Macworld Expo Rumors: Intel Macs, Video Delivery

Sung to the tune of “Henry” by the New Riders of the Purple Sage:

Every year along about this time, all goes dry
Nothing tech for love or money there to make you sigh
Apple got the notion to leave IBM for Intel
See if it could come back home with cheaper Macs to sell

Well the road to higher market share is very hard indeed
And it isn’t any better if you don’t use Intel’s breed
Apple’s moving fast and straight with a brand new CPU
But Intel’s price is way too high, what’s Apple going to do?

Macworld Expo in S.F. in early January is more than just a rally for Mac users. Apple’s Steve Jobs typically trots out something totally new and cool for the faithful. The rumors are flying that cheaper iBooks and Mac minis based on Intel processors — as well as iPod shuffles — will debut. An iPod “boombox” is on the horizon, along with other iPod “companion” products. But the buzz focuses on two important areas: Macs with Intel chips, and a new video delivery system.

Think Secret first reported this rumor about an entry-level iBook based on the Intel processor on Nov. 17, 2005. According to a Dec. 19 post by Think Secret:

Apple’s new Mac mini and iBook are expected to be among the first — if not the first — systems to feature Intel’s new mobile processor, code-named Yonah. Intel will make a big splash with Yonah as part of if its Viiv media center effort, which will be unveiled in detail at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Jan. 5-8, just days ahead of Macworld Expo.

In Apple rumours and realities, ZDNet‘s Paul Murphy concedes that iBooks based on Intel chips are possible, but: “Beyond that, however, Intel is just not going to happen for Apple next year — no Powerbooks, no iMacs, no Workstations, and no X-Serves.” Murphy cites availability problems:

Apple needs the new instruction set extensions promised for the “Yonah” architecture both for performance and to support its “best efforts” hardware copy protection on MacOS X. Unfortunately, “Yonah”, even in its first 32bit incarnation, isn’t ready and its full implementation successors, “Woodrow” and “Merom”, keep getting further and further behind schedule.

Murphy also cites pricing problems:

It’s not possible to make money selling iBooks in which the wholesale CPU costs amounts to more than one third of the typical selling price…  to hold the list price constant on the iBook in the face of such a massive cost increase for the CPU, they’ll have to reduce both customer discounts and their own margins, take a big downstream hit on component quality, and give up on CPU level MacOS X authentication.

Murphy thinks, and I agree, that Apple has no choice with its iMac and more powerful Macs, including PowerBooks, to stay with the Power PC chip for another year. But software won’t likely hold anything up: Mac OS X for Intel is ready to go, according to American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu, quoted in AppleInsider:

Checks with sources indicate that the upcoming release of Mac OS X 10.4.4 for Intel runs well, with noticeable improvements to the Rosetta PowerPC emulation environment that improve backward compatibility with AltiVec support. “We believe this will alleviate concerns that older software that hasn’t been ported to Intel will run well without a recompile,” Wu wrote… “While many believe that cost was primary reason for Apple moving to Intel, we believe power management and the oppertunity to enter new markets are bigger reasons — including the potential for a lightweight sub-notebook or palmtop similar to those offered by Sony, Lenovo, Dell and Sharp,” Wu wrote. “We believe there is pent-up demand for an Apple subnotebook and that it would sell very well if priced competitively at $1499 or lower.”

Apple has more than Intel-based computers up its sleeve. The company is also supposed to be unveiling a robust new content distribution system at Macworld, according to Think Secret’s Ryan Katz in Road to Expo: Apple’s new media experience coming soon:

The new content system and related media deals, which will include feature-length content, expanded television offerings, and more, will further cement Apple’s increasing lead in digital media delivery… In an effort to appease media companies wary of the security of digital rights management technology, Apple’s new technology will deliver content such that it never actually resides on the user’s hard drive. Content purchased will be automatically made available on a user’s iDisk, which Front Row 2.0 will tap into. When the user wishes to play the content, robust caching technology — for which Apple previously received a patent — will serve it to the user’s computer as fast as their Internet connection can handle. The system will also likely support downloading the video content to supported iPods but at no time will it ever actually be stored on a computer’s hard drive.

The Apple-Intel partnership is a key factor in Apple’s efforts to blow the doors off digital video delivery, according to Think Secret:

“It jibes to a certain extent with what I’m expecting Apple to be able to do when Intel-based Macs arrive,” said Rob Chira, computer hardware analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners. “I’ve always thought this Intel/Apple relationship was going to be much more than just chips in PCs. I think they’re playing off of each others strengths and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least some part of this home entertainment/video content distribution model include some other technologies from Intel’s Viiv project.”

The major benefit of keeping your video purchases on iDisk, without ever using your own disk, is that Apple would keep a backup of these very large files for you. As of this writing, iTunes lets you download the video to your hard disk, but that also may change. Hollywood presumably will more easily buy into Apple’s strategy if the content never actually leaves Apple’s servers. My guess is that you would still be able to burn one or more copies to a DVD; if not, expect an uproar from the Mac community.

I’ve used iDisk, part of the online .Mac service, to store important document archives in a secure place on the Internet. But access to iDisk is painfully slow. Apple could take this opportunity to improve its performance so that all .Mac users benefit, no matter what Mac configurations they use.



Macworld Expo Rumors: Intel Macs, Video Delivery — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Get Off Microsoft » Blog Archive » The Mac Gains Speed with Intel Technology

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