Apple is one of the most secretive companies in the world, yet it produces a notable number of consumer tech devices that people use every day. For better or worse, products like the Macintosh, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes are iconic products that people have integrated into the concept of their identity. Because of this, there is a brisk business in speculation about what the Cupertino-based company will be bringing out next at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Here’s our take on what we’re expecting.
iOS, the underpinning environment of the Apple iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, and yes, even the Apple TV is what millions of Apple users interact with multiple times in a day. It’s a given that there will be a new iOS, since updates are an almost yearly event. About the only thing we can truly speculate about is when will the update drop? For more, check out PCMag’s iOS 7 Wish List.
OS X 10.9 (maybe)
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion was unveiled at last year’s WWDC, and made its debut in July. In his review, PCMag’s Edward Mendleson proclaimed it “the world’s best consumer operating system money can buy” and gave it a rare 4.5 out of 5 rating. OS X is the traditional Mac operating system that has powered MacBook Pros, Mac Pros, and iMacs for the past decade and change. Mountain Lion is considered a refinement and feature boost for OS X 10.7 Lion, so it’s a relatively mature operating system. OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was the last OS X that lasted longer than a year, and we think 10.8 could follow that lead. That isn’t to say that Apple won’t tease developers with OS X 10.9. This year’s WWDC would be a good time to introduce the OS to its faithful developers and get them started on updating their apps for OS X 10.9 in 2014.
Apple just introduced a new value-oriented 16GB iPod touch, dropping a few features like the rear-facing camera and eliminating color choices to reach a lower $229 price point.The changes bring it up to iPhone 4S levels internally (mainly processor), and iPhone 5 levels externally (the screen size and resolution). This sets the stage for an updated iPod touch, which will almost certainly be an upgrade over the current mainstream model. A 128-160GB iPod touch is certainly not out of the question, and such a capacious iPod touch could finally be the death knell of the 160GB hard drive-powered iPod classic. A larger storage space for lossless music files is the reason that the iPod classic is still around, and having a high-capacity iPod touch could satisfy that small but vociferous audience. Still, Apple traditionally reserves its iPod upgrades for the fall, so we might have to wait a few months.
We’ll also likely be waiting a bit longer for a new iPhone. WWDC will provide a look at the new smartphone’s OS, but don’t expect to try it out on the rumored “iPhone 5S” until the fall. If past performance is any indication, though, that new iPhone 5S will come in the same chassis as the iPhone 5, but with an upgraded processor and possibly even a new 128GB capacity model. This will give the case manufacturers another year to produce their lucrative wares, and will keep two-year upgraders happy.
Apple achieved some level of infamy from longtime fans by updating the Retina display-equipped iPad after only seven months. While we don’t think that Apple will update the current fourth-generation iPad so quickly, the possibility is still there. But aside from iPad-related updates to iOS 7, we don’t think any new iPads are on the agenda at WWDC 2013.
MacBook Air is a prime candidate for updates. While the chassis for the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air hasn’t changed too much over the past two generations, the internals have evolved along with Intel’s Core processors. Intel has announced its 20Gbps Thunderbolt 2, so that’s always a possibility. Thunderbolt 2 has support for 4K video, so the MacBook Air could drive these high end displays with Thunderbolt 2 connected to a 4th-Gen Intel Core processor. Rumor sites have bounced the idea of Retina display on MacBook Air. While this would be intriguing on an 11-inch or 13-inch MacBook Air, it would be prohibitively expensive at this time. MacBook Air starts at $999, while higher-than-HD displays are going for over $1,500. We could see a 1080p HD display upgrade for the MacBook Air instead of a Retina display, and still keep the $999-$1,199 base prices intact.
Last year was the year of the Retina display. Apple released MacBook Pros in 13- and 15-inch versions with Retina displays. These two systems are certainly eligible for a 4th-generation (Haswell) Intel Core upgrade, just like on the MacBook Air models. Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 750M-780M graphics would be a good upgrade for the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. Thunderbolt 2 is a strong possibility for at least the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It might be time for Apple to retire its older 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models. Even though the 13-inch MacBook Pro is one of its top sellers, the 13-inch MacBook Air is just close enough in price and capabilities to replace it in Apple’s lineup. The non-Retina MacBook Pros with the older chassis are the last portable Macs with optical drives, and Apple has demonstrated in the past that it has no qualms about dropping older technologies from its products. If it does decide to keep the older chassis around, look for options that replace the optical drive with an extra SSD/Flash Storage for Fusion Drive.
iMac and Mac mini
iMac was redesigned at last year’s event in San Jose. Apple will most likely upgrade these desktops’ processors to 4th-generation Intel Core and possibly upgrade the Nvidia graphics in all iMacs, but further upgrades are unlikely. Unless touch screens are a major component of OS X 10.9, touch screens are unlikely for the new iMacs. Mac mini could stick around with a 4th-gen Intel Core upgrade to its processor. Fusion drive is likely to continue as is.
An upgraded Mac Pro workstation has been anticipated for over two years now. In addition to upgraded Xeon processors and graphics, the Mac Pro would be a great candidate for Intel’s new Thunderbolt 2 connector. USB 3.0 is also a must have at this point. Mac-based professionals still want tower desktops, because they are so upgradable. While it’s an interesting theory, a smaller minitower or Mac mini-sized Mac Pro is kind of unlikely and somewhat pointless: workstation users need expandability, and the current Mac Pro’s four drive bays and space for multiple PCIe cards is hard to beat. A totally redesigned chassis is a distinct possibility, but it won’t be tiny.