Monday, January 09, 2006

The Week In Stuff: Stevemas Time Is Here

by Tom Bozzo

Yes, it's time for another look into the Mac crystal ball in advance of Steve Jobs's keynote address at Macworld San Francisco tomorrow morning. After some predictable discussion of how many zillion iPods were sold over the holiday shopping season (lots), how swell OS X is (very), and how that transition to Intel chips is going (smoothly, more-or-less), Apple stock may be expected to take a beating in late trading tomorrow if the wraps aren't taken off the first of the actual Intel-based Macs.

I've read more-or-less credible suggestions that the possible product announcements might include any of new PowerBooks, iBooks, Mac Minis, and/or iMacs. More fanciful rumors extend to plasma TVs with built-in Macs using new multimedia-friendly Intel chips. The last doesn't make much sense. For one thing, the Intel chips in question are supposedly tied to the Windows Media Center software. For another, plain old flat-panel HDTV prices are dropping rapidly into mass-market territory, and it doesn't seem to make sense to build in a computer when the part of the Mini's raison d'être is as the computer component of a system using one's HDTV as a monitor. It's hard to see why Apple wouldn't just reinforce the Mini's media center capabilities and stay out of the TV business.

Likewise, the iMac seems less likely for an early Pentium transplant, as it was recently redesigned and the G5 doesn't suffer any noticeable performance shortfall against comparably spec'ed PCs (comparing, e.g., the 2.0-GHz iMac G5 that's the main Marginal Utility computer versus the 2-point-something-GHz P4-based PC in my office — Microsoft Office manages to wreak havoc with each in various ways).

My money would be on the higher-margin PowerBook and the Mini for the opening Intel systems, with the iBook not far behind. Though I wouldn't be shocked if a new widescreen iBook form factor bumped the consumer portable to the front of the line, which ThinkSecret and some analysts are expecting to come first. My question would remain, why undercut the G4-based PowerBooks? Entry-level portable pricing may determine whether the dead DVD-ROM drive in my trusty TiBook — otherwise still tickin' just short of its fifth birthday — will see a replacement before our next flying trip with the children.

I will be prepared to criticize myself mercilessly tomorrow as this all falls into the reality distortion field and comes back out transformed into something or other sometime after lunch (Central time) tomorrow.
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