Sunday, January 6, 2008

Managing Macworld 2008 Expectations

Tom Hanks is supposedly signed for the highest sum ever paid an actor to reprise his role as Robert Langdon in the film adaptation of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I shuddered as I read that news the other day. You see, I've never walked out in the middle of a movie, but The DaVinci Code is about as close as I have come. The new prequel having the same star and director ensures that I won't see it. It's not even that the movie was necessarily horrific. The main problem was that having really enjoyed the book, I had very high expectations for the movie. As I have come to realize is so often the case, I had set myself up for disappointment by expecting something more or different than what was delivered.

A similar, though less intense experience was last year's Macworld keynote. As an avid follower of Apple news and technology I was looking forward to announcements that just didn't pan out. The event turned out to be almost all iPhone, no new Macs, no super surprise features for Leopard, not even a Beatles music distribution deal. Sure the iPhone looked cool, but it was six months away and more money than I could afford. The things I was looking forward to didn't materialize. 

With that experience in mind, here are my down to earth expectations for Macworld 2008, and unlike everyone and their sister regurgitating the same predictions I even have some new ideas to contribute.

Staying down to earth I will start with what is already known. The iTunes store will get movie rentals. The details to be filled in include how many movies will be available, how much will they cost, and how long will the rental period be. Related to this is a likely update to AppleTV. While it was announced as a mere hobby it's possible for this simple set-top box to start making inroads into the American living room. The key factors to address are price and content. Price is easy enough to take care of. With a year of Moore's law since its introduction I expect that AppleTV will be repriced in the $199-$250 range. Content, on the other hand, is a bigger question. Certainly being able to browse, buy, or rent movies directly from the unit should be fairly trivial to add. Hopefully enough studios are on board to make the selection worthwhile. If Apple could deliver TV shows on demand (maybe a 24 hour window) for say 50 cents to a dollar, plus movie rentals for $2-3, many people could virtually replace their cable service with on demand programming for less money.
Unfortunately, where the AppleTV really shines for many users is the elimination of physical discs for watching DVD video. This requires technically breaking copyright law with a program like Handbrake. Apple can't really advertise this great selling point without incurring the wrath of the film industry.

Almost certainly the Software Development Kit for third party applications will get some attention. It has been promised for a February release. I could see Steve Jobs bringing out some developers who have had preview access showing off new iPhone functions. Maybe a Google app like Google Earth?
I don't expect a new model or change in pricing. People are still coveting the current iPhone, so why mess with it.

Notebook Updates
The idea of a subnotebook, superthin laptop, or Newton-like Mac tablet is getting a lot of attention on rumor sites. The MacBook line could use some revamping, but in keeping my expectations in line, I'm not looking for anything dramatic. Imagine the change from the Titanium Powerbook to aluminum. Make it slimmer, lighter, maybe update the color design (most new Apple products tout the black and silver styling of the iMac). A fairly minor new feature that could dramatically change the usability of the laptops would be the incorporation of the iPhone style multitouch to the MacBook's trackpad. While a touch screen would be much more exceptional, the added price and difficulties like keeping it clean seem to make that concept less likely.
One area that everyone seems to be missing is the shrinking of recent Apple keyboards. The most recent wireless keyboard in particular is little more than ultra-thin keys atop an ultra-thin sheet of aluminum. It has even dispensed with the numeric keypad and separate cursor keys. I mention this because I could see the thinner MacBook having more of the guts of the system behind the screen like an iMac, with the ultra-thin keyboard flipping down. If, as rumors suggest, it does not have a DVD drive or conventional hard drive (using Flash instead), this would make for a very slim, light system indeed.

Mac Pro
Just based on the age of the current Mac Pro design it would make sense for there to be an update. Little has been said about this, so speculation is basically up to the imagination. I could see a new, smaller case  and modest speed increases. I won't be in the market for a Mac Pro any time soon, so this is not that important to me.

Overall I have set some conservative, realistic expectations for the upcoming keynote. The main thing I am hoping for is there to be much more Mac in this year's Macworld. I'll be anxiously awaiting "one more thing" and, unlike some movie franchises, even if not every expectation is met I will keep watching year after year.

No comments: