Apple?s Summer Surprise and Comments from IBM

In today’s Macintosh section of eWeek there is an interview with IBM Microelectronics, where they claim they could have easily supplied the mobile processors Apple wanted for their notebooks if Apple had only asked.  I was reminded, in reading this, of a joke my grandfather told me:

A guy walks into a gas station and asks the price of tires for his car.  The attendant tells him $60, so the guy says, “Thanks,” and leaves.  A little later, he comes back and asks why the price isn?t $50, as the guy down the street is selling tires for this price.  The attendant asks him why he didn?t buy the tires there, and the guy responds, “Because that gas station is out of tires.”  To which the attendant responds ?Well, when I?m out of tires, I only charge $40 for them.” 

IBM trying to maintain that they didn?t know Apple had a portable problem is like Michael Jackson trying to maintain he didn?t know his trial would be big news.  Steve Jobs is hardly shy and he’s known to be incredibly nasty when disappointed; clearly, he was disappointed about both the PowerPC?s inability to get to 3GHz as he had promised (don?t get me wrong; he has a history of making unreasonable promises, but he also has a history of forcing people to make them a reality) and the inability to address the thermal issues with the thin laptops he wanted Apple to build.

With IBM Microelectronics positioned to be the next firm spun out and IBM?s known lack of loyalty for spun out divisions (how many Lexmark printers do you think IBM sells today?), the Apple business was incredibly important.  No matter how they say it, they screwed up by losing that business and, were they a separate company today (regardless of the custom chip no-margin game console activity), we would likely be talking about them as being in the walking dead category. 

Apple?s Surprise

With Apple effectively announcing the end of all Power-based products, it is really hard to see how Apple hardware can survive until the Intel-based offerings show up.  Given that Apple normally isn?t this stupid, it has led many of us to speculate that there is a summer announcement that will provide the market with its next iPod-like offering. 

What makes the most sense to me, and a number of the folks who have written to me, is a Media Center done right.  Microsoft?s Media Center remains, much like the pre-iPod music players, too complex and difficult to use for the broad market.  By focusing on a great music experience first and the creation of a perfect general-use host for the iPod, Apple could probably light a fire under this segment and dominate it, much like they did the MP3 space. 

The consumer electronics market is not enamored with technology, as clearly was proven with the iPod; it is enamored with ease of use, strong industrial design, and appliance-like offerings.  The Mac Mini is the closest, at least in my mind, of a hardware design for a PC that would fit this segment; it just doesn?t have the UI for this use that it needs yet.  Even the price is competitive.  Apple is an expert on UI work and the recognized leader in UIs in this pace is Digeo Moxie, owned by a Microsoft alum Paul Allen.  Apple hasn?t had a lot of difficulty ?emulating? others’ work either; it appears to me and others that Apple is on the cusp of releasing a general purpose media computer as a result. 

It could be based on any processor because this class of product typically does not run general applications.  It could get ahead of the curve and release with Intel or with Power and be equally successful as a result. 

Macworld is in Boston on July 11th-14th; that would be a little early for this kind of product, which should generally hit the market in the late October/November timeframe to best match potential demand with propensity to buy.  Since there is no one from Apple scheduled to talk at the July Mac World, that suggests that there is no announcement from Apple due at that time as well. 

One thing is for sure:  there is a big announcement coming, and like all things from Apple, it probably will only look obvious from hindsight. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.