Saturday, 24 May 2008

Where is Apple Headed?

One end of Apple's range is being ignored and it's not the iPhone.

There's something of a feeding frenzy going on around iPhone 2.0, with claims that inventory has dried up (all models at time of writing show "Currently Unavailable" at the Apple Store, a sure sign that something is up), Apple has imported unusual consignments to the US, various phone providers leaking alleged attributes of the new model, etc.

That there will be an iPhone 2.0 is a given. That it will appear soon looks very likely. But is this all?

If you mosey over to the Apple store, you will notice that the Mac Mini has ceased to make much sense. The fastest model comes with only a 2GHz processor for $799 with 1GB RAM and a 120GB hard drive, while the base iMac has a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 250GB hard drive and significantly better graphics hardware. Option the Mini up with a 160GB drive, and you have an $849 machine before you've bought a screen, mouse and keyboard. Go cheap on those e.g. via Dell, and you add about $280 to get USB mouse and keyboard, and a 20" screen, total $1129, only $70 less than the base iMac – despite a significant loss of features and speed.

So I predict the Mini is due for an overhaul.

What else?

Apple TV remains a half-baked product. Who heard of a TV without a tuner? You can buy devices like EyeTV for a Mac then export recorded video over to an "Apple TV" to play. But this is silly. You want this part in the box called the "TV" – and you want to be able to watch live TV, not only recordings, from your EyeTV. Why not support a developer interface to Apple TV that would allow devices like EyeTV to be implemented even if Apple isn't interested in the concept? After all, many people have made a big deal of the absence of an FM tuner in iPods, a need that's been filled by third party developers.

In any case, since no one else is talking about this, I propose that Apple do something a bit more creative: merge the Apple TV and Mac Mini into one low-end product that can be configured as a pure black box media device, or used as a more general-purpose computing device with options to add on your own features.

All that it would take is opening up the interface to Apple TV, and converging the feature set of the two devices with some creative build to order options. With a bit of a stretch the feature range could go from a relatively simple low-end box to something close to an iMac without a screen.

The overall lineup then would look something like this:

  • iPod lineup – Shuffle, Nano, Classic, Touch: eventually Classic will go when flash is cheap enough; no big change except Touch will get any appearance overhaul to match the new iPhone
  • iPhone lineup – soon to be clarified but I would be surprised if the variations widened significantly before Apple had a worldwide presence
  • entertainment Mac lineup – Apple TV with options up to an attractive Mini, comparable to an iMac
  • iMac – no change since there has been a revamp recently
  • Macbook – no big change
  • Mac Pro – no big change

So that's my prediction: not only an iPhone overhaul but something at the low end. The iPhone is obvious; the other more a question of fixing some flaws and inconsistencies.

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