What's behind the red curtain? I'm looking for Macs

Posted by: Peter Burrows on October 06, 2005

Ever since the company touted an Oct. 12 event with an invitation featuring a photo of a curtain-shrouded movie screen, the Apple rumor mill has been cranking at full tilt. Now, I know what most people are saying: that Steve Jobs will unveil a video iPod. In fact, the BBC evidently leaked the news yesterday that such a product would be introduced at its BBC Television Centre on that day. That’s pretty compelling evidence. And while I have never once had the urge to watch a music video on my iPod, I suppose Steve Jobs could make a convincing case to Boomers like me that we’d want it for other kinds of video content—say, video podcasts, or home movies.

Still, I wonder if the folks over at Thinksecret.com don't have it right. They're reporting that the only news on the iPod front will be for a somewhat smaller, higher-capacity version of the top-of-the-line iPod. That makes total sense to me--especially if it's also cheaper. Clearly, customers loved the now-discontinued iPod mini, and a smaller, $200 iPod with a big honking hard drive would be manna from heaven for those mini loyalists. Also, such a product would fill out the crucial mid-section of Apple's iPod product line. Right now, the only choice between the $100 iPod shuffle and the $300 iPod is the nano. Sure, it's an awesome product. But I'm equally sure there are folks who want a higher-capacity, mid-priced product that isn't so teensy--or plauged by talk of easily-breakable screens.

Which brings me the Mac. Here's some reasons why I think this could be the focus of the event:

-- With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, Apple would like to give a big blast of publicity to its computers--which, after all, still bring in the bulk of its sales. The iPod had its turn a month ago, on nano day. Now, it could be the Mac's turn.

-- Jobs has frequently argued in the past that people do not want to watch movies on a tiny screen. His argument has been that if you want to watch a movie when you're on the road, there's already a great way to do it: on a notebook PC. So maybe the company will unveil new Powerbooks with this application in mind. It could have bigger, higher-resolution screens, far better built-in speakers, or new optical drives capable of playing new DVDs based on Sony's Blu-ray standards. Such DVDs, which have more than enough capacity to hold full-length movies shot in high-definition, aren't expected to be widely available for another year or so. But hey, which was the first company to introduce the CD drive, when we were all still fussing with floppy drives? Apple. Or who knows: maybe Apple has worked out the licensing complexities with Hollywood to enable it to launch a much-rumored iMovies Online Store, so it could sell flicks just as it sells songs today. Certainly, as chairman of Pixar, Jobs could get the ball rolling by making that studios' famous flicks available on Blu-ray discs, via an online store, or both.

-- The news doesn't have to be limited to PowerBooks, of course. The iMac could also get a facelift with these video-enhancing technologies, as well. And if Apple does indeed launch an online movie store, the possibilities become even more interesting. Apple, as many have pointed out, is as well positioned as any company to figure out how to deliver video from the PC to the living room. The company has the expertise in interface design to make the job toaster-simple for regular Joes. It's products are so elegantly designed that they might actually improve the look of many a living room--not something that can be said about most tech gear. Even Apple's go-it-alone business model would be a boon, freeing it to make a single self-enclosed solution that really works. Who knows, Jobs could work out a deal with a TV manufacturer to sell its own Apple-branded boob tube that's configured with all the electronics to smoothly grab movies downloaded from this as-yet non-existent movie store.

OK, that's enough speculating for one morning. Lord knows, Apple doesn't need extra help keeping the pre-show buzz at an uproar. We'll know the truth soon enough.

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Reader Comments

Ken McLaughlin

October 6, 2005 04:25 PM

With OS X 10.4.3 close at hand your thinking could be spot on. Other interesting factors would be Freescale delivering dual core G4 chips about now for the PowerBooks and IBM finally able to deliver dual core G5 chips for the PowerMacs. With the current "grab bag" situation on the Mac mini the field would be open for Apple to refresh their entire computer lines.

Regardless of what is announced I'm still in awe of Apple's ability to get the level of media attention they have gotten with the red curtains.

Tony

October 6, 2005 08:36 PM

I'm betting on the iDeck. Smash NetFlix together with Tivo and add the new iFlickx (thats all they could get!) on line service and you can upload movies to your new iDeck and watch one of 3 to 5 movies on the built in hard drive any time you'd like. Of course movies will be uploaded as you sleep or while you are at work. Maybe there will be a nice "remote control" feature on this video iPod everybody is going on about, to make a nice "gotta have" system. Build in all the wired/wireless ports you can imagine and serve up your iPhotos and iTunes, and there you have it.

Jay F.

October 6, 2005 08:51 PM

Whatever it is, it won't be a video iPod. Steve Jobs is a smart person (no matter how much I dislike him). He would not be likely to let it leak out that Apple has quietly added video support to iTunes, or to use movie curtains when he was about to announce a video iPod. Since he is someone who likes surprises, these fake "clues" would be (and have been) good enough to keep bloggers from doing real investigation into what it will be. I congratulate you on considering other options.

george

October 7, 2005 12:30 AM

I agree. The unspoken issue is battery life. A video iPod would have to be larger or have poor battery life. That may change in a year. Laptops are the way to watch personal video, I already watch movies in bed this way. My guess: New computers, possible a subcompact (iBook mini anyone?) and Airport base station with video out in HD (analog), along with iTunes Video store. That way the Beeb leak could still be right. Media Center PC? Forget it. Jobs know that Tivo functionality is soooo 1990s. Direct downlaod onto laptop means no goofy living room pc and full video portability plus juicy laptop margins.
Is this announcement the day after Q4 to counter disappointing pre-Intel switch results or just the opposite, a one-two stock market punch. Interesting times. Signed, Not-mini Apple

Blip

October 7, 2005 12:47 AM

The last time Apple sent those kind of hint, no less than 3 weeks ago. It showed the small fifth pocket on jeans. For me it was obvious from the hint that we would see a very small flash based 4 gig iPod, and that's what happened.

Maybe Apple want to throw us off the track this time, but I'm not sure why they would do that.

I don't see how Apple could invite the mainstream press again in such a short amount of time just for Mac updates.

Still, I'm very undecided on this one... I don't feel it's the right time for a video iPod.

jojodancer

October 7, 2005 02:52 AM

Yeah, no way they hype up updated Macs like this. "one more thing" has a (silly) luster to maintain -- gotta be something new and crazy. a new-form computer like a subnotebook or PMP with a 7 or 9" widescreen? sure. but not just new macs, unless they're the first IntelMacs, which ain't gonna happen next week. this is something new, and I also don't think that they'd use the movie curtains to intentionally throw people for a loop. it's something video related. remember MWSF? this is the year of HD. it's an HD something or other, just in time for xmas shopping.

JJ

October 7, 2005 11:44 PM

iHDTV Anyone?

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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