Macworld Prognosis: Going with What Works

Macworld is ordinarily a time for dreaming and even fantasies about what Apple might bring forth based on all the juicy rumors, patent filings, and even the pulse of the Mac community. However, Apple is likely to focus on realistic technical windows and iPhone mania this time around.

For example, today there was an article at Online Media Daily that reaffirmed that the mobile Internet isn't going to be dominant in 2009. Or 2010. A study, "Future of the Internet III," surveyed 600 Internet experts who assessed the change over to Internet access via mobile phones. Mobile phones won't be the dominant device on the Internet until about 2020 according to the study.

That's likely because, I believe, smart phones are too expensive right now for most users in the world and carriers concentrate on the revenue stream from the small percentage smart phone users. However, in a few years, the Internet enabled smartphone will be the default device, for US$50, worldwide.

iPhone nano = yes

What that means is that Apple will be tending to drive the price of the iPhone down without damaging the brand or the value of the current product. That means an iPhone nano for kids. I'm betting that it'll be introduced with a minimal plan: voice but no data on 3G, Wi-Fi only, and limited RAM. Perhaps a palatable 1 year contract for $39/month. Think teenagers.

Everything iPhone is on Apple's agenda. The App Store fever isn't over. The competition is struggling. This is the right time to pour on the coals and push the iPhone for all it's worth.

Netbook = no

Another technology that isn't ready for prime time is a Netbook, as I described last week. Chris Howard at Apple Matters was either convinced by that or came with the analysis independently. The key question here is: Do any of us with a MacBook and an iPhone need a third computer? Mr. Howard says no, and I agree. I'm betting Mr. Jobs doesn't think so either.

Quad Core iMac = yes

A technology that has arrived and is ready for prime time is quad core CPUs for the iMac. Not long ago, apps couldn't benefit from the extra cores, and the CPU unit prices were too high for a consumer desktop. This extensive article at ExtremeTech on Monday documents an in depth comparison of dual core to quad core and concludes that games CS4, and other apps can now benefit from a Quad core CPU.

Taking the iMac to quad core solves a lot of problems for Apple. It better bridges the gap between the portable MacBooks, where we pay for portability and the Mac Pro, where we pay for ultimate expandability and power. Also, it takes the wind out of the sails, (including yours truly), of those who have been yearning for a desktop quad core Mac sans display. Finally, it gives some performance boost to the iMac for those who just can't justify the monster Mac Pro under the desk. That will solidify the sales of the iMac in a poor economy.

MobileMe Rebranding = yes

The MobileMe rollout was a disaster, and Steve Jobs promised that it would be fixed by the end of the year. This is something that is within Apple's power to fix, fulfills a promise, and enhances Apple's customer service image in a time when people are pinching pennies.

I don't know if Apple will rebrand MobileMe. That isn't Apple's style. What they tend to do instead is to introduce additional services that make the product so compelling that the bad taste in customers' mouths is overwhelmed by the prospect of all the new things introduced at Macworld. MobileMe 2.0 sounds better and doesn't confuse the customers.

Indeed, all of this analysis is based on a sober assessment of the current technology and market conditions. It would be very cool if Mr. Jobs were to pull another "One-More-Thing" hardware rabbit out of the hat - to surprise and delight us. Sometimes, when people are depressed, it's good psychology to bring some surprise and cheer into their lives. But that has to be balanced against what people are ready to spend.

Right now, that's a less expensive iPhone nano and a more powerful iMac for the same price.