2010 - What's in store for the Mac?

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By: switchtoamac at: 12:43 PM on January 4, 2010 | Comments (0)
As we enter a new calendar year why not start off with a post that focuses on the Mac for the upcoming year?  Apple's Macintosh (Mac) line of computers have experienced phenomenal growth over the past several years and this trend is likely to accelerate in 2010.
To start off, let's highlight three key Mac-related developments from 2009 that have implications for the Mac lineup in 2010 and beyond.
  1. Apple releases Mac OS X (version 10.6) Snow Leopard - The microprocessor industry's transition to multicores is the heart of Mac OS X moving forward starting with Snow Leopard.  Marry this with enhanced 64-bit support and Apple has laid the foundation for Mac OS X and Mac innovation for the next decade.  
  2. Apple rebrands the 13-inch aluminum MacBook as a MacBook Pro - The rebranding of the aluminum MacBook as a MacBook Pro clearly demonstrated the closeness/overlap of the MacBook and MacBook Pro models.  Each MacBook revision brought it closer to the MacBook Pro.  I knew several people how would question the need to purchase a MacBook Pro over a MacBook.
  3. MacBook Pro models updated with built-in batteries - This is a vertical integration play that ties back to Apple's differentiation strategy in that it aligns with the company's internal activities of doing things differently.  Not only does it help on the bottom line in terms of profit margins but it also helps Apple differentiate the Mac against competitor offerings.  Expect more of the same for Apple and the Mac moving forward because vertical integration has implications for Apple's overall strategy.
What's in store for the Mac in 2010? - My top seven things to watch/predictions for the Mac in 2010:
  1. New hardware - tablet device expected
  2. New Westmere processors from Intel - mobile and desktop versions
  3. Mac updates
  4. Continued MacBook and MacBook Pro divergence
  5. More Mac applications from third-party vendors
  6. Switchers and more switchers
  7. Mac shipments will reach new records
1. New Hardware - tablet device expected
It is widely expected that Apple will release a table type hardware device in 2010.  Many have not only questioned but also criticized Apple for failing to enter the netbook market.  Perhaps Apple has other plans in store for the device.  Several of Apple's tablet-centric patents have been uncovered by Apple watchers over the past few years and a result, it's not a question of 'if' Apple will release such a device but when.   So the next question, how will the device be classified?  Will it be a Mac that runs Mac OS X or an iPhone variant that runs iPhone OS?

I expect that it will be classified as a Mac because of the following changes and new features in Mac OS X Snow Leopard:
  • Quicktime X - the latest iteration of Apple's Quicktime application now includes virtual player controls that could easily be used by a touch sensitive device.
  • Expose via the Dock - Enabling Expose directly from the dock eliminates the requirement of a physical keyboard, mouse, or use of a trackpad gesture.
  • Stacks visibility -  all items in a Stack are visible and no longer need the Finder.
  • Freehand drawing - Mac users are able to draw characters via a Mac portable's trackpad. When Apple demonstrated the feature it stated that it would allow the drawing of Chinese characters.  The technology even recommends characters based on what has been drawn.  Couple this with the predictive text technology in the iPhone and it's within the realm of possibility that Apple could morph these two features into a revolutionary technology for a portable device's text input.
2. New Intel processors - Westmere
Intel's new Westmere processor represent the 32nm version of the Nehalem microarchitecture.   Specifically, Clarkdale is targeted towards desktops and Arrandale for portables.  Some of these processors should find their way into Apple's Macintosh computers.

3. Mac updates
A new year means that the Macintosh lineup will experience at least one and perhaps two product updates during 2010.  As stated above, the new Intel processors should show up in new 2010 Mac models.  Expect continued innovation for the Mac and additional vertical integration moves that impact the Mac.

4. Continued MacBook and MacBook Pro divergence
Apple's clear separation of the MacBook from the MacBook Pro at a physical level sets the stage for continued divergence.  Apple now has the opportunity to separate these two lines on a feature level.

5. More Mac applications from third-party vendors
As Mac penetration has increased third-party vendors have begun to take note.  Heck, even Microsoft has decided to roll out Outlook for Mac in 2010, a clear sign that Mac use in the enterprise is likely to increase and gain traction in 2010. It's also a move against Apple's built-in support of Exchange in Snow Leopard's Mail application.  Intuit should (finally!) have a revamped version of Quicken out in 2010.  Expect more companies to release Mac-capable versions of their software.

6. Switchers and more switchers
Most of Apple's Mac growth and market share gains have been the result of switchers.  Expect more people you know make the switch to a Mac this year due to word of mouth, positive experience with Apple products including the iPhone and iPod, and the willingness to try something other than Microsoft Windows.  This in turn will lead to record Mac shipment records in 2010.

7. Mac shipments will reach new records
Apple sold a record 3.053 million Macs during the company's 2009 fiscal fourth quarter (July, August, September).  This represents a near 17 percent increase over the comparable 2008 quarter when Apple sold 2.61 million Macs.  See the image below for Mac shipments over the past four years (sixteen quarters).  Apple just completed it's 2010 fiscal first quarter (October, November, December) and will be releasing earnings in a few weeks.  I expect the number of Macs shipped to be in the 3.15 to 3.27 million range.  Regardless of the exact number, the three million Mac unit floor has been set and Apple is positioned to set new quarterly and yearly Mac shipment records in 2010.

Now for some speculation!  I've listed two things that may happen for the Mac knowing that these are simply stretches of my imagination:

Speculation 1 - Apple adopts AMD processors
Ok, this one is out there but not outside the realm of possibility.  By adopting AMD processors, Apple could open several doors for the Mac.  I highlight two:
  • It could strengthen Apple's bargaining position with Intel over microprocessor supply and prices.  A pure play on buyer and supplier power.
  • Differentiation - Adding AMD as a chip supplier will allow Apple to further differentiate and segment both the portable Mac lineup and its customers.  This segmentation could occur at the feature and price sensitivity levels.  The precedent was set when Apple lowered Mac prices in 2009.  It's no secret that the MacBook and MacBook Pro models do not differ substantially (see Apple's comparison table) even though Apple rebranded the 13-inch aluminum MacBook as a MacBook Pro in June 2009 and now classifies the white polycarbonate model as the only MacBook.  Adding a new microprocessor supplier could help differentiate the portable lineup.

Speculation 2 - Apple branded processor(s)
2010 may provide additional insight into or perhaps the release of an Apple-branded processor.  Mark Papermaster, (a former IBM employee with expertise in microprocessor architecture), Apple's as senior vice president of Devices Hardware Engineering has been leading Apple's iPod and iPhone hardware engineering teams since April 2009.  IBM even sued Papermaster to prevent him from joining Apple on a non compete basis and the parties eventually settled.  Now tie the hiring of Papermaster with Apple's 2008 acquisition of PA Semi, a microprocessor design firm, and things get interesting on the processor front.  If Apple releases a chip in 2010 will it drive the aforementioned tablet-like device (very likely), iPods (likely), iPhones (likely), or some new hardware (a Mac perhaps? - not likely) in the future.

There are over 360 days left in the year, plenty of time for Mac related developments, product announcements, and news.  Here's to a noteworthy 2010 for the Mac!

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