Thursday, January 1, 2009

Apple's Hardware Roadmap 2009

No Blu-Ray - Steve Jobs once said BluRay should never be put into PCs. At the time, people assumed it was for fear of the super-quality content getting freed from its DRM shackles. Now it seems he wants to emphasize downloads over physical media, and it will be some time until iTunes serves up anything approaching disc-delivered quality. iDVD was truly a classic Apple masterwork, in the sense that authoring decent-quality DVDs with menus went from really arcane to dead simple overnight. Forget that the program had bugs, they all do, DVDs were Apple's flagship home media push, even before CD burning and the iPod. Indeed, Jobs said in his first iTunes reveal event that Apple had dropped the ball on CDs while hitting DVD out of the park. I do not believe BluRay will ever be offered by Apple, and it won't be trumpeted when it is.
Desktops - 

The Mac Pro will continue to be a high end PC-alike Intel chipset machine, with much the same case design. The Intel transition has made Apple's high-end desktop into a bundle of foregone conclusions, where it used to be the most fun hardware to anticipate and Apple's most radical Wintel-alternative package. It was the G-series, and before that the 60x or even 680x0, where Apple would trumpet its advantage over the Wintel commodity box of the day. 

What will be interesting is which graphics card supplier Apple chooses to make the default option, as OpenCL and Snow Leopard will make the GPU pick a true performance differentiator. If nVidia is way slower than ATI for "GP"GPU, Apple may have to offend its laptop chipset supplier and CPU supplier in a stroke, and pick AMD ATI. I do not see that happening, so look for Mac Pros with Intel's latest chips and chipsets, and nVidia GPUs released as Intel's roadmap dictates.

iMac - Apple may make the iMac 24in-only (except for the 20in school model), and try to push almost everyone to a MacBook/Pro with display arrangement. A single quad-core iMac may make an appearance at the high end. The likelihood of that depends on three factors. If a quad iMac is so fast it makes the Mac Pro necessary only for extreme, rarified computing, then Apple won't risk cannibalizing high-margin tower sales. On the other hand, if the quad-core chip finds its way into a Mac Book Pro, then the iMac would almost certainly also have it as an option. Finally, there is the outside chance of an anniversary Mac this year, and that would be a good place to do something wacky with the iMac, GPGPU, and four cores.

Mac Mini - Boring hardware updates aside, including "gee whiz" Intel integrated graphics iterations and DisplayPort, the Mini is only worth discussing if it gets melded with the Apple TV. Perhaps the ATV becomes an application that runs best on a Mini near a TV? Maybe Apple makes the Mini $350, kills the Apple TV, and splits the difference of its two brushed metal round-rect offerings? An iPhone-style locked down Apple TV with the hardware of a revised Mac Mini is a potent living room "console", especially if it has accelerometer-ified input hardware shipped in-box. I put the odds of this happening at a billion in one, but it's fun to think about.


You're looking at them already, except the 17 will finally come along for the ride.


Austin said...

Of course there is no way that Apple will release a margin killing atom notebook in 2008, but isn't it possible the white MacBook is as much a placeholder as the 17-incher. It is possible the WhiteBook could live through 2009 in a state of mac mini-esque benign neglect, but that seems like a strange fate for a product positioned right at the center of the mass market sweet spot.

jellinek said...

round rects are fun.