastered the 733 MHz G4 and has very few that fall through the cracks for sale as 667 MHz units. On top of that, Apple decided to sell the fastest G4 in a SuperDrive-free configuration at $500 less, seriously cutting into the potential G4/667 market.

As of last Friday, Apple no longer listed the G4/667 at the Apple Store, so it has apparently been discontinued. That's fine - why would anyone want the next fastest version of the G4 when the fastest one had almost the same price?

Motorola has evidently mastered 0.12 micron chip construction, which will allow the G4 and future processors to well beyond the 1 GHz mark and possibly as high as 2 GHz. That's a stunning accomplishment and should put Apple not nearly as far behind in the MHz sweepstakes as they are today (not that MHz really matters, but it's a perception thing).

What about the G5? Rumor has it this will mark the transition to a true 64-bit CPU. The current PowerPC family was designed with 64-bit processing in mind, but they are at heart 32-bit processors. Perhaps the biggest reason for 64-bit processors is breaking through the 2-4 GB RAM limit inherent in 32-bit designs. Not than many of us need that much memory today, but it seems inevitable that we will in a few years.

As for future Power Macs, with Motorola doing so well at 733 MHz and even faster G4s right around the corner, not to mention the forward march of Moore's Law and Intel/AMD chips well past the 1 GHz mark, you can expect Apple to offer speed boosted Power Macs whenever Motorola can provide the chips.

What speeds? That's hard to predict, but we suspect Apple will either drop the 466 and 533 MHz G4 models or just keep one version around as a very cost-effective entry level machine. By standardizing the Power Mac on the 7450 version of the G4, Apple will only have to produce a single motherboard, not two like they do at present. That just makes sense.

The smart thing for Apple to do would be introduce an 800 or 866 MHz model as soon as chips are available in quantity, discontinuing the G4/466 at the same time. Depending on chip availability, a 533/733/866 lineup would be best, a 533/733/800 would have too little difference between the top two models, and a 533/667/800 line just might make sense until the next speed boost.

As Motorola masters the process, we might see that followed by 667/800/933 lineup, and that replaced by 733/866/1 GHz, and then a move beyond the 1 GHz mark.

As for dual-processor models, we don't think Apple will go back to the "two brains are better than one" strategy unveiled at last summer's Macworld Expo. Instead, we believe Apple will offer a low-cost second CPU build-to-order option on all models once the G4/466 is out of the picture. With OS X scheduled to become the default Mac OS in July, a dual 800 MHz or faster model would smoke Intel's Pentium 4.

As for timing, it all depends on Motorola. Apple's hardware can already support much faster CPUs, but until Motorola delivers them, that potential means nothing. Count on faster Power Macs at Macworld Expo in July, but that doesn't mean Apple might not deliver a slightly faster model a couple months before that and/or boost Power Mac speeds again in September or October.

Things are pretty nebulous, but we agree that Apple should reach the 1 GHz mark for a single G4 processor no later than next January's Macworld. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised to see Apple move to a 200 MHz motherboard at one of the next two Expos. That could conceivably give us 800, 1000, and 1200 MHz single- and dual-processor Power Macs come 2002.


2001.01.23 Next Gen iMacs

The iMac is dead; long live the iMac!

If you follow the Mac Web at all, you should know that Apple has declared all the current iMac models "end of life." That means they aren't making any more. It also means we can expect replacements in the near future - which, of course, has been grist for the rumor sites. (Or maybe it just means a new SKU for iMacs bundled with OS 9.1.)

Here's our take on the sense and nonsense about the next generation iMac, whenever it comes out.

