MWSF ’06 Predictions

There’s no use spilling a ton of pixels on MWSF predictions this late in the game (just a few hours before the keynote), but any pundit worth his salt ought to be willing to put predictions in writing beforehand. Here are mine (all based on nothing other than my own speculation):

  • New Macs based on Intel processors: I say no. Everyone who’s calling for this announcement seems to be taking stance that it’d be cool for everyone involved if Apple has managed to get Intel-powered machines out the door a few months earlier than expected. But it wouldn’t be cool for developers who took Apple at its word at WWDC, when they were told that Intel-based Macs could be expected in the spring or early summer.

    Releasing Intel-based Macs now might be popular with the keynote crowd and the tech press, but it would come at the expense of a bit of Apple’s credibility with developers. As late as September 20, Steve Jobs said the following regarding when Intel-based Macs would ship: “We said we’d be shipping by next June and we are on track to have that be a true statement,” said Jobs. As was pointed out recently in MDJ, if Apple were to release Intel-based Macs now, in January, the next time Apple tells developers they have a year to get on board with something new, developers will feel like they’ve got to drop everything and do it immediately.

    If I’m wrong, and Intel Macs are announced today, I expect to see only Mac Minis, not iBooks or PowerBooks. (And whenever they do release new iBooks — today, next month, next year — they’re still going to have FireWire ports. Apple dropped FireWire support from all iPods because the FireWire components were taking up valuable space; new iPods are dramatically thinner in large part because they no longer have to fit FireWire chipsets inside. Whereas with iBooks, no matter how small they make them, there’s going to be plenty of room for at least a single FireWire port. FireWire may not be the raging success we all hoped it would be, but there are millions of digital video cameras and hard drives out there that depend on it. I’ve never seen any justification for the idea that Apple would drop FireWire from Macs other than that “they’re moving away from FireWire”, the only evidence of which is the iPod, which, as just stated, almost certainly dropped FireWire simply because they want to keep making new iPod models smaller and smaller.)

    Result: Wrong. But at least the MacBook Pro has FireWire.

    [Sidenote: Even though they’re using the same case designs for the new Intel-based Macs, neither the iMac G5 nor 15-inch PowerBook have been discontinued — the new iMacs (which are apparently just named “iMac”, not “iMac Core Duo” or anything like that) and MacBook Pros (which name is terrible — I mean just horrible, like some crappy Mac accounting software from 1987) are being sold alongside the PowerPC models, not replacing them. Not yet, of course. My guess is that this means Rosetta is fairly slow, and that anyone who still depends on non-universal-binary apps is going to want a PowerPC machine for the time being. We’ll find out soon enough what real-world Rosetta performance is like.]

  • iLife ’06: Yes, duh. I can’t believe there are people who think Apple won’t announce another annual update to iLife. The big surprise this year is iWeb, the only new product from Apple that has clearly leaked in advance. I’m guessing iWeb is, in fact, a direct competitor to Karelia’s rushed-into-public-beta-in-the-face-of-iWeb Sandvox — a WYSIWYG web page editor. (Does anyone else remember HTMLEdit, a not-completely-shabby web page editor that shipped as part of the Mac OS X Public Beta release, but was dropped without explanation for version 10.0?)

    One aspect I’m not sure how to call is whether iWeb will be tied to .Mac for web hosting. It wouldn’t surprise me, but, it also wouldn’t seem fair, given that iLife is a for-pay product, and so is .Mac. My guess is that it’ll work with .Mac, but will also work with other hosting environments via FTP and, one would hope, SFTP.

    It also may not be a free-form web page editor, but rather just a publishing mechanism for tossing other iLife content — photos, GarageBand music (but good god not copyrighted iTunes music!), movies — onto web pages. Get these apps out of the game of doing their own “publish content to web pages” code and centralize it in one app.

    Result: Right.

  • iWork ’06: Yes, definitely. Pages 1.0 was really rather rudimentary; not bad, but really not very good either. Overall I think it’s a great strategy to undercut Microsoft Word by being simpler and more obvious, but Pages 1.0 was, simply, too simple. I’ve heard that Apple wants to shift its own in-house documentation to Pages; if so, there ought to be some nice improvements to long-form document writing and publishing.

    Spreadsheet? I say yes. Apple’s been on a “add one new iWork app per year” pace, and, given that AppleWorks is quite obviously decrepit and almost certainly not going to be released as a native x86 binary. They need something that can open .xls files.

    Result: Right about iWork ’06, wrong about the spreadsheet, damn it.

  • iPods: I say Apple’s going to do to the Shuffle what they did to the iPod Mini: scrap something super-popular for something much better. I see zero signs of let-up or over-confidence at Apple with regard to their iPod success; they’ve got an enormous market share but are pressing harder than their competitors at pushing innovative hardware designs out the door. I actually love my Shuffle — I use it more than my regular 40 GB iPod. What I like about it is that it’s something I never have to worry about — I can drop it, I can toss it, I can stuff it in a pocket and forget about it — and yet it’s beautiful and feels great in my hand. The buttons have perfect clickability. And so the bar is set high for a replacement.

    Result: Wrong.

  • Front Row for more Macs: Yes. This is too obvious. I’m thinking maybe it’ll be part of the iLife ’06 bundle.

    Result: Partial credit: it ships on the MacBooks, but it’s not available for other Macs.

  • Apple-Branded Plasma TVs Running Mac OS X: No. This doesn’t even make sense.

    Result: Right.

  • Apple-Branded Plasma TVs Not Running Mac OS X: No. But maybe, if the TV is sort of like a dumb terminal that draws content from your Mac elsewhere in the house via AirPort.

    Result: Right.

  • Mac OS X 10.5 Preview: No. I don’t expect Apple to start hyping 10.5 until WWDC.

    Result: Right.

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