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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

ACK! The iBook Is Here, What Can I Look Forward To Now?
July 30th, 1999

Wow! What a MACWORLD! Last week I graded our MACWORLD predictions. That was about all I had to time to do. Heck, I had trouble just trying to find the time to breathe! Last week was pretty intense.

Who am I kidding, hasn't the last 22 months or so been pretty intense? We had the Clone Wars, the "will-he-or-won't-he-become-CEO" drama, the "will-he-or-won't-he-drop-the-'interim'-thing," and of course, the "will-Apple-survive" question. Then we had the much more productive excitement of "what's-Apple-going-to-do-now?" issues.

Do you remember when Ric Ford was slamming Steve Jobs' cancellation of clones at MacInTouch? To refresh everyone, Mr. Ford was vocally critical of Apple and Mr. Jobs in the area of cloning (with lots of criticism coming from this site too). Mr. Jobs retorted by suggesting that Mr. Ford's readers had more in common with readers of the National Enquirer (a suggestion that I still find remarkably inept, but it is ancient history now). It was a tumultuous time.

The situation seems to have resolved itself when Mr. Jobs and Mr. Ford had a telephone conversation during which Mr. Jobs revealed some of what was going on at Apple. According to MacInTouch, Mr. Jobs effectively asked Mr. Ford for 90 days before deciding that he, Mr. Jobs, was the antichrist (my choice of words). Mr. Ford reported that he was quite pleased* with what he heard and there was peace throughout the land.

That was high drama, wasn't it? It fueled our desire for intrigue and everyone, no matter which of the various "sides" they were on, felt that the "battle" was theirs.

There were some other minor intrigues here and there, like the cancellation of OpenDoc (and by default, Cyberdog) as well as the cancellation of Game Sprockets (which are back! WoooooHoooooo!!!), but those were mere skirmishes.

Then came the iMac, introduced on May 6th, and the game changed. Suddenly, those who had strayed from the flock were drawn back. At the same time, interviews with Mr. Jobs, and the weird, off-beat statements that occasionally wafted from Board Member Larry Ellison, revealed there were more plans for cool products to come from Apple. Boom! All the intrigue turned to "what're-Apple-and-Jobs-gonna-do-next?" Would the lack of a floppy be a problem (oh how the PC punditocracy crowed that the iMac would be a HUGE floppy-less flop! heheheheh). Is the iMac actually the mysterious rumored NC (Network Computer)? There were a hundred other iMac-sparked rumors and questions to occupy us.

Once the iMac was actually released and it was a huge success, we became obsessed with waiting for word on the P1, the rumored 4th corner of Apple's product strategy. Faster G3s were on everyone's minds too until the Blue & White G3s hit us. In short, our driving passion was an obsession with what Apple was going to do next. This was a big change from the previous few years. Sure we were still obsessed with Apple, but our focus had shifted to the positive instead of the negative.

That brings us to today. All the Big Things that we have been anxiously awaiting for the last 14 months are here. This includes the iMac, MacOS X Server, Blue & White G3s, the Lombard, QuickTime 4 and QuickTime Streaming, several iterations of the MacOS, and the iBook itself (I may have left a few out, but you get the point).

Where to now? It is almost anti-climatic to have everything revealed to us. How many of you have thought so? It's almost as if there is nothing to look forward to. Sure, there will be speed bumps and other fun little developments across the entire product line. Let's not forget MacOS X Client and the G4, those too will be exciting**.

But nothing will be quite the same as awaiting the iMac and the iBook.

Or will it?

Really, there is lots still to come from Apple. In some ways, I think it will be even more exciting than the iBook and the iMac. Let me explain.

Late on Wednesday, Apple announced they were investing in Samsung. US$100 million to be exact. What a concept, eh? Apple investing in another company! Apple's investment is meant to help Samsung increase their production capacity on TFT-flat panel monitors. Those would be for the iBook, the PowerBook, and Apple's line of Flat Panel Monitors of course. In return, Apple gets US$100 million in low-interest bonds that can be converted into stock three years from now as well as a steadier supply of the flat panels they need.

This is a big announcement, nay, a huge announcement. It may not be as sexy as the iBook, but it's actually far more important. Apple has often had problems producing enough units throughout their product line. In addition, Apple is currently near capacity with their manufacturing facilities. As the Apple Trader pointed out in our Apple4Sale duel, Apple has to increase their production capacity to simply keep pace with industry growth, let alone to actually grow their market share. In other words, for Apple to even maintain their current market share, they have to vastly increase the number of computers they can assemble. Part of doing so includes making sure that their suppliers can produce the components they need, like TFT Flat Panel screens.

Until this announcement with Samsung, there was precious little in the way of any signs that Apple was moving in this direction. Boom, now there is. I expect that Apple will be making other production oriented announcements during the next 3 to 12 months.

On Thursday we saw another announcement of no small import. Apple announced a deal with AOL to produce more advanced Mac products that were compatible with AOL's Instant Messenger. There is a war going on for mind share between Microsoft and AOL for instant messaging. The latest round in this battle has a who's who of computing "asking" AOL for an instant messaging standard (which would be a Good Thing). Apple has cast their lot with AOL on this issue and simultaneously assured that Macs would have access to a very popular product.

It is this type of focus on execution that we can expect in the future. Seemingly little announcements that build on the whole. I think this will be more exciting than waiting on the iBook or iMac because Apple will be surprising us with small, yet crucial things all along the way. Apple will keep filling in the niches that need to be filled, making the Mac platform stronger, boosting QuickTime into more of a market force, announcing new and minor products that will be pleasant surprises. This will be great.

And why will it be so great? Because it means that Apple is on the right track and functioning in a healthy manner. It also means that Apple will be propelled more and more into the most compelling computing choice on the planet. You see, the big announcements we awaited so anxiously were indicative of a crisis. The small announcements are indicative of an Insanely Great company. Which is more exciting to you?

That Said

There will be one more product to come down the pike in the next 12 months that will sort of be a Big Thing. Apple will be releasing a hand-held device from Palm at some point. We were told this back in January, and sort of sat on it. That was a good thing as the plans seem to have been put on hold at Apple (and possibly canceled to be honest). But the more I think about it, the more I think that Apple will pick it up and run with it. The idea is that Apple will release an Apple branded (probably candy colored) Palm unit with some Newton technology thrown in, and it will be equipped with AirPort. We didn't know about AirPort in January, it was whispered to us as a "wireless" concept (kudos to Mr. Jobs and company for keeping AirPort under wraps!), but with the benefit of hindsight, we can easily see that the unit will contain AirPort capabilities. It may even have AirPort built-in so that it won't need a separate AirPort card, but that's sheer guesswork.

Even this announcement will be handed to us as a "surprise" though (well, until now). We already have the "4 Corners" of Apple's product announcement. The handheld unit will be icing on the cake, and all the sweeter for it. I can think of few things more delicious than being wowed by something that is not crucial to Apple's survival.

This is what we can look forward to in the future, and I say that will be much more exciting than awaiting the Big Thing that will "save" Apple.

* A mutual friend told me that the secret plans told to Mr. Ford involved the iMac.

** Ok, the truth is we already have the Seybold lineup of announcements, but that's not the point.

Your comments and hate mail can be sent to backpage@macobserver.com.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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