Friday, October 23, 2009

What's next from Apple?

Please understand that the following is entirely speculation, based upon extrapolation from what's already public. Any similarity between what you find here and future products may be ascribed to luck (or, if you're feeling charitable, to prescience on my part).

What's brewing at Apple that wasn't introduced on Tuesday? New MacBook Pros, of course, probably not departing more than slightly from the current industrial design, just the usual spec bump. New Mac Pros? Same as for the portable line; why change a wining design? Sure there will be new standard configurations and new options, faster processors, bigger hard drives, likely the new optical link technology recently introduced by Intel, but they're not likely to look much different than they have for several years now.

Practically everyone is expecting some sort of tablet from Apple, and I think they're right about that much. Moreover, I think the iFrame video format that recently made a blip in the news offers a clue about one particular detail, the screen resolution. iFrame is a 16:9, 960 by 540 format, but it's a sure bet that an Apple tablet won't be 16:9, even though they just moved to that aspect ratio for their iMacs. What iFrame supplies is a minimum long dimension (width in landscape mode), but the shorter dimension is more likely to be at least 640 (for a 3:2 aspect ratio, just like the iPhone), with 100 vertical pixels left over after letterboxing HD video, just enough to provide a menu bar and controls at the bottom that don't cover part of the content, or a clips bar. iFrame is about video editing, so you're going to want more than just the raw video on the screen.

What else? Well, Apple TV hardware is getting so long in the tooth that it's beginning to resemble a saber-toothed tiger, so, unless they plan to let it wither, there really has to be a new version in the pipeline. 1080p30 is a given, as is a Mini DisplayPort in addition to most of the output options on the current model. Most likely it will also include a Core 2 Duo processor combined with NVIDIA's integrated graphics chipset, and I think you'll see the software opened up in much the same way as the iPhone has been via the App Store, with an operating system that's clearly a variant of OS X, sharing most of the same libraries.

I also think you'll see a high end AirPort designed to work with one or more of the 4G wireless networks now either in planning or being built out. Ideally, this would have a software-defined radio unit for connection to the provider's network, allowing a single hardware configuration to take advantage of whatever might be or become available through software updates, the antithesis of lock-in.

Time frame? Hard to say. The new AppleTV and AirPort might not arrive until next summer.

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