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  • The “Never Say Never” Report

    November 25th, 2015

    Reading the tea leaves around the Apple universe is pretty common. All sorts of rumors arise, and some of them are even true. One sure source of bits and pieces about future Apple gear is the supply chain, at least for those who have access. It’s been shown that it’s near impossible to keep everything hidden, despite Apple’s efforts to shut down leaks.

    So before a new iPhone, or a new iPad, or a new Mac arrives, the outlines of the new product will usually be known, more or less. Sure, the fine details, such as processor speeds and other hardware attributes, may be a secret. Special features may not be fully fleshed out, but there’s enough solid information to feed fairly accurate speculation.

    Less so are details about products that are all new and not refreshes. The new Mac Pro managed to escape detailed speculation largely because it is being built in the U.S. and thus managed to avoid the usual supply chain chitchat.

    Now before the leaks appear, Apple watchers would love to know what the company is working on. The old mantra “we do not discuss unreleased products” is expected but not helpful. Not surprisingly, clues can be found in what Apple says about other products, even when a product category is denigrated. Here Apple executives might be following the magician’s playback, misdirection, to send you off in the wrong direction in search of a story.

    So there have been moments when Apple made key comments that presaged new gear, although maybe it wasn’t so obvious that a new product was in the works.

    In 2005, Apple tried to expand the joy of iTunes, already dominant even on the Windows platform, from the iPod to cell phones. Apple made a deal with Motorola, then a major handset maker, which resulted in the release of the ROKR E1. Now the idea was certainly promising, a mobile handset that also included iTunes. Very promising, until you actually used one.

    Now Motorola actually made some pretty neat handsets in those days, most particularly the RAZR, which dominated the market for several years. I owned several, and if you ignored the poor interface and used it to make and receive calls, it worked just fine. The ROKR was a total misfire in nearly every respect beyond its phone circuitry . Recognizing reality, Steve Jobs was quoted as attacking the quality of wireless handsets.

    Two years later, the iPhone arrived. Now I wouldn’t suggest that the ROKR was a test bed or a stalking horse. Apple evidently was working on what later became the iPad around that time, and managed to fork the project to the iPhone, now its most successful product. But Apple put down wireless handsets before they delivered their own solution.

    During the quarterly conference call with financial analysts in October 2004, Apple was asked about a low-cost Mac. The answer was no. Apple doesn’t produce junk.

    But three months later, the original $499 Mac mini was launched during the Macworld Expo keynote. Sure, it was inexpensive for a Mac, but Apple would maintain it wasn’t junk. To keep the price down, it didn’t come with a mouse or display. The critics pounced on its user hostile approach to upgrades. You actually had to use a putty knife or a similar implement to open the case in order to upgrade RAM. Then again, today’s Mac mini, once again $499, uses soldered RAM, so the upgrade is impossible.

    Ever searching for ways to make cheaper PCs, manufacturers decided to build smaller versions. Netbooks appeared in earnest beginning in 2007 with the introduction of the original Asus Eee PC, which used Linux in order to avoid paying Microsoft license fees for the operating system. Eventually, Windows netbooks arrived, and Apple was, naturally, asked if there would be a Mac version.

    Predictably Apple attacked the entire product category. Tim Cook bluntly stated that they weren’t powerful enough, and had cramped keyboards and small displays. But he also gave a telltale clue: “We’ll see. We are watching the space…We’ve got some ideas here.”

    Those ideas became the iPad, which was first introduced in 2010. So while Apple wasn’t keen about a tiny PC alternative, they weren’t against a smaller computing device of some sort. Although sales have declined over the last year or two, the iPad set the standard for tablets. It didn’t take long for netbooks to become yet another failed tech gadget.

    So we know that Apple isn’t happy with the living room entertainment experience, although the Apple TV may not be the final solution. Apple is also interested in the automobile space, but whether that means a souped up CarPlay or the rumored Apple Car is anyone’s guess. Maybe both.

    Just watch what markets Apple expresses its interest in, or attacks. Either way, something may be in the winds with an Apple logo on it.

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