My Macworld Expo Expectations

I don't usually try to predict what Apple will do, because they're cleverer than I am, and I don't follow shipments of chips, LCD displays, and power supplies to figure out what new components are coming. But here are my expectations for what Apple should be announcing at the show, although I believe they will only hit three or four of the following.

USB 2.0 support. It's a small point and a religious war, but there's no good reason for Apple to not spend the few bucks to throw in multi-hundred-megabit-per-second USB 2.0 support. It holds back the Mac because there are a lot of peripherals that are cheaper or only available in USB 2.0 versions. Some pundits predict that if Apple can push out 800 Mbps FireWire this week, then USB 2.0 is more a sure thing.

AirPort 3.0: dual-band 802.11a + b or g. Apple needs to avoid getting behind the curve on wireless networking technology given that they drove the industry starting mid-1999 with affordable equipment. The price tags on their Apple AirPort Base Station ($300) and AirPort Card ($100) are both absurd. Apple may be making as much as $250 on every Base Station they sell from their online store. Apple users should get both a huge price drop and the upgrade to a dual-band 802.11a and 802.11b (or draft 802.11g) support, but this might take until summer given chipmaker Agere's plans, Apple's long-time partner. If Apple fails to upgrade the technology, they could start losing the laptop and enterprise crowd that wants 54 Mbps service in both bands.

More Apple software. Apple will offer up more digital lifestyle iApps, but which ones, I'm not sure. It would make sense for them to start consolidating the software into a more integrated whole instead of forcing users to learn different interfaces and use clunky methods of moving media around. Why not acquire and pictures in the same way? Why not use iPhoto to organize photos to create DVD slideshows? The answer is all about internal communication and development at the company, not the user's best interests.

Faster, cheaper, bigger. I don't have specific insight into what it will be, but Apple will surely have a hardware refresh, most likely on their PowerMac towers or possibly the Xserve rack-mounted units. Processor-speed is still the word across the land, and if they can't keep goosing numbers while keeping prices steady, they face erosion of their most dedicated rendering and gaming users.

Quark for X. Not a very well kept secret, Quark will be demonstrating their Mac OS X version, which has been barely under wraps for several months. Following a major strategic error in 2002 of releasing a Mac OS 9 only version of QuarkXPress 5, the company has been beaten around the head and shoulders by Adobe InDesign 2.0, which is Mac OS X happy. (I just used it for a book and it beats the pants off Quark in many important production areas coupled with OS X's uncrashability.) Quark probably won't have the product ready to ship until March or later, however. Estimates are that Quark's delay in a Mac OS X version has cost Apple potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in delayed hardware upgrades by dedicated publishing firms, along with ancillary software upgrades for other companies. One thousand new Macintosh PowerMac's would be about $1.5 to $3 million, so you can see how tens of thousands of upgrades would drive that market.

Combo Drive everywhere, SuperDrive in more models. Apple has already been pushing the Combo Drive (DVD read-only, CD-RW) into less expensive units. My in-laws bought the bottom-of-the-line eMac two weeks ago, and it had a Combo Drive as a standard feature. I would expect at this show that except for possibly a single educational model, all Macs will have the Combo Drive, and even more Macs will have the SuperDrive (DVD-RW/CD-RW) as the baseline option.

I'll be reporting from the show in print and in blog.