Apple Brings Some Manufacturing Back To USA

The big news today is Apple is making some Macs in the USA. This isn’t terribly shocking if you think about it.

iMacs really aren’t as complicated as they were just a few years ago, the parts have consolidated quite a bit. In addition most of the complexity of assembly is being given to increasingly advanced robotics. What years ago was a circuit board put together by humans is now a single chip stamped out by machine. I mentioned this back in June when Google started manufacturing in the US.

I wouldn’t expect something as labor intensive as the iPhone or iPad to be built in the US anytime soon. The limited media access to the factories that we’ve seen, it’s a very manual process.

Manufacturing large goods like an iMac in the US has advantages. First reduced freight costs, less time in Apple’s inventory (something Tim Cook is known to care extensively about), and quite likely tax breaks and subsidies.

I suspect the idea going forward is if it’s labor intensive, do it overseas. If you can do it with minimal human labor, bring it to the US. We’ll see more of these things come “back” to the US as manufacturing techniques are refined and improve extensively. But I don’t think we’ll see the huge number of factory jobs we once had.

New Apple Products

2012 iMac

The Apple announcements to me were somewhat of a mixed bag.

iMac

I love the new iMac design, with the exception of the omitted optical media. A computer that slim with such a great display deserves to be usable as a media center. Otherwise it’s actually a great computer at a good price. If you think about it, not only do you get a pretty good computer, you get a great display in an amazing setup. It looks great.

13″ MacBook Pro

Retina displays on the 15″ MacBook Pro are awesome, however it seems many find the fonts especially to be too small and end up lowering the resolution to make things easier on the eyes and thus defeating the advantage of that great display. I’m not sure that a 13″ MacBook Pro is going to do much better in that regard. The other gripe I have with it over, aside for the lack of optical media which I still find useful is only having Intel HD Graphics 4000 and no discrete graphics. While the Intel graphics aren’t terrible, they aren’t amazing either. Given the number of pixels on that screen, and that price tag, I’d like something a little more powerful driving it.

iPad Mini / iPad 4

The iPad Mini is slightly more expensive than most people thought it would be. It’s however a rather good looking device with some great specs for the price. I think for the slightly higher premium you get a much better product and ecosystem than you do with the competition. Well worth spending just a little more. The only thing I’m not quite sure of is how it would actually feel. The iPad’s size is really part of it’s charm. It doesn’t feel like a phone, it feels like a substantial device. Yet another reason why I’ll need to take a trip to an Apple Store soon and play with one.

The iPad 4 is also quite impressive. Ars believes it’s based on the 32nm process. They also think it’s clocked at 1.5GHz and on the GPU side is still using the PowerVR SGX543 cores just clocked at 500 MHz up from 250 MHz. We don’t know for certain, but this sounds very plausible and I’m inclined to agree.

MWSF 2009 Predictions

I play this game every year. I’m having some trouble with predictions this year since Apple has been somewhat scatterbrained lately. Regardless, here’s my list for MacWorld 2009:

  • The usual pep-rally – iPhone App Store is a success, lots of iTunes music download, iPod touch sales strong, Mac sales solid. Users happy. (Probability: 100%)
  • iTunes DRM Free Content – More DRM Free Music. Much less likely is video. (Probability: 85%).
  • 17″ Unibody MacBook Pro – It’s missing from the lineup. (Probability: 85%).
  • iPhone OS 2.3 – Despite a lack of rumors on the iPhone OS 2.3 unlike previous versions which were more publicity tested I still think we will see an announcement on this front. Apple promised push notification back in September. It’s way overdue. If it’s not ready to ship today, I expect Apple will at least give a preview and a date. I also suspect at least one other headliner feature. I’m hoping for Copy&Paste. (Probability: 80%).
  • Steve Jobs Health – It’s the elephant in the room. I suspect whomever holds the keynote will mention it. Assuming Steve Jobs himself doesn’t mention it either by video conf. or in person. (Probability: 80%).
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Preview – Apple will give us another taste of what’s to come. I also expect to see a release timeline at least down to a quarter, if not an exact date. My guess is it won’t go GM until at least WWDC. Demo is very possible. (Probability: 75%).
  • Revamped Mac Mini – The Mac Mini is overdue for a makeover. The case has been the same since 2005. The internals are getting old. I see a modest speed bump, a refreshed design and NVIDIA chipset. (Probability: 70%).
  • Updated iMac – The iMac is about a year old at this point and also still offers an ATI graphics chip in some models. I see that disappearing and NVIDIA taking over. This is in preparation for Snow Leopard who will want more GPU. (Probability: 68%).
  • iPhone Nano – I know 2 manufacturers claim to be making cases for it. I still suspect it won’t happen, at least with the iPhone OS we all know. I figure this because it will be hard to use the OS on a screen smaller than the iPhone. That said, Apple may be working on a slimmer cell phone focused more as a music player than an application platform. Think iPod + Phone. Rather than iPhone. (Probability: 51%).
  • Updated Apple TV – Mixed feelings on this. Until Apple has a vision for it, I’m not sure they will keep dumping R&D time into this product. (Probability: 50%).
  • Random Price Drops – Throughout the keynote, expect prices on low end of each product line to drop compared to current pricing. New slimmed down products to tickle the fancy of those in conservation mode due to the economy. (Probability: 85%).
  • iTouch Tablet – I think it will happen eventually, but I don’t expect an announcement soon. I think earliest is 3Q 2009 (TechCrunch suggests the same). More likely at some point in 2010. I think it will replace the MacBook Air and be a slim tablet style notebook borrowing heavily from the Air. I don’t think Apple has the cost-saving chops to produce an oversized iPod touch at a price consumers would go for. (Probability for MWSF: 20%).

