Odd things are going on at Apple at the moment. Things are quiet… too quiet. Circumstances have conspired to make things a little difficult for the company: the processor that Apple’s future rests on is in short supply, and it isn’t just because Apple is selling so many of them. Yields from the state-of-the-art IBM processor production plant have been far short of expectations, and supply isn’t keeping up with demand. This is bad for anybody waiting for a 2.5GHz G5 Power Mac, but potentially disastrous news for Apple, which is running out of things to sell.

Once Apple announced the liquid-cooled 2.5GHz G5s, anybody in the market for the fastest Mac around would have held off purchasing until they could get the good stuff. So G5 sales have slowed dramatically. That should have been OK – there are plenty of other Macs to sell. Actually, no: iMacs are off the menu too because there aren’t enough G5 processors to supply the next generation of iMacs.

Unusually, Apple announced that it won’t be making the old style iMacs any more, and the new models won’t be out until September. When they’re announced this month, they will almost certainly be in short supply, possibly this year’s unobtainable Christmas present. As for the Power Mac G4, it’s been quietly discontinued.

Of course, the unobtainable Christmas present of last year was the iPod, and all year the iPod mini has been scarce. I expect this trend to continue until the whole country has an iPod. The new fourth-generation iPods seem to be plentiful at the moment, but who knows?

Other Apple hardware includes the new massive 30-inch LCD screen that will appeal to the super-power-users that have more money than, well, me. Again, this is yet to surface, but perhaps it might show up when the 2.5GHz G5s arrive. AirPort Express units are also beginning to trickle in to the shops now.

Basically, that leaves PowerBooks and iBooks as Apple’s only computer-hardware products on sale at the moment. While I don’t foresee a G5 update to the PowerBook range this year, I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again. As for iBooks, I can only imagine a processor speed bump would be on the cards, but we had one not so long ago.
So currently, Apple is making the bulk of its profits from music-related and software sales. Between here and the end of January 2005, I expect to see a lot of new Apple stuff – so start saving.

This vacuum of hardware products has a curiously predictable effect on Internet fan sites. When the climate is right, which it is now, speculation sprouts like fungus. Currently there are all kinds of rumours over the Internet predicting what Apple has up its sleeve for us. I don’t really get into this whole prediction lark – it’s too easy to be wrong, and I hate being wrong. That doesn’t mean I can’t report what other more bold (and more wrong) writers are saying.

Now before I get into this, I want to make something clear. There are so many rumour sites that they can’t all be right. Usually a keynote address quashes 95 per cent or more of the rumours that precede them. But that does mean that
5 per cent of the rumours are at least a little bit true – though even people that are rubbish at guessing could probably get five per cent right.

Anyway, the top rumour concerns the new iMacs. It’s difficult to see what can be added to the iMac without having it compete with the G5. Adding a G5 processor is a certainty, but a new processor should surely come with a new look. There have recently been a few rumours concerning an Apple patent regarding a multicolour casing. Imagine an iMac with a translucent body that can change colour just by changing a system pref. It sounds great, doesn’t it – a lava lamp of an iMac. On closer inspection the patent was actually filed some years ago, so rather than being a portent of impending colour changing iMacs, it may just be yet another thing gathering dust on the Apple Industrial Design shelf. Another popular rumour is that the new iMac will be somehow made of aluminium or a magnesium alloy. Whether it keeps its half-basketball base or not isn’t clear. The idea of an aluminium iMac doesn’t sound as exotic as the multi coloured one, but in my experience, it’s a mistake to underestimate the talents of Jonathan Ive et al.

I remember running into him on the Macworld Expo show floor after the launch of the Graphite and Snow iMacs. He asked me what I thought, and I said that I liked the Graphite one but the Snow one looked a bit like a fridge and might not fare so well. Of course this didn’t go down too well – he went to great pains to explain his design decisions. I quickly realised that criticism of the greatest industrial designer of the 21st century probably isn’t that wise unless you’ve been trained to know anything about it. Suffice to say that he took my opinions on board and converted the whole consumer range to white shortly afterwards. For my part I ate humble pie soon after too, by buying a white iBook.

So now you know how much sway I have in the industry, you’ll understand why I shy away from making predictions.

Back to the wacky predictions: an Apple-filing for a design trademark recently surfaced, though the application dated back to May. The design is for a handheld computer, though details remain very vague. In the sketches published on the Internet, it looks just like a graphics tablet, or perhaps half a PowerBook. Whether it is indeed a self-contained computer, or perhaps a wireless interactive screen, it certainly looks like an interesting product. The fact that there’s a design trademark application makes it somewhat real, though these products can disappear as quickly as they arrive. But you just never know with Apple.

Whatever happens, Apple needs to get a hardware product out the door and shipping soon. Apple VP Phil Schiller will be taking the stage in Paris this month, with a message from the recovering Steve Jobs. With a bit of luck he will appear, Moses like, with a couple of tablets from the boss. MW