Educated guessing about Macworld
No one ought to try to make a living guessing what will issue forth from Apple Computer's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. In recent weeks, the...
Special to The Seattle Times
No one ought to try to make a living guessing what will issue forth from Apple Computer's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. In recent weeks, the hilarity over analysts' and rumor sites' predictions of an iPhone — a cellphone ostensibly made by Apple — have reached baroque proportions. One pundit said the iPhone would fail, even though Apple hasn't said a word about an upcoming cellphone, and, thus, no even putative features are known.
Meanwhile, Cisco Systems' Linksys division released an iPhone lineup. Not cellular phones, but a series of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), handsets renamed with the iPhone trademark the company had registered a few years ago.
Next week, the annual Macworld Conference and Exposition hits San Francisco with Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs presenting his own trademark: a keynote address Tuesday morning that typically ends with "one more thing."
Some years, the keynote is a yawn, with software updates and minor hardware refreshes. This year, the anticipation is high because Apple has openly discussed two major near-term products: the Mac OS X 10.5 system release, named Leopard, due in spring, and the "iTV," a Mac-to-home-entertainment adapter that will be released under another name.
Leopard has a few marquee features that will provoke some interest, especially as Microsoft Vista hits consumer outlets. Leopard will include a backup-software system, Time Machine; the ability to share control of one's computer via iChat; and networked searching via Spotlight. More of Leopard will be shown at Macworld, and a shipping date will likely be set.
The iTV is expected to appear on the show floor, with its full range on display, and a release date is almost certain to be revealed. Apple said the device would feature wireless networking and play digital media through component video and HDMI connections, two high-quality video-output formats.
Apple might also announce its wireless-networking plans. Apple's AirPort Extreme and Express lineup are rather dated, with few updates and only a small reduction in price since the faster wireless equipment was announced in January 2003.
The Wi-Fi world has advanced, with many companies selling souped-up versions of the 802.11g standard that underlies AirPort Extreme. Apple has remained unmoved, with its higher-end base station costing as much as five times more than comparable gateways from competitors that also include multiport Ethernet switches.
But the finishing touches are being put on 802.11n, an industrywide effort to increase Wi-Fi's speed and coverage area. Where AirPort Extreme and 802.11g offer just more than 20 megabits per second (Mbps) of real data transfer, 802.11n will top 50 Mbps in similar circumstances, and often reach rates of 100 Mbps or higher.
This jump in speed has more to do with pushing video — especially high-definition video — over a home network than moving data around, although businesses will enjoy the increase bandwidth. Apple clearly plans to use 802.11n in its iTV product, and some reports indicate it is using early 802.11n chips in MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops with the faster modes turned off.
Many manufacturers released so-called Draft N products in 2006, based on Draft 1.0 issued by an engineering-standards group. These early devices have been plagued with compatibility and other problems. The Draft 2.0 standard, expected to be close to what will ultimately be approved, is due out this month. Apple may ride that announcement's coattails as it did with AirPort Extreme, one of the earliest 802.11g-based gateways.
Also widely expected at Macworld Expo is a refresh of the Mac Pro desktop line. The first models of this Intel-based replacement for the long-running Power Mac towers use two dual-core chips in each computer. Intel has released a four-core successor to these two-core chips. A Mac Pro with eight cores is highly likely.
The additional cores add processing power, but we're just starting to see how tasks could be divided in other ways, especially in running Windows and other Intel-based operating systems. VMware just released a beta version of Fusion, its first foray into Intel Mac virtual machines. The beta allows individual cores to be assigned to the virtual machine, which improves performance of those emulations.
And will we see an iCell, an iCall or an iDial at Macworld? The buzz has been at such an intense whine that it's impossible to separate actual knowledge from pure speculation.
Apple tried with an "iPhone" before. The Motorola Rokr, sold by Cingular Wireless, was announced in September 2005, and never had significant sales. The product was a result of compromises among Apple, Motorola and Cingular that ensured that while it had some iPod features, it was neither a good phone nor a good music player. Apple rarely makes the same mistake twice.
Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists