Sunday, April 08, 2007

Predictions for coming Apple releases

Many of us were disappointed by the lack of any significant upgrades (besides the number of cores) with the new 8-core Mac Pros, which makes some of us wonder why Apple chose to go out of its way to acquire pre-release quad-core 3.0 GHz Clovertown chips.

The easiest answer is that Apple wanted the machines available for this week's NAB 2007 meeting, to demo a new version of Final Cut Studio. Surely that can't be the only reason though, can it?

One thing that came to mind is that perhaps Apple is planning to release OS X 10.5 Leopard sooner than some expected. We can use the release of OS X 10.4 Tiger as precedence. Apple released the new G5 2.7 GHz dual Power Mac April 27th, 2005, and just two days later Apple released the new OS. And then, just a few days later again on May 3, Apple released the G5 2.0 iMac.

Apple generally does not officially support new machines with an older OS. Only versions of the OS that shipped with the machine or later are officially supported. With such a release schedule, Apple forced all new May 2005 iMac users to use 10.4 Tiger, since the older Panther 10.3 was not compatible with the brand new iMac. However, Apple gave pro users the option of using 10.3 Panther or 10.4 Tiger with the new Power Macs, since Tiger had technically not been released yet when the new Power Macs came out. I suspect Apple feels that we consumers are more flexible when it comes to new OSes, and many consumers want the latest and greatest anyway. Professionals on the other hand may be very dependent upon a specific workflow using a specific OS version, and forcing them to switch to a new OS immediately would not go over very well.

Most have been predicting that Apple will release 10.5 Leopard at WWDC in June, but taking the above into consideration, it is possible that Apple could release 10.5 Leopard by May, and then shortly afterwards Apple could release a new iMac using the Santa Rosa Centrino Pro chipset. Centrino Pro products from other companies are scheduled to hit shelves in May.

The lack of a Blu-ray recorder upgrade option in the new Mac Pros is also curious. Jobs went on stage with Sony at Macworld two years ago to promote Blu-ray, but Apple is also on record as saying it supports both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Furthermore, Apple already offers HD DVD burning in DVD Studio Pro, and non-DRM'd HD DVD playback in DVD One might postulate that Apple may be expanding its HD DVD support in Leopard and the next version of iLife, with iDVD gaining the ability to burn HD DVD. Why HD DVD and not Blu-ray? The reason is that while Blu-ray support could also be added, Blu-ray burning requires an expensive Blu-ray burner which makes it less attractive. Contrary to popular belief, HD DVD burning does not require an HD DVD burner. Part of the specification for HD DVD is 3X DVD which allows HD DVD material to be burned onto DVD media, for hi-def playback on any HD DVD compatible player. Leveraging this technology with iDVD and DVD would allow Apple to give all existing SuperDrive Mac users the ability to burn HD DVDs, and any Mac user with a dual G5 or dual-core Intel Mac would have the ability to play back these discs.

I will emphasize that I'm just guessing, but let's hope some of those guesses turn out to be true.

[Update 2007-04-09]

My prediction about iDVD was likely based on false information. 3X DVD (or HD-9) is an official spec of HD DVD, but I had thought BD-9 (a comparable format) was not part of the Blu-ray specification. I have come across some information that says that it did indeed make it into the Blu-ray spec later on. If that is the case, then iDVD HD burning could use this format, and it would play back in any standard Blu-ray player. So, while I stick by my prediction of iDVD burning hi-def discs in 2007, it could be either HD DVD or Blu-ray or both.

[Update 2007-04-09]

I have since confirmed with a Blu-ray representative that BD-9 is in fact an official Blu-ray format. iDVD BD and/or iDVD HD here we come!

By the way, one last point: While Apple has pledged support for both formats, one cannot ignore the fact that Jobs himself may still lean towards the Blu-ray side, since he owns so much Disney stock. (Disney is a Blu-ray exclusive studio.) That said, despite Jobs' possible personal preference, Apple's mandate here is to sell computers, and potential Mac customers exist on both sides of the hi-def disc format war fence.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the insight. I think your predictions are logical and well thought out. I hope to see new iMacs most of all, because as much as I want a Mac Pro (2.66GHz Quad with X1900 graphics and a 23" ACD) I am waiting to see what will change in the iMacs. A new graphics card is really all I want in the iMac (24") but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

I was just in J&R, Comp USA and Circuit City recently and not one of their stores is promoting HD-DVD. On a few High Def 1080p plasma displays they had Blu-ray ads looping. I asked if they sold HD-DVD player/burners for TV's and they told me no, only Blu-ray.

Anonymous said...

your predictions were logical... but completely wrong.

don't quit your day job.