  • CD-RW: After Job's statements about missing the boat on CD-RW and then replacing DVD with CD-RW on the G4, we'd be shocked if the new iMacs didn't have CD-RW drives.
  • No CD-RW: We also suspect the base iMac may be available without CD-RW, as some sites speculate. This will help keep the cost down for the education market and can help reduce piracy by making it difficult to copy files to personal media.
  • SuperDrive: We'd be surprised if the iMac DV Special Edition doesn't ship with the same SuperDrive as the Power Mac G4/733. After all, this is Apple's top consumer video machine.
  • G3 or G4: Unless you're doing serious video editing, you probably don't need a G4. We wouldn't be surprised to see the entry level models use the 750CX (enhanced G3) processor. We also wouldn't be surprised to see at least the DV Special Edition use the new G4 (7410) processor.
  • CPU speed: Faster (duh!), but how much faster? If the DV Special Edition uses a G4, count on it being the new revision of the old design (7410), not the new one (7450) with deeper pipes and an onboard cache. That will keep the cost down, but also limit top speed. Motorola only lists the 7410 at up to 500 MHz on their site, although 550 MHz may be possible in the coming months. Our guess: 400 and 450 MHz G3s and 450 and 500 MHz G4s.
  • Memory: 128 MB so they'll be ready for OS X; more on the top-end.

Our guess is four models:

  1. iMac, 400 MHz PPC 750CX, CD-ROM, 10 GB hard drive, 128 MB RAM, $749
  2. iMac Plus, 450 MHz 750CX, CD-RW, 20 GB hard drive, 128 MB RAM, $949
  3. iMac DV, 450 MHz PPC 7410, CD-RW, 30 GB hard drive, 128 MB RAM, $1199
  4. iMac DV SE, 500 MHz PPC 7410, SuperDrive, 40 GB hard drive, 256 MB RAM, $1449

While we're on the subject, we'd love to see an external FireWire SuperDrive for all those PowerBooks, iMac, iBooks, Power Macs, and clones that support FireWire. Just a thought.


2001.01.05 Pre-Expo Rumors & Predictions

Faster Macs? That's a no brainer. The question is, how much faster?

A new 133 MHz motherboard? We think that's a very safe prediction - and the best place to start with the rumors. Moving from 66 MHz (beige G3) to 100 MHz (blue G3) in January 1999 eliminated those funny speeds for the Power Mac. No more 266, 333, or 366 MHz; CPU speed has to be a full or half multiple of motherboard speed.

We've grown very comfortable with 300, 350, 400, 450, and 500 MHz Macs. That's about to come to an end, at least for models designed around the rumored 133 MHz motherboard. Instead, we'll see 400, 466, 533, 600, 667, 733, and 800 MHz as CPU speeds during 2001.

If Joe Wilcox at c|net is right, and his prediction strikes us as reasonable, the Power Mac G4 will range in speeds from 466 to 733 MHz at the Expo. Well, we can hope for the top speed, but a trio of models at 466, 600, and 733 MHz would give Mac users a broad range of speeds and prices.

The end of dual-processor Macs? Given the choice between selling a lot of expensive 667 or 733 MHz Power Macs with one CPU or half as many with two, the money is on single-CPU machines until Motorola demonstrates they can produce in quantity. Then, and especially with OS X around the corner, expect a return to dual-processor Macs - and eventually a quad-processor powerhouse.

What about Mercury? We have no idea if this will follow the current PowerBook pattern, be a thin-and-light machine, be a more top-end model, or possible bifurcate into two different PowerBook sharing a lot of the same components.

We again feel a 133 MHz motherboard is a safe bet, as is the existence of at least one PowerBook G4 model. We expect the entry-level PowerBook to be no slower than 466 MHz, with the top end probably peaking one step below the Power Mac G4's maximum speed.

We also anticipate a new Cube simply to leverage the 133 MHz architecture. Speeds of 533 and 667 MHz wouldn't surprise us.

We don't expect new consumer machines, neither iMacs nor iBooks, at Macworld Expo San Francisco. Apple will undoubtedly move them to 133 MHz system boards later this year, but we don't believe this is the time to do it. (We do expect the next generation iMac to use the 750CX or 750CXe processor.)

That said, we would not be surprised to see some small changes to the iMac line. CD-RW as an option (or even a standard feature) on the iMac DV would make sense and help differentiate it from the base iMac. Offering a CD-RW/DVD drive as an option on the iMac DV+ and a standard feature on the DV Special Edition would also improve the value of these models.

We think there's a better-than-even chance Apple will make AirPort a standard feature on the new PowerBook and may offer it bundled with the iBook with no change in price.


12/22/00: Please, no CubeBook!

Think different. Think outside the box, please.

