Reading between Apple's lines

By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen Apple’s new home page. As Macworld reported earlier, Apple’s site now features the phrase, “The first 30 years were just the beginning.”

A simple statement, yet one loaded with intrigue. What exactly does it mean? Is it simply Apple’s New Year’s announcement for its Web site? Some sort of teaser for an unexpected product introduction at next week’s Macworld Expo ? Or is it just a general statement that this, Apple's 30th year in business, will be a year filled with continual product announcements designed to take the company in exciting new directions? Or is it something else entirely?

Only Apple knows for sure, of course, and no one there is talking until next Tuesday morning. I, however, have no such time restrictions on my writing, so I thought I’d offer up what I think it means. (Opposing opinions are welcomed in the forum link below, of course.) Please note before proceeding that anything that follows is just my speculation on an intriguing marketing slogan.

What it’s not about

I don’t think the slogan on the home page is a generic New Year’s announcement, nor do I think it’s a general statement on Apple’s mission for 2007. I think it’s clearly targeted to up the hype level for next week’s Macworld Expo, which means there must be some “now” type of product announcements behind it.

However, I don’t think it really has much of anything to do with the currently rumored products. That is, I don’t feel a new dual quad-core Mac, a true video iPod, Leopard shipping as of “now,” or even an iTV home-theater box represent enough of a “wow!” announcement to merit the direction implied by the marketing statement. If Steve Jobs stands up next Tuesday and says “We told you the first 30 years were just the beginning…and here’s why: the new iTV,” he’s going to get a very flat response. That’s because the expectations bar has been set quite high by the statement on Apple’s home page.

To me, at least, the “just the beginning” portion of the phrase implies something truly forward-thinking. Apple is basically stating that it’s taken the past 30 years for the company to get where it is now, and that it plans to use all that knowledge to really show us what it can do.

What it’s about

The odds that the following scenario is wrong are something greater than 99 percent. So unless you like losing money at the local watering hole, don’t bet a single dime on these words—unless you’re betting I’ll be wrong, that is. And again, keep in mind that the following springs only from the “I’d love something like that!” area of my mind, further lowering the odds that this is what we’ll see revealed next week.

I think, much as when Apple last ran this type of pre-Expo publicity in 2002—remember the company’s “Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond” teaser?—we’ll see a suite of products. (In case you’ve forgotten your history, that Expo saw the debut of the flat-panel iMac, the 14-inch iBook, and iPhoto—and many people found themselves disappointed by the overwhelming amount of hype that had built up for the event.)

First out of the gate will be the iPhone. The rumors on this one seem too strong to ignore. To make a dent in the crowded, competitive phone market, Apple’s phone will have to Think Different. The phone will have the “Apple touch” on the design side (though not even Steve can really get away with a one-button phone—can he?), a user interface that borrows heavily from the iPod’s ease of use, and features seamless integration with OS X’s Address Book and iCal. Apple must also figure out some way to talk to Windows’ calendar and contact apps as well, of course. And, of course, there will be some form of iTunes integration, perhaps going as far as allowing online purchases from the phone itself.

Next up will be the revised iWork suite, now featuring a spreadsheet and a database application, based on a simplified version of FileMaker Pro. With the inclusion of both a spreadsheet and a database, AppleWorks can finally be put to rest for good. The spreadsheet won’t rival Excel for features, but will be sufficient for 90 percent of users who need to occasionally crunch numbers. Same with the database; it won’t let you become a FileMaker Pro expert developer, but it will feature a very simple drag-and-drop GUI designed to quickly create simple databases.

The final name and release date for the iTV will be announced, and its seamless integration with a network of Macs and PCs will be demonstrated. It may or may not include video recorder capabilities, and it will be running a stripped-down version of OS X. People will cheer.

There will be some other announcements, obviously. Leopard’s ship date will be announced as March 24, 2007—the sixth anniversary of the launch of OS X 10.0 back in 2001. There will be new displays, with built-in iSight cameras. Perhaps the rumored dual quad-core Mac Pro will be announced. There may even be some iPod-related announcements, though Apple intentionally downplayed the iPod at last year’s Expo, stating that the event was about the Mac, not about the iPod.

If all of that comes to pass, Apple will have had a very successful event, yet falling fall short of meeting the “just the beginning” tidbit in its new catch-phrase. So that leaves just One More Thing.

The newest Mac

So what’s Apple going to do to show us how much it’ learned in 30 years? Well, 10 years ago the company gave us the 20th Anniversary Macintosh (TAM for short); this year, I think we’ll get the 30th Anniversary Macintosh. As with the first Anniversary Macintosh, this machine will represent Apple’s greatest thinking on the on state of design in computer technology. In its day, the TAM represented the bleeding edge of design in a desktop computer, albeit one at an amazingly high price point. For the 30th Anniversary Mac, though, I think the desktop form factor is out.

Instead, for the 30th anniversary, Apple will create a new standard for laptops. Specifically for light, small, and yet full-featured laptops. Featuring a widescreen 11-inch design running at 1,280-by-800 resolution, this machine will be very light. And the screen will flip horizontally, transforming the laptop into a tablet that uses an advanced version of Apple’s handwriting recognition engine—I’m guessing that this will turn out to be one of the secret 10.5 features that nobody has seen yet. iPhone integration will be there, too, with easy linking via Bluetooth and the ability to use the phone in Skype-mode to make calls over that network. As expected, there will be an integrated iSight camera. But this one will be mounted on a piece that can swivel in a full circle, allowing the camera to be used in either direction, regardless of how the screen is oriented.

The design will focus on thinness, lightness, and usability—using an 11-inch screen means that there’s still room for a decently-sized keyboard, and the form factor is deep enough for a good sized battery. Like some Apple laptops of yesteryear, the DVD mechanism can be removed and replaced with another battery, thereby doubling the battery time. The machine will run on an Intel Core 2 Duo, of course, but will feature the MacBook Pro’s graphics card, so users aren’t limited in their ability to use 3-D applications.

I give…

OK, as cool as I think the above machine would be, really, it’s not all that earth-shattering. It’s just a combination of known technologies put together in a most useful manner. But as I read what I’ve written, I’m still not sure it fulfills the “just the beginning” phrase.

The reality is that I have no idea what Apple has in store for next week. As much fun as it can be to think about what could be, I’m thrilled that I’ll be there in person to see what really will be. There’s no doubt that Apple's home page changes have hyped the already-high interest in the Expo even further; I’m just hoping the reality will match the newly-raised expectations.

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