WWDC 2006 Predictions

What follows are my predictions and thoughts about what Steve Jobs will and won’t announce at WWDC in San Francisco tomorrow morning. I’ve been thinking about these lists for a while now, and I’ve tried to cover a lot here. My apologies if this post is a bit Gruber-esque in length and detail.

After the keynote is over, I’ll update this post and we’ll see how well I did.

What We Will See

Here’s what I think we’ll see tomorrow, split into two categories, Hardware and Software.

Hardware

  1. Mac Pro: I’d love to see a whole new (white) enclosure, but I predict we’ll see only a slightly tweaked chassis like the one used by the current PowerMac G5. As to what Intel chips they’ll be using, I’d guess the Woodcrest in the top-end model and Core 2 Duo in the mid- and low-end models (this seems pretty obvious). I think they’ll continue to offer the G5’s for a while to ease the transition. They’ll be shipping the low- and mid-level ones now, the high-end ones in a month.
  2. New Displays: Apple likes to launch new displays when they announce new desktop machines, and their current displays are just begging for an update. I will say that it’s a guarantee that we’ll see updated displays if there’s a new enclosure for the Mac Pro – Apple is all about matching peripherals. If there are new displays, they’ll most certainly have built-in iSights as well.
  3. New Xserves with Intel CPUs: I think this seems like a no-brainer, and I don’t think we’ll see a new chasis or much of a visual redesign. This is a shame because, as much as I love the Xserve, if you’ve even spent a lot of time in a datacenter rack-mounting hardware, you know how tedious it is to rack-up their current chassis. I think they’ll continue to offer PowerPC Xserves for a while, too. These should ship right away, too.
  4. MacBook Pro Update: I think Apple was trying to ease the transition to Intel by continuing to use the successful aluminum PowerBook enclosure with the MacBook Pros. The thing looked like a PowerBook, so it should work just like a PowerBook, right? Wrong: the things have a ton of issues, and my gut feeling is that a redesigned enclosure is ready. I’m not 100% on this however, because the biggest differentiator between the Macbook Pro and the (non-pro) MacBooks is the aluminum case. Further, announcing a new chassis here might be like admitting that the old configuration sucked. Because the MacBooks are selling so well, we might not see these ship for a month or so.

Software

  1. Leopard: We’ll get to see a demo of 10.5 at last, and Apple will hand out developer DVDs. I bet we see Piles, brushed metal going away (replaced by the unified style), virtual desktops, Spotlight 2, better networking and sharing, and maybe even a tabbed iChat. I also think there will be a new Finder, but I don’t think Apple will call it that. Saying that Apple has “rewritten” the Finder would be like admitting that it sucks as bad as it does. I think we might see a “Finder replacement” of some kind, maybe even with a new name. Leopard will ship in November.
  2. iTunes with movie rentals/downloads: Last year was the year of the Podcast, this year it’s about movies. The only way we won’t see this is if Apple still hasn’t pushed through all of the studio roadblocks.
  3. .Mac update: I’m thinking better collaboration, better integration/sharing with iCal and maybe Mail. I think Apple wants into the network storage stuff as well, so we might see more of that capability in Leopard. Apple needs to do something to make .Mac more than just a nice photo-sharing, bookmark-syncing tool.
  4. Built-in VoIP: We might see something along these lines. No clue, but this just feels like something Apple could be working on.

What We Won’t See

I think a lot of the rumors we’ve been hearing this year are correct. But there are still a few things that I think are really way off. Same deal as above, two sections: Hardware and Software.

Hardware

  1. MacBook Updates: They’re new, they’ve had a small, quiet revision to fix a few issues, and they’re selling great. In fact, if there is no speed-bump, I might just buy one on Monday after the keynote.
  2. iMac Updates: The iMac rocks as-is, and it’s already Intel. I don’t think Steve will waste time announcing a speed-bump for something that’s such a big success with everything else that’s going to be going on Monday.
  3. iPod Updates: There’s a slight chance we see a new iPod nano enclusure, but I just don’t think we’ll see anything new. This year, it’s all about Leopard and finishing up the transition to Intel with the release of the Mac Pro and Xserve Intel.
  4. Tablet Mac: Although my friend Manton seems to think there is a chance (however small) for this device, I’m betting against it. I think it’s true that Apple is working on this, but they wouldn’t be satisfied with just a “tablet Mac” – they’d want to reinvent the way people work with their computers the way they reinvented the way we buy and listen to music. And I just don’t believe they’re ready yet. I’d love to be wrong about this, by the way, and like Manton, I’d buy one on the spot if they announce them.
  5. * The iTV/iTivo/Set-top-box:* I certainly think Apple wants to manage all of our media, but I don’t expect we’ll see a truly dedicated device in this space from Apple in the near-term. I do think we’ll continue to see better/faster Mac mini’s with improvements to Front Row (and maybe even storage add-ons) that will make it an even better device for tasks like this.
  6. iPhone: You bet Apple is working on this, but it’s not ready yet. Again, Apple wants to reinvent the way we think of mobile communication and music integration, not just toss out an entry into the already over-crowded world of mobile-phones. I think the Rokr was a great way for Apple to test out the waters without any real risk. It was proof-positive that the so-called “iPhone,” when it is ready, will have to clean the floor with the competition or else Apple won’t release it, period.
  7. Built-in Virtualization: Again, this is something Apple is most certainly working on (the ability to run multiple operating systems inside of a “container”), but I think that right now, Apple is content to let companies like VirtualPC and Parallels own the virtualized desktop for now because the real money to be made here isn’t on the Desktop but rather on the server. Apple is will release this technology first for OS X Server, allowing sysadmins to carve-up their servers into “containers” able to run multiple operating systems (like OS X, Windows, Linux, etc.) at the same time. This will be a boon for the corporate sector and hosting universe, and will continue to strengthen Apple’s inroad into the Enterprise (something I’ve been saying for years).

Final Thoughts

I won’t be attending WWDC this year, but it looks like it will be a blast. I’ll be living vicariously through my pal Duncan’s masterful photography. And as I mentioned above, I’m probably going to pick up a shiny new Macbook tomorrow.

As mentioned above, I’ll update this post tomorrow based on the keynote. See you then.

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