We mean it. The Cube is a sweet computer with an ill-defined market. Making a portable version of the Cube would give Apple a second computer with a nebulous market. That is not a good idea. Apple made it; buyers did not come in droves.

A lot of Mac folk have this picture of the Mac product line that has two columns (desktop and portable) and three rows (consumer, pro, and other). The Cube is the only model in the "other" category, leading them to assume Apple will make a portable to fill the empty cell in this conceptual grid.

Don't count on it, because even Apple has been unable to define that third row in the grid. A CubeBook would have a market every bit as ill-defined as the Cube itself.

That said, don't be surprised if Apple does introduce a new PowerBook or two that diverge from the traditional PowerBook black, possibly incorporating the silvery gray of the Cube and Power Mac G4 (not to mention some Windows laptops and a lot of recent cameras). But that look won't turn a PowerBook into a portable Cube.

The PowerBook has held its own against the onslaught of the significantly more popular iBook, but the one-size-fits-all philosophy means users who want a thinner, lighter, more compact PowerBook are not being served. Neither are those of us who a used to a larger monitor and want a genuine desktop replacement with a 1280 x 1024 screen.

With Apple, you either settle for the bulky iBook and a small 800 x 600 display or the more powerful PowerBook with its midrange 1024 x 768 display - the same resolution typical of a 17" monitor.

Be wary of rumors claiming a portable version of the Cube, but don't be surprised if Apple does offer one or two new PowerBook models, which we dub the PowerBook Lite and PowerBook Pro for the sake of convenience. Both would have the defined market the Cube lacks; either would be a better move for Apple than a "Cube to go."

<discuss this on MacSlash>

12/18/00: Apple's G4 vs. G3 plan

The Register has picked up the musings from MacOS Rumors (MOSR) that Apple will soon be selling G3-based models with higher clock speeds than G4 Macs. We'd sure like to see it happen, but don't give MOSR nearly as much credibility as The Register appears to.

Still, we think Apple could do it - and agree that this makes much more sense than the proposal to move the entire product line to the G4.

Even sticking with the current 100 MHz system bus for consumer machines, current hardware can easily support 700-800 MHz 750CXe processors. Such high MHz ratings would certainly make the iMac, iBook, and PowerBook appear more competitive against 733 MHz Celeron and 800 MHz Athlon systems.

Marketing?

The big question: How can Apple market them without killing the G4?

The answer: They don't have to. Just as Intel offers Celeron and AMD offers Duron as their consumer CPUs, Apple would position the G3e as a consumer alternative to the G4. By attacking a different market, Apple would vastly improve the appeal of Macs by adopting higher MHz speeds.

The rest of the story: Except for the Cube, the G4 is positioned to a more savvy buyer than the G3. People buy a Power Mac G4 for one of two reasons: as a high end production machine (graphics, digital video, etc.) or as a server. These people know the benefits of dual processors, AltiVec, etc.

The Cube? In our opinion, Apple should offer a consumer cube with a 750CXe processor - the fastest possible.

Although we are skeptical that MOSR has really acquired Apple documents supporting this rumor, we think the idea has merit. Whether Apple will follow this path, Steve only knows.


12/6/00: The "Mercury" PowerBook

A year ago, the rumors were about Pismo, the clamshell PowerBook that would debut at Macworld Expo in January. The Pismo we got was less ambitious, sharing a design with the WallStreet and Lombard models, not the highly anticipated iBook clamshell the rumor sites predicted.

It also wasn't introduced until February. Whether that was because of production issues, too much Lombard inventory, or a deliberate decision to spite the rumor sites is unknown.

We've been seeing the same kind of rumors about the next 'Book, which most sources agree is code named Mercury. Anticipated as a Macworld Expo debut, rumor mongers consistently agree it will have a G4 processor, widely predict an iBook-like clamshell design, and are now speculating a larger screen than ever, possibly 1600x1024 pixels - the same as the 22" Cinema Display.

G4 or G3e?

Any PowerBook with a G4 processor assumes a lower power consumption version, which should also generate less heat. (Anne lampooned the idea of using the current G4 in a laptop in Gemini PowerBook will be hot.) Without the G4e, Apple will not release a G4 PowerBook.

Now that IBM has let slip the possible existence of 700 MHz G3e processors, there's a very real possibility the next generation PowerBook could use it. That's a bit of a stretch, since Apple has appeared unwilling to market a G3 with a higher MHz rating than their fastest Power Mac G4 (currently a dual 500 MHz model) - but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

From a marketing standpoint, it would be hard to sell a dual G4/450 system against an iMac at 700 MHz, but they are clearly intended for very different audiences. Likewise, a 700 MHz G3e-based PowerBook would have a very different audience than the dual-processor Power Mac G4. It could also kick some serious Wintel butt.

While we doubt that Apple will do so, we believe that selling a G3e-based PowerBook with a higher MHz rating than a dual-G4 Power Mac would not confuse the market, especially if there is any delay in Motorola bringing a low-power version of the G4 to market.

The screen

Dan has been a proponent of a larger PowerBook screen for some time, which Anne mentioned in PowerBook Cinema coming soon. Both of us agree that Apple needs to offer at least one PowerBook with a 1280 x 1024 or larger display.

The folks at Go2Mac.com have done some detailed mathematical analysis of how a 1600x1024 display could fit into a PowerBook, projecting a 13.2" x 7.4" display. Recent PowerBooks have been 12.7" wide, so this would result in a laptop at least 1" wider than the current models. At the same time, the current display is about 8.5" high, so it's possible Apple could trim an inch from the PowerBook's depth, dropping to about 9.5".

Pretty much everyone agrees that what whatever display future PowerBooks use, they will definitely be thinner than the Pismo's 1.7". Even with a "monster" 1600x1024 display, such a PowerBook may actually be lighter than Pismo, which weighs roughly 6 pounds.

Would it be wise for Apple to put a smaller "cinema display" in a PowerBook? Is there a large enough market for it? Some of us would gladly part with a lot of money to own it, but Apple might have to charge a significant premium to bring it to market.

More reasonable is a 1280 x 1024 display, which is closer to the traditional screen ratio and wouldn't require a significant modification of the PowerBook's width or depth. Dan has stated more than once that he'll gladly abandon his SuperMac S900 and 19" display for a PowerBook with a 1280 x 1024 or larger display. In fact, he's half-hoping for the opportunity to buy one at Macworld Expo in January.

Other thoughts

One thing a lot of rumor mongers seem to forget is that Apple has often had two or more screen options for essentially the same model, including three options for the WallStreet PowerBook (12.1" 800 x 600, 13.3" and 14.1" 1024 x 768). There's no reason Apple couldn't do so again, offering Mercury with the same 14.1" 1024 x 768 display at one price and a 15" or so 1280 x 1024 display at several hundred dollars more.

Will we see a clamshell case? We're both convinced that Apple will incorporate some parts of the iBook design into Mercury, particularly the handle and a case that doesn't lock. However, with the larger display, a PowerBook as broadly curved as the iBook would simply appear monstrous. Our guess is that Apple will release a more angular design inspired by the Sony Vaio line and the Cube.

The rumors

Unless Motorola has finally made some breakthrough with an improved G4, we believe the G4 PowerBook is the same kind of wishful thinking as the 17" iMac. Both may exist as prototypes within the bowels of Apple Computer, but there is no reason to believe they will see the light of day until some problems are solved (for the PB G4, that's power consumption). We believe the rumor sites are into wish fulfillment here, not hard facts.

We have to say the same about the 1600x1024 display on a PowerBook. While it could happen, the niche market for such a PowerBook would make the Cube look like a runaway success. (Hey, Twentieth Anniverary Macthe Cube really hasn't sold that poorly - just far below what Apple expected.) If Apple wants to market a niche product, they will have the same kind of success they did with the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh of May 1997. Everyone raved about it, it was even featured in that year's Batman movie, but it didn't fly off the shelves even after a series of price cuts. A "cinema" PowerBook is a dream, but not one we expect to see fulfilled within the coming year.

In the end, we anticipate a more evolutionary Mercury: thinner and with a slightly larger display (possibly with the choice of 1280 x 1024 or 1024 x 768). The case will probably include a handle, but not a latch. We also lean toward a Cube-inspired shape and color scheme, not the kind of graphite and snow curves we see in the iBook SE.


