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A Look Ahead

February 22, 2010
By Dave Hecei,

By all measure, 2009 was a very good year for Apple. The Mac is as strong as ever. The iPhone is the 'gold standard' of smart phones, which all new smart phones are compared too. We won't even mention the over 100,000 Apps that are available for the iPhone/iPod Touch. The iPod is still the king of music players. With everything Apple has going, it will be a tough job making 2010 even better.

There are a few things that Apple needs to resolve. Their biggest problem is with AT&T, who has the exclusive rights to sell the iPhone. The problem, allegedly, is not enough tower coverage to handle the massive amounts of data and voice that the iPhone is generating. You may have seen the back and forth battling TV ads from both AT&T and Verizon. Verizon claims to have more 3G, or high-speed, data coverage, which in fact is true. AT&T claims to have plenty of coverage, but it is the slower EDGE connectivity, but 3G is growing, just not fast enough (3G is finally available in the Jamestown area). This is AT&T's problem, something Apple has little control over. It's possible that the iPhone is just too popular. In larger cities like Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. there are numerous complaints about no service, frequently dropped calls, and non-responsive data connections.

There are some newer smart phones coming from other providers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint), which may help spread the pain. Google has made an open source smart phone OS that is becoming very popular. Match this new OS with some very good smart phone designs from Motorola, HTC, and others and the iPhone may finally have some competition. Of course the best solution would be for Apple to make the iPhone available to the other carriers and end the AT&T exclusivity.

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Throughout 2009 Apple updated all Mac models. Everything got updated or at least refreshed. The mini got better video, all aluminum laptops are now MacBook Pros, the iMac got a quad-core processor and LED backlit screens, and the Pro towers got dual Core i7 processors and more RAM. Even the lowest priced laptop, the white polycarbonate MacBook, got an update with a new unibody construction and LED backlit screen.

With all these improvements to the Mac line, where do they go now? The MacBook Pro could possibly go to a quad-core processor. Intel does make a reduced power (meaning lower temperature) Core i7 and i5 for laptops. While this would be a premium upgrade, it would fit into the 17-inch MacBook Pro. Photographers and video professionals, who need the additional speed and screen real estate, would seek after this top-end model. It makes sense to boost the 17-inch MBP to a quad-core processor.

I hate to say that the new iMacs are perfect, meaning I don't see what else could be added to them. As newer, and faster, chips become available, they could easily get a bump in speed. Design wise, I don't see what else they could do. The iMac could, and I emphasize the word 'could', get a touch screen display. The technology is already in OS X, but rumors are that Steve Jobs doesn't like big monitor touch screens. HP, Dell, and others have been doing touch screens in their all-in-one systems for a while now, so it is possible that Apple will too.

Intel has created an i-Series processor with six cores instead of four. Put two of these in the Mac Pro tower and you get a 12-processor system. Since these chips are Hyper-threaded, it essentially has a total of 24 threads. The current 8-core Pro has 16 threads. New Mac Pros will likely have more cores this year.

I still would like to see a mini tower. While the new iMacs are great, not everyone wants or needs an all-in-one design. For those who want the power of the iMac in a tower form, and cannot afford the $3000 price tag of a Mac Pro, a mini tower would be perfect. While all my wanting will not bring this to being, if Apple made it, I know they would sell.

The one thing that is going to put Apple on the map in 2010 is the mythical Apple tablet. Shown last month, the Apple iPad, yes that is the name, does exists but it will not ship until the end of March, or April for the 3G cellular network model. The anticipation was huge for this product and when it arrived many reported their disappointments in the product. This may all change in a couple of months, but I predict that Apple will sell over 2 million iPads this year.

Apple is still in the midst of making deals with book publishers for content on the iPad. Magazines and newspapers are also going to be in the mix. Most agree that the iPad is better at periodicals than something like the Amazon Kindle, which is a very good book reader where you read sequential pages. Reading a newspaper or magazine is different in that you tend to skim or jump pages. Something the iPad seems to do very well. Plus it has a color screen, while the Kindle is just a grayscale screen.

Not everyone who attended the announcement got to play with the iPad, but those who did were impressed with its size and especially the speed. Most of the complaints were about what it lacked, or what they thought it should have. The iPad does not have a web camera. While this is something that most thought it would have, it is not necessarily a deal breaker. It also, just like the iPhone, does not have Flash support in the browser again, not a deal breaker. It also does not do true multitasking. These are valid points for those looking for a netbook type device. Apple is positioning the iPad to not be a netbook, but an e-book reader/iPod/Internet Appliance. While these things are missing now, they may eventually appear in later models.

Apple had record sales in 2009, something that will be hard to match in the coming year. Hopefully the iPad will have all the cach that Apple is known for. It should be an important part of Apple's line. Also, in 2010, Apple will likely continue to outperform most other tech companies and Apple's stock will keep rising in value, along with the companies mystique.



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