Saturday, January 06, 2007

2007 - Expections for MacWorld Expo & Beyond

Mac Faithful are looking forwards to the upcoming MacWorld Expo in 4 days, to see if Apple and Steve Jobs can wow them with more techno-lust magic.

Scads of pundits are already weighing in on what will be announced in the 9 January Keynote by Jobs. So, I figure I'll do the same. I'll start off with what Apple needs to introduce, and then speculate on what Apple will and won't actually introduce.

New iPods - We got a refresh on the Nano and Shuffle lines, but the 5/6G iPod line is in dire need of an overhaul. Screens on the current iPods are a joke - much too small for any real movie enjoyment. A portrait format iPod would really rock, something with a screen the size of a PSP. Give this thing some rudimentary PDA functions and we've got a winner.

iWork that Works - iWork is incomplete without a spreadsheet, and the other apps in the suite need a boost. Make this product useful for those of us who really do work, with 100% MS Office compatibilty, or get out of the market and give MS reason to truly innovate Mac Office.

Ultraportable Portable - I thought the whole reason for moving to Intel chips was to enable Apple to make small, lightweight, cool-running laptops. What happened? To be certain, the MacBook Pros are great machines (though they run hot) and the consumer level MacBook is very affordable. However, these things are WAY too heavy when compared to Windoze laptops by Sony, Panasonic and others - particularly the MacBook. FIVE LBS?!! What a joke for a 13" portable. In Japan, MacBooks are displayed without batteries, or consumers will think they are much too heavy compared to what they see across the aisle in the computer store. Yeah, maybe the 'drive everywhere' culture in the US doesn't appreciate this - but those of us who commute to work by bus, train, bike, or foot really need lightweight laptops. There's no excuse for this lapse, given the past success of 12" G4 laptops. We don't care if it's cheap or has nonsense like the hard drive 'roll-bar' or 'Mag-Safe' power cords. Just make it light - under 2 kg. And if Apple won't make one, at least license the OS so I can run it on a Panasonic ToughBook that tops out at 1.2 kg.

iPhone/MacPhone - This is needed, because it's getting talked to death. Apple is in danger of letting the moment pass by, and not having generated any sales. Do it now, while the interest is there. There are already plenty of decent music phones out there - at least in Japan.

iPad /MacPDA/Internet Tablet - Yeah, I can buy an iPaq or some other piece of crap that runs Windoze CE or even PalmOS. But I don't want that. I want something that plays nice with my Mac and has an intuitive MODERN interface. We don't need a freaking camera or phone functions - just something usable. Fold this in with an iPod (see above) and you might shock the world.

OS 10.5 - We don't need it right away, but some time this year after it's truly ready. The current OS, Tiger, already bitch-slaps Vista around - don't worry about Vista. Just make Leopard great. We don't need an overhaul on the AquaInterface (Geez the new iTunes is fugly!), just improve the functionality and make it rock solid. Give us windows that maximize instead of inconsistently 'zooming'. Allow Front Row to work with not only iTunes Radio channels, but a TV/Cable/Video input source (like my EyeTV250). Make it easy to sort Spotlight searches by date (within file type) or otherwise with a click of a button. Make all apps save documents to the same place you opened their previous incarnations (including PDF files). Make Dashboard truly usable, by allowing active widgets on the desktop (ala Amnesty), instead of hidden somewhere.  Make sure Leopard doesn't leave PowerPC Macs behind, by offering full functionality (except for BootCamp). Make Safari as compatible with websites as FireFox is. Simplify and improve fileserver and filesharing functions, so that they can be always accessed with one click. Make iTunes' interface experience match its improved functionality. (Incorporating song lyrics downloads doesn't count!) I could go on.

Re-Vamped iWeb - Make something that works like SandVox (usually) does, not the stifling, limited mess that iWeb '06 is. Don't make it seem like you have to use .Mac to get the maximum out of iWeb, and improve the interface. Open up the themes architecture (or give us more themes) so that we don't have to spend money on third party offerings.

Stable iPhoto & iMovie - Improve memory usage issues with these apps so that they don't crash when you are working with large files or photo collections.

Truly Mighty Mouse - The current Mighty Mouse form factor really blows and is quite archaic compared to the functionality in current offerings from Logitech and Microsoft. Yeah, the wireless version is an improvement - but the damn thing still works like its wired ancestor. I know very few serious Mac users that can tolerate the Mighty Mouse for more than a few weeks. Lose the goofy left/right 'tip-click' for a left and right button and just put two buttons on the damn thing. Make the nipple larger or turn it into a wheel. Do you think the hundreds of other mice on the market look different, because their manufacturers believe they are subpar to the mighty mouse? 

Greenify Apple - Al Gore sits on your BOD and uses a Mac. You ever listen to him? How about addressing those issues that Greenpeace has brought up, instead of accusing them of being wrong? They have some very valid points, though you may not care about the behavior of your OEMs. Take responsibility and be a leader in Environmental consciousness, instead of a denier/apologist. The fact that Dell is number one on Greenpeace's list (and Apple last) should be shameful to all Mac users. Profit isn't an excuse to utilize materials and OEMs that aren't environmentally friendly.

In truth, it's unlikely that we will see all of the above things in this week's Keynote or even over the entire year. My guess is what we will see is the following.

iLife 07 & iWork 07 - Duh! These application suites have been released during the January MacWorld since their inception. Even thinks so.

Boosted iMacs, MacMinis - These seem to be most likely to get boosts, though it is conceivable the entire line may get speed bumps. Quad Core Mac Pros?!

Boosted iPods - I can't help but wonder how long Apple can wait to upgrade their large capacity iPods. Look for larger capacity, in the least. The form factor is getting a bit long in the tooth.

iTV - There was too much noise about this product when it was previewed. It seemed well on the way. Apple probably can't wait much longer on this one. And it's not exactly rocket science to implement.

Reality Check
There are some things I would surmise won't be released (though they may be needed).

• iPad /MacPDA/Internet Tablet - Sadly, I think that Apple is losing its innovative steam. They don't want to put effort into anything that could be regarded as a niche product. Furthermore, the Newton has left a stale aftertaste in their mouths. Don't expect these, unless they are part of an iPod or controller for another product. (The ModTablet doesn't count...)

iPhone - Given all the attention garnered to this product or potential product - it's a wonder it hasn't been released. Though there is an expectation for it, my guess is that it isn't ready yet or it would have been available at Xmas. And it's not a hardware issue. There could be a licensing quagmire with telecom companies. If you don't believe me, look how long it took to get local versions of the iTunes store in Japan and other countries. And keitai providers aren't going to swallow a simplified payment model or sharing their profits with Apple. So unless Apple has found a way to control the whole shebang, it seems unikely. Unless it's a WiFi phone...

Ultraportable Mac - Sadly, Apple hasn't show much public interest in replacing the 12" G4 PowerBook in its line up with an Intel equivalent. And I don't see this changing, unless a hit in Japan sales (where small is 'in') is significant. Jobs seems more interested in selling a lot of cheap, heavy MacBooks, rather than a smaller number of lightweight, expensive 12" MacBook Pros. There's been some suggestion that an ultraportable is in the works, but little to support it. Hopefully I'm wrong on this one.

OSX 10.5 - All indications are that Leopard is not ready for primetime, but could make it in the Spring or Summer. With Apple gearing up to polish 10.4.9, their efforts aren't fully on Leopard yet. And Apple needs to ensure this release is rock solid, to magnify its OS benefits over Windoze Vista.

Well, I've said my piece. We'll see what will happen in a few days. And don't be surprised if something totally unanticipated happens. That's what all of us hope for.

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