There you have it. Those are my guesses. Now lets see what happens.

New iProducts

Apple iMac

Apple iMac Aug 2007

So todays announcement was the new iMac. Wasn’t much of a surprise as it was due, and the rumor sites were pretty consistent. The new design wasn’t much of a surprise either. I love the metal, and think it’s great on the G5/Mac Pro. I never really cared for the glossy display, but I don’t think that’s a deal breaker. Lenovo did a poll on screen preference and found the overwhelming majority (86%) preferred anti-glare. It’s definitely my preference. I do however think it matters more on laptops than on desktops since laptops will on occasion be subject to lighting that produces glare, while a desktop is typically setup in a position that wouldn’t facilitate the problem.

Apple Keyboard

Apple Keyboard Aug 2007

Also new is the revised Apple Keyboard. This was leaked a little early. Gizmodo did a good breakdown on the changes to the key layout. I think the most surprising move was eliminating the Apple logo in favor of the word “command”. My guess would be the feel of the new keyboard is very similar to modern Apple laptops (Gizmodo says it does), but not as cramped. If that’s really the case, given the construction of this keyboard it could be a very comfortable keyboard.

Surprisingly Apple lists the keyboard’s requirements as:

  • Mac OS X v10.4.10 or later
  • Keyboard software update

For a keyboard? This sounds a little strange. I’m virtually positive if you plugged it into any computer it would work fine, but some of the special keys may not be mapped correctly. I’m almost positive it will work fine in Windows XP/Vista as well, since Apple has Boot Camp. I suspect Apple will at some point ship Windows software for the keyboard for users who want to use Windows in Boot Camp, as well as those who just want the Apple Keyboard. My guess is that it’s either just not ready yet, or they want to gauge interest.

iLife ’08

iLife ’08 looked pretty good, but I’m not a heavy user, so it didn’t impress me as much as I guess it should have. Organizing photos by events is extremely handy and seems very well done. iMovie also has quite a few enhancements that should make movie editing much easier.

iWork ’08

iWork ’08 impressed me a little more. So much like Office, yet so much more polished and eloquent. What’s impressive is that the final results look so good, and the process to get those results seems intuitive. Numbers in particular looks really great. Will this eat into Microsoft Office’s market share? No. Will it make life easier for many Mac professionals who want to make some nice looking documents? Absolutely.

Overall

One thing I thought was noteworthy is Steve apparently mentioned that the keyboard photos were leaked online. Considering Apple’s tight lipped history, that was somewhat interesting. Still no sign of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. He didn’t spend any real time on it, barely a mention. Considering it’s August, and the last big event before October, this was a little surprising. I’m wondering if this could mean a further delay.

My predictions from yesterday weren’t to bad, though they were mostly obvious. The only thing I was a little surprised about was the missing update on Leopard. I still think the Mac Mini will see a speed bump by the end of the year.

Mac Rumors notes that according to the Apple press release for the iMac, Airport Extreme now has Gigabit Ethernet (something that was sadly missing). No mention elsewhere on the site. I wonder if this is official, or just something that slipped out. It’s looking better and better.

Edit: According to CNet, the Mac Mini did get an speed bump! That means another prediction was right.

Product images courtesy of Apple.

Airport Express 2.0? iTunes Movies?

Oh there’s so much to talk about. Next week (on Tuesday of course) Apple is supposed to reveal some new products and/or services.

  • Apple sent out a notice saying “It’s Show Time“… just smells like a movie service is coming.
  • Apple just updated the iMac line, and just released the Mac Pro, so desktop hardware doesn’t seem to likely to be a big focus.
  • iPods haven’t been updated in a long time, likely in part because Apple has been redoing them to use a Samsung chipset (Apple already uses Samsung SDRAM) rather than the PortalPlayer chip. Rumored to have a touch screen. Which I mentioned a while back (with a mock-up).
  • Apple’s also rumored to reveal a new Airport Express with support for video.
  • A cell phone is still said to be in the works (iPhone), but that’s not due until 2007.

I really like the idea of a video enabled Airport Express… I really want one already, and they haven’t even announced it yet.