9/20/00: Apple, Chiat/Day, and Rumors

Just to insure that Apple never tries to exert their influence on our site through ad dollars, we're speculating.

  1. There will be faster iMacs, Power Mac, iBooks, and PowerBooks. We don't know when, but it will happen.
  2. At some point, these models will ship with more base memory and larger hard drives.
  3. There will be future versions of the Mac OS after OS X.

Okay, we've got that out of the way.

In the whole discussion about Apple ads, rumor mongers, and "rumor free" agreements, we've kind of missed one big point: the Mac Web seems to be the leading source of rumors, yet Apple consistently chooses not to spend their ad dollars on Mac-related sites.

You'd think it would be a no-brainer. Mac fans come to these sites, see ads, buy from the Apple Store. If Apple and Chiat/Day thought that way, their threats to stop running ads with those who publish rumors might mean something to the Mac Web. But because Apple spends ad dollars just about everywhere except the Mac Web, their threats are empty.

It's absolutely within Apple's rights to refuse to spend ad money with those who spread rumors. It's absolutely within the media's rights to refuse to sign the agreement with Chiat/Day.

We will continue to speculate on future Apple developments on Low End Mac. We will continue to publish our own outlandish rumors. We will continue to comment on rumors making the rounds of other Mac sites.

And if Apple continues to ignore us as a great place to invest a few ad dollars, that's okay with us.


7/27/00: PowerBook Cubed?PowerBook G3

Only a week after Steve Jobs unveiled the cube, MacOS Rumors is speculating that the portable equivalent of the Cube will be little more than a thinner version of Pismo with the same huge 14.1" screen and a PowerPC 750CX (G3+) processor.

We beg to differ.

The Cube is a compact desktop Mac with a smaller footprint than even the compact Macs. It is geared for the executive, not the gamer or power user. The PowerBook equivalent of the Cube will also be designed for the business user, especially those who travel and need a good field computer.

For that user base, it's crucial that the computer works on an airline tray - neither the PowerBook nor the iBook can do that. Thus, the Executive PowerBook must have a smaller footprint than the current models. It should also be lighter.

Apple has a good track record with more compact PowerBooks, starting with the PowerBook 100 (8.5"x11", 5.1 lbs.) in late 1991. In our opinion, the best balance of size and features were the PowerBook 540c (9.7"x11.5", 7.1 lbs.) of 1994 with its 33 MHz '040 and the PowerBook 1400 (9.0"x11.5", 6.8 lbs.) of 1996.

Compare that with today's 10.4" deep, 5.9 lb. PowerBook and 11.6" deep, 6.6 lb. iBook. Apple has reduced the weight, but at the expense of the PowerBook's footprint.

The ideal Executive PowerBook would return to the small roughly 8.5"x11" footprint of the PowerBook 100, something just large enough to support a 12.1" 800 x 600 display. Thickness isn't a huge issue, but if Apple can ditch the expansion bay in favor of a built-in CD or DVD drive, that should help them get well under the 2" mark of today's PowerBook.

Do all that, combine it with an energy efficient PowerPC 750CX processor at a comfortable 400-500 MHz, give it 5-6 hours of battery life, and you have a magnet for Mac users on the go. Be sure to give it USB for a mouse and floppy, FireWire for backup and FireWire disk mode. Pricing could be lower than the iBook.

This would be a hot product, since users would be able to operate it on an airline food tray. Anything too large for that is not an Executive PowerBook. Sorry, MOSR, but that's our take on things.


7/18/00: What at Macworld Expo?

The rumor sites have been rampant with predictions: a Mac Cube, a new mouse, a new keyboard, a faster iMac, multiprocessor G4s, and more. Here's our take:

