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Expo Fuels the Apple Rumor Mill

January 03, 2002|JIM HEID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you plan to attend the opening keynote address at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco Monday morning, here's a tip: Don't drink a lot of coffee beforehand. Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs is scheduled to hold forth for at least two hours, and there has been no announcement of a scheduled intermission.

Nor have there been announcements of what Jobs will rhapsodize about during his feature-length keynote. But as with every Macworld Expo, there have been rumors galore. The buzz is that Jobs will do far more than introduce a bunch of software vendors to demonstrate OS X programs that aren't yet shipping--though he'll probably do that, too.

Topping the rumor charts is a redesigned iMac, one built around a flat-panel display. This rumor raged last summer, too, but a new iMac does seem increasingly likely. Sales of the bulbous computer are down, and even fans of the iMac--including yours truly--think it's due for an overhaul.

What's more, according to a recent analyst report from Morgan Stanley, Apple has placed a component order to receive 100,000 15-inch flat panel displays per month, with the first shipment due this month. Flat-panel displays also are much cheaper than they were last year, making them economically viable for home-oriented machines.

Some rumor mongers are predicting that the iMac family will bifurcate, with the old design aimed at the under-$1,000 market and the new model selling in the $1,200-to- $1,500 range. That doesn't sound like Apple to me. In recent years, redesigned machines have always completely replaced their predecessors.

On the wild side, some rumors are predicting a new iMac with a detachable flat-panel display that supports handwriting recognition. Detach the display, and you'll be able to surf and write from the comfort of your Barcalounger, the display communicating with the base station through a wireless connection. It sounds dreamy--and unlikely.

In the upper limbs of the family tree, expect improvements to the Power Mac line of pro-oriented desktop machines. We're likely to see processor speeds break the 1-gigahertz mark (finally!) as well as a faster internal architecture. Will we see Power Macs containing a new PowerPC G5 chip?

Possibly. Motorola has been working on the G4's successor. But it also has been working on a faster version of the G4, code-named Apollo, and any new Power Macs might contain this chip instead.

Regardless of what will power them, any new Power Macs probably will contain a faster version of Apple's FireWire connection scheme. Apple has been working on exactly this, and in September, it filed for a trademark for the term "GigaWire." Thanks to a recent collaboration between industry standards groups, the faster FireWire might not even need wires for certain tasks. A wireless version of FireWire would make possible blazingly fast wireless networking and cable-free transfers to and from devices such as camcorders and digital cameras.

As for Apple's portables, the rumor mills are silent, and for good reason. Both the iBook and the PowerBook G4 have seen improvements recently, and significant enhancements are unlikely.

Then there's the digital hub--all those other Apple products whose names begin with "i." Some observers are predicting an enhanced iPod portable music player, one with twice the capacity of today's iPod or with the bass and treble controls the current model lacks.

Others speculate that Apple might release accessories for the iPod, including a remote control for adjusting volume and skipping songs. Many portable players include such remotes, and the iPod's earphone jack appears to provide additional connectors that could accommodate one. Other rumors are predicting an iPod aimed at the Windows market and new software aimed at digital photography.

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Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at jim@jimheid.com.

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