The path to predicting Apple's future is scattered with the prone corpses of pervious pundits, so I hope to protect myself from such a fate by shrouding my remarks with a thick layer of doubt and uncertainty. After all, if it's facts you want, you'll have to wait – Apple plays its cards close to its chest. If, however, you're happy with educated speculation, then read on.
By the way, December saw a small protest at Apple HQ in Cupertino. Workers there carry a heavyweight protestant work ethic. One employee’s lonely husband and two kids drove through the HQ complaining about the long hours Mrs. Protest was forced to work over Christmas.
Now, it's not rare for Apple people to do this, but that's the first protest I'd heard of. Something is brewing. Let's look at some of what we know is likely to happen this year:
Mac OS X 10.4 unleashed, what's next?
New iterations across Apple's hardware product range;
New advances in digital music, video, audio and more;
Alliances with mobile handset makers, similar to the Motorola deal;
Larger-capacity iPods, new iTunes features;
Improvements to Apple's .Mac service;
We can also anticipate news from Apple's new iPod division, not least the WiMax-ready SpacePort base station (2006), and the AirPort enabled home media server, equipped with a WiFi iteration called 802.11n. This will support video transmission over wireless networks without the dropped frames you experience in 802.11a and 802.11g. It has a built-in capability to prioritize demands made on it, you see, specifically to support home networks. And should be ratified early next year.
Let's move beyond the obvious list described above.
For Macworld Expo, I'll begin with the inevitable - iLife ’05. While Apple may choose not to call the product by this name in this iteration, it's going to have to release it, probably next week at Macworld Expo. Why? Well, the secret here is in the name. I don't anticipate a cheap upgrade option from iLife ’04, by the way.
Xserve: Apple's enterprise excursion has barely begun. With successful implementations of Xserve and Xserve RAID in numerous academic, scientific and research institutions; rave reviews, an industry-leading price-per-storage-megabyte in RAID and an Oracle recommendation under its belt, Apple will apply all the muscle it can to make these products ever more attractive.
Will the Xserve range be the first Macs to market with IBM Power5 chips this year? Maybe, first though I predict Apple will unleash speed-bumped G5-based models of both products at Macworld Expo, and put its Xsan system in the public eye once there.
Why the eMac reveals IBM
There's so much life left in the G5 processor (based on the Power4 chip from IBM). As such, I believe Apple will announce plans to ship a 3GHz Power Mac, but warn that this won't ship until March.
Why do I believe this? Let's go back to WWDC 2003, the coming-out-party for the G5 Power Mac. With the Megahertz wars behind the company, Apple CEO Steve Jobs confidently predicted Power Macs would reach 3GHz within a year. It didn't happen, but Jobs likes to keep his promises.
My best guess says there has been a lot of overtime at IBM's factory in East Fishkill, New York, this Christmas.
At time of writing, readers report long delays for their recently ordered 2.5GHz Power Macs. Is this famine ever going to end? And how badly now are IBM's manufacturing problems affecting Apple's schedules? I think the day the eMac G5 ships is the day that marks a resolution of production problems.
I also think that's when it becomes right to begin counting time until Apple (having solved a trademark problem relating to the existence of the Pontiac G6 GT) reveals its next move: the adoption of an adapted Power5 processor, with all the major advantages that involves. Watch the eMac to feel the heat.
iBooks will probably remain G4, at least for now, but Motorola/Freescale has a new G4 processor ready to roll – the 7448. This doubles the cache-size of the existing processor and raises the ceiling on the bus and clock speeds.
With this in mind, we can anticipate further speed bumps for PowerBooks, moving these beyond 1.5GHz, and doubling the L2 cache for even more performance. These processors are pin- and software-compatible with previous designs, offer a faster bus speed and operate at around 10 watts at 1.4GHz. Did I mention these processors are capable of speeds in excess of 1.5GHz?
With the new G4 chips anticipated for market early 2005, a PowerBook revision is clearly due, as Apple's engineers work toward the G5 PowerBook goal. Expect an iBook speed-bump to follow in March/April.
iPod Flash: In the words of Rolf Harris, "can you see what it is yet?" For me, the answer's no. All the circumstantial evidence points to a flash-based music-playing device from Apple, but what shape it will be? Will it be a standalone cheaper iPod, or a flash based music-making phone? I anticipate this product will be revealed next month. If Wall Street's financial analysts (who get paid a great deal more than me) can survive making such claims, then I hope I can too.
This time last year, I described the natural evolution of the music player market. I believed then, as I believe now, that digital-music devices will move to adopt new features specific to their core music function. DJs want to scratch, to mix, to beat-match and more. I believe this new music format offers huge possibility, so I got involved in launching a club, called Playlist, in North London.
One year on and no such a product yet – but it's coming. HP Labs has been quietly working on a product called DJammer. This is effectively a wireless, networked, handheld control system equipped with a variety of sensors that the research team behind the device call "a brand new musical instrument". It will link to an iTunes library, and will let DJs access the songs inside that library to scratch, mix, beat-match and more.
The DJammer offers both physical and gesture-based controls, and was seen in action at last summer's MTV awards. If you’re in LA, you'll also be able to take a look at the DJammer at the huge Consumer Electronics Show. And it's not an iPod-killer, the team behind it describe it as an "iPod enhancer".
Motor takes a (moral) fibre
Apple's always described itself as the BMW of the computer industry, citing both company's similar market share. The relationship between Apple, the iPod and the automobile industry is going to grow very much closer early next year. But I signed in blood, and won't say when, or why.
I'm going to end this speculation now, though there's plenty more in my crystal ball, including ringtones through the Music Store, a slew of iTunes-ready handsets from multiple manufacturers, and some way to navigate these using a phone, VoIP support in iChat and so on.
If 2004 was the year Apple broke out, 2005 will be the year it follows-through. With IBM and HP on side, the new IT war has begun.