  • A faster iMac: definitely. Apple has kept the iMac at 350 and 400 MHz with no change in price or features since October. It's overdue for a speed bump.
  • A multiprocessor G4. There's no technical reason Apple can't do it. The Mac OS supports multiple processors somewhat, although very few programs are MP enabled. Until OS X Beta is ready to go, there's no real reason for Apple to release a multiprocessor G4.
  • Mac OS X Beta. Everyone will be disappointed if Apple doesn't have this ready for the Expo. It's time for Apple to fulfill the promise and ship the public OS X preview.
  • New mouse? New keyboard? It would be great, although companies like Kensington, Contour Designs, Macally, and a lot of others would certainly lose a strong upgrade market for USB mice and keyboards. We see no reason Apple won't dump the puck and undersized keyboard.
  • A cube? See below, but we simply can't get too excited about another shape, whether it's a consumer replacement for the late Power Mac 6500 or a power version of the G4. For all we know, this could be a great disinformation campaign orchestrated by none other than Steve Jobs.
  • Faster iBook and PowerBooks? Why not. Like the iMac, they're long in tooth and due for a speed boost. Of course, Apple is unlikely to ship a PowerBook with a higher MHz rating than the G4, so....
  • Faster Power Mac G4. Stuck as 500 MHz in a 1 GHz world, we expect Apple to at least announce, if not ship, a G4/550 or G4/600.

These are educated guesses. Steve Jobs like surprises, so we expect something different than what's been predicted above. What? If we knew, it wouldn't be a surprise.


7/17/00: The Cube?

NeXT cubeRemember the NeXT cube? Rumors are Apple's newest model will be a cube about 14" (35 cm) on each side. The first NeXT computer (a company founded by Steve Jobs) was a black cube (left) with a 17" grayscale monitor.

You'd be surprised at how hard it is to find info on NeXT computers on the Web (Sherlock helps!) - Dan even dug though his dusty old copies of MacUser and Macworld to find some details on the NeXT Cube. We still haven't found the exact dimensions of the Cube, but know it did contain an 11" square system board. That probably means it was about the same size as the rumored Apple Cube. Coincidence?

Will Apple release a cube-shaped computer?

Better question: Why would Apple release a cube-shaped computer?

The minitower case used for the Power Mac G4 is brilliant: remarkably easy access to the system board, three hard drive bays at the base of the computer, room for two front-accessible drives at the top. Who could ask for more?

Designers. Video editors. Server administrators. All of these would love more PCI expansion slots, which would make the 18.4" Power Mac even taller. Ditto for the additional front-accessible drive bays many of these people want.

But why go higher when you can go wider? The G4 is just under 9" wide. Add a row of 5.25" drive bays down the left side of the case (leaving the motherboard where it is) and you have something about 14-16" wide. By rearranging the system board, Apple could possibly add one or two PCI slots while still reducing the overall height of the computer, since all the drives would now be on the left.

Apple also gains a case with more air, which could be important when Power Macs with two, four, or more processors are available.

Just what would a new MacCube look like? We haven't a clue. Dan thinks a basic black box similar to the NeXT Cube would draw raves, but Anne really like the mockup in Amazing Mac cube images surface! (despite the fact it's supposed to be a parody).

Our best guess: To meet the needs of video production, graphic designers, and server administrators, it would make sense for Apple to build a wider box instead of a taller one. We're not saying they will, but expect that if they do so it will be more than 14" on a side. After all, the G4 is 17" deep (counting the handles). We predict that should Apple introduce a cube it will be roughly 16" on each side.

However, we are not predicting a cube, just saying it is not unlikely.


6/23/00: What else is getting long-in-tooth? The iBook, which has only had a memory boost since Apple introduced it on July 21, 1999. Sure, the iBook SE is a whopping 22% faster, but that's also a minor revision.

If Apple uses the new IBM 750CX anywhere, we believe it will be in the iBook, where the reduced cost and power consumption will definitely work to their advantage. Maybe Apple will be able to shave $100 off the iBook's price.

If Apple does revise the iBook, we fully expect them to use their Universal Motherboard Architecture (UMA) and give it a 100 MHz system bus. At a minimum, we believe the next iBook will run at 350 MHz minimum, and 400 MHz is certainly not out of the question. Expect a graphite SE version 50-100 MHz faster at a premium price.

With Macworld New York taking place on the anniversary of the iBook's introduction, we think the stage is set for the iBook II.

What about Pismo, the current PowerBook? It's only been out since February and already uses UMA, so we don't expect a replacement model in the near future. Adopting the 750CX would allow increased battery life and higher MHz processors, so we wouldn't be at all surprised to see Apple adopt the "new G3" in a revised PowerBook between now and the end of September. However, neither would we be surprised to see Apple stick with the current G3 in speed-bumped Pismos.

We continue to hope for new PowerBook models, one for the thin-and-light crowd (like the 3 pound Sony and Fujitsu models!) and one for the desktop replacement market (like the Dell Inspiron) that longs for a 1280 x 1024 or larger screen. (Count me in there! Dan)

Probability on these two models: absolutely unknown. We believe Apple must eventually fill these niches to keep users from buying Wintel models, but have no idea when that might happen.


6/21/00: Last Friday we looked at what the next iMacs won't have. Today, we give an educated guess to what the next iMacs will have.
  • DVD replaces CD-ROM on the entry-level iMac.
  • FireWire on the least expensive iMac.
  • Faster G3 processors. At least 400 MHz on the base model, possibly 500 MHz on the better model. We're hoping Apple will use the PowerPC 750CX and pass along some of the cost savings.

We'd like to see more memory, but don't expect that with today's RAM prices.

We'd also like to see two video options the current iMac doesn't support: having different images on the internal and external monitor and higher resolutions for the external display (1280 x 1024 or higher, please). We're not predicting this, just putting it on our wish list.


6/19/00: Will Apple align with Palm, resurrect the Newton, or otherwise enter the PDA market? Maybe.

Palm recognized that a PDA needed a very efficient, lightweight, focused operating system. Microsoft realized that PDA users want more than a Palm; they want a computer.

Frankly, neither Palm nor PocketPC is a real solution for users who want more than a scheduler and electronic address book. Newton was closer.

Apple is a computer company; if they enter the PDA market, it won't be with a traditional PDA - it will be a real Mac OS computer that shares many features with Newton, Palm, and PocketPC. It may also have unique features, since we are talking about Apple.

How big? How heavy? Jobs only knows. However, since Apple is a computer company, we expect the handheld Apple to be a full-fledged stylus-compatible computer complete with Mac OS X, a hard drive, and all the ports you'd need to use it as a computer, connect it to another computer directly, or put it on a network. In short, we expect VGA, USB, FireWire, 10/100 ethernet, a 56k modem, and FireWire disk mode as standard features.

Expect nothing less from the company that thinks different.


6/16: Rumors of a revised iMac are popping up. If anything, we are long overdue for some change in the iMac - Apple hasn't made any changes to the three models since they were introduced in October 1999.

Probability estimates are for Macworld New York, which takes place July 19-21, 2000.

DVD-RAM: Several sites are predicting the next iMac DV Special Edition will include DVD-RAM as a standard feature. We think it makes a lot of sense, especially if Apple adopts the new 4.7 GB caddy-less technology that retains the current slot-loading design. Going to any of the current cartridge-loading DVD-RAM drives would be a step backwards for the iMac. Probability: high.

iMac G4: We dreamt this one up ourselves in An iMac G4? last September. Although it would give the iMac a higher marketing presence and help justify a significantly higher price for the iMac DV SE Mark II (or whatever Apple wants to call it), we don't believe it's necessary. Still, with Apple specifically targeting digital video and AltiVec optimized for digital signal processing, it's a natural mix. Probability: high.

Faster iMac: Well duh! As sales are showing, the age of the 350 and 400 MHz iMac is passing rapidly. Probability: certain.

IBM 750CX processor: We're very impressed with the next generation G3, which runs faster and has a fast internal cache (see Should Apple Us the New G3?). If IBM can deliver the 750CX in sufficient quantity at 450-550 MHz, Apple should adopt it. Probability: moderate, since the chip is so new.

iBox: We've advocated for a headless iMac since before the first iMac shipped (see The Tiny iMac, 8/5/98). In light of the Wintel market adopting 17" monitors as the norm, we believe this is one way for Apple to give users the choice of screen size without building huge iMacs. We love the idea, but don't know if Apple is ready to go in that direction. Probability: low.

iMac 17": Another product rumored before the first iMac ever shipped, it's one that makes sense and doesn't make sense at the same time. It makes sense in that a lot of users are going with 17" monitors, so space is not a concern. It doesn't make sense in that it would make the iMac that much larger. Probability: low.


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