Apple turns its attention to the Mac

Ever-thoughtful Apple has given us something to stave off the dog days of August a little while longer—a chance to speculate on what the company has up its sleeve in this post-iPhone, pre-Leopard period. Late Tuesday, the company announced that it would hold… well, not an event, really, but more of a press briefing at its Cupertino headquarters.

Usually, these sorts of Apple-sanctioned press gatherings are heralded by an invitation containing some sort of tell-tale artwork—think the then-cryptic “The first 30 years were just the beginning” message before last January’s Macworld Expo keynote or the “It’s Showtime” invitation depicting the Apple logo bathed in movie-style spotlights to mark the event where Apple added movie purchases to the iTunes Store. This time, however, there’s no clever graphic for us to pore over like soothsayers studying chicken bones for clues about the future. Instead, Apple has come right out and said it—next Tuesday’s press event will be “Mac-focused,” which will doubtlessly trigger a flood of speculation over just what that means.

I’m happy to oblige.

Whenever it’s time to make an educated guess on what new products Apple might have in store, I consult two things— Macworld’s Apple Hardware Guide and Apple’s most recent quarterly report, specifically the breakdown of sales by product type. The former tells me how long it’s been since a product’s undergone an update while the latter shows me what the sales trends are.

For instance, glancing at the Hardware Guide, I notice that while both the MacBook and MacBook Pro have seen upgrades in the last several months, the entire desktop line has gone nearly a year without a new model (excluding the April unveiling of the eight-core Mac Pro, which really wasn’t aimed at a wide-scale audience). Looking at the sales figures from the Apple data sheet, we can see that laptops are what’s driving Apple’s record Mac sales. Desktop sales by unit rose a respectable 20 percent in the third quarter year-over-year, but the company sold only 634,000 desktops compared to 1.13 million laptops. Clearly, there’s room for growth in the desktop numbers.

Which desktop becomes even more apparent when you consider that the iMac uses the same Core 2 Duo chip that powers the laptop line—in fact, last fall, the iMac underwent the Core 2 Duo upgrade more than a month before the MacBook Pro line. With Intel having released its updated mobile processors in May —and with many of the improvements from that Santa Rosa chipset finding their way into the most recent MacBook Pro upgrades —it seems logical that a new line of iMacs is in the works.

Ah, but here’s where my careful reasoning falls apart: If it were merely a matter of swapping in an upgraded chip, Apple would do so without much hoopla. After all, that’s exactly what the company did in early June with the aforementioned MacBook Pro release. If Apple is summoning reporters to its headquarters next Tuesday, it’s likely to be something slightly more important than new-and-improved processors in the same old case.

Now as to what that slightly more important thing is? I have no idea. Perhaps it’s a new enclosure for the all-in-one desktop. Perhaps there’s some other hush-hush technology to be introduced. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Whatever it is, I’m sure you can fill me in, using the link to the Macworld.com forums below.

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