October 20th Apple Event preview

Steve Jobs will once again take to the stage tomorrow, Wednesday October 20th at the “Town Hall” on Apple’s Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino, California to unveil a new round of products and technology previews with his infamous headline-grabbing presentation style. What will be announced? Grapevine consensus appears to have a firm grasp of the big picture, but as to the details….

With a few notable exceptions (the small number of people working on certain projects within Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion,” internal code name ‘Barolo,’ force us to sit on details of those projects until after the Event when even if those projects aren’t mentioned during the Event, they will be known to a wider group within Infinite Loop and leaks can no longer be tied so easily to our sources), what we’ve been told by some of our oldest and most reliable contacts in Cupertino comports very closely with the grapevine’s consensus of what to expect tomorrow:

*Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” as hinted by Apple’s logo for the Event:

Apple's Back to the Mac October 20th Apple Event logo

….Lion is a collection of long-standing projects, many of them held back from the Leopard and Snow Leopard development cycles because they were too ambitious and too out of sync with Apple’s priorities at the time to make the cut for those releases. A few involve core technologies of interest to developers and the technically minded, but most fall under the heading dramatic user experience changes and interface tweaks, new bundled applications/services, and strategic tie-ins with OS X’s simplified cousin iOS.

First and foremost, these include a bevy of projects that will enhance Lion’s multi-touch functionality as well as its ability to take greater advantage of input devices like Apple’s Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad and future touchscreen-equipped Macs. Although some of the details are embargoed, we can say that security will also be a big focus of Lion; many of 10.7’s limited under-the-hood improvements directly concern hardening OS X against threats such as malware (viruses, worms, trojans, etc) and data security by enhancing existing technologies like Apple’s FileVault encryption system.

In terms of performance, Lion adds more optimized core code for recent Intel (and AMD?) chips and an updated Grand Central Dispatch multi-tasking/multi-threading scheduler intended to simultaneously spread tasks more efficiently across both physical as well as virtual (HyperThreading) processor cores while also reducing energy usage under light to moderate workloads. One of Lion’s original stated goals is to make even more use of the computing power available in modern graphics processors (GPUs), which reportedly means a lot more eye candy and “3D” interface elements. Whether we’ll see these innovative touch-driven, 3D interface projects make the cut for Lion is an open question as we have not seen them fully integrated in recent internal builds of ‘Barolo,’ the Lion pre-Alphas distributed within Infinite Loop since early 2010.

A few other rumored features:
-FaceTime (iChat AV overhaul, new system-wide service for third party apps)
-A “more social” Address Book sporting integration with social networks such as (Ping? Game Center?) Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
-iOS services such as Game Center and the App Store making an appearance in at least some form. An in-app purchases API may be accessible to developers even if they don’t otherwise integrate with the new “Mac App Store.”
-Major overhaul of MobileMe services; MobileMe to become free or tiered?
-Wireless sync with 802.11n equipped mobile devices/iDevices.
-Run iOS apps in the Dashboard as part of a Dashboard overhaul making it more unified with the “standard” application environment rather than a ‘separate world’?
-Speaking of Dashboard, a new Dashcode (likely with a new name) intended to enable “casual/hobby” users to create their own mini-applications deployable across OS X and iOS?
-Increased emphasis on “Cloud” internet data storage/access over local storage — see Macbook Air’s move to smaller-capacity “SSD card” storage hardware, possibly starting as low as 16-32GB, below.

*Macbook Air

Widely anticipated and long overdue, a major update to Apple’s Macbook Air product line seems nearly as certain as that of the Lion preview. A new, smaller model rumored to sport an 11.6 inch display may join the existing 13.3-inch model, or may replace it entirely (the former is considered more likely than the latter). There has been some uncertainty as to whether all models will go to Intel’s latest low-voltage “Arrandale” (Core i3/i5) mobile processors which support features like Turbo and HyperThreading, or whether the Core 2 Duo will continue to have a presence in the lineup. Prototypes have been spotted with both types