Wednesday 16 March 2011

Apple's current plate-load ...

Last time, I discussed the Tech scene more generally. This time I'm looking at Apple's possible moves for 2011 in a bit more detail. Their new range of ThunderBolt-enabled MacBook Pro notebooks and the previews of Lion have been rather quickly overshadowed in the tech press by the successful launch of the iPad 2, which seems to have sent competitors reeling back to their drawing boards. Microsoft has also recently quietly announced that its range of Zune music players which were originally intended to rival the iPod are not to be developed anymore; instead they intend to focus on including Zune technology into Windows Phone 7 (WP7).

But lets look at what Apple has on its plate at the moment. iPad 2 distribution & logistics, iPhone 5 and iOS version 5 development, finalisation and launch, OSX Lion finalisation and launch, a major Final Cut Pro update in the works, and a MobileMe makeover and relaunch including the complete commissioning of its cloud computing infrastructure to name but a few.

Firstly, iPad 2, which seems to have again been received better than even Apple had hoped. Just a two week window between the US launch and many other countries seemed ambitious to me at the time of its announcement but it remains to be seen whether they can meet this or not. Compared to its hardware product launches of not so long ago, the Cupertino company now has a much wider distribution network in place, which has both pros and cons in terms of logistics. Eager buyers of iPad 2 can go to a number of different retail outlets (including but not limited to the 3G network carriers' stores) in addition to Apple's own stores and the online store. Not only that, iPad 2 distribution is also complicated by the fact that there are 18 variants of the product to choose from. iPad 2 is the first iOS device to be available in two colours as well as just WiFi or GSM 3G or CDMA 3G, as well as three storage capacities. Someone in Apple has some interesting choices to make about how many of which variant go to which outlets. The permutations will be a little simpler in most other countries where the CDMA version is not needed. Getting these all produced and sent to the places where they can fly off shelving and into customers' hands across the USA and across the globe is no simple task.

Next is the iPhone 5 hardware and iOS version 5 which will come in versions for the phone, iPad and iPod Touch. Despite rumours recently about Near Field Comms (NFC) being delayed until iPhone 6, I still wouldn't be surprised to see it make it into this summer's refresh ... if I were Apple, I would quite enjoy putting out some confusion at this stage amongst my competitors. Apple have the NFC expertise (just look at recent job hires), they have the chips, and most importantly they have the tens of millions of one click credit card accounts on their books. Any standards issues could be handled in software later like 'n' WiFi was. Its about time their Liquid Metal acquisition was exploited so I wonder if that will lead the change from a glass back to a new material for iPhone 5. In the same way that they used thinner glass on the iPad 2 screen to make it lighter despite all the internal additions (cameras, bigger A5 processor, more RAM, gyro, etc) over its predecessor, a non glass back may slice a few ounces off iPhone 5.

The introduction of Lion will usher out support for a number of early Intel Processor driven machines as well as all PowerPC emulated application support with the absence of Rosetta. I still feel slightly underwhelmed by Lion so far ... and wonder if the new desktop candy borrowed from iOS will encourage people to upgrade. Maybe something significant is as yet unannounced! It is possible that some nice new features in iOS 5 will also make their way into the final builds for Lion, especially if both are fully revealed together at the Developer's conference.

The next Final Cut is due sometime soon ... probably during the broadcasters conference season and is likely to make a splash there. It also presumably impinges on the team who update the iLife suite etc too.

And then there is the MobileMe makeover... to give Apple a lead in the cloud computing space. Syncing and streaming media wirelessly between OSX and iOS devices, as well as potential walk-up instant personalisation at any OSX machine would seem to go hand in hand with system updates (Lion and iOS5). The cloud access to personal media and documents would also fit very well with a smaller iPhone (nano) which has much less onboard storage than its older sibling, and which could be priced accordingly much lower. Anyway the switching on live of their huge data centre is going to keep many Apple folk's minds focused in the coming months. Altogether a busy time for what is still a relatively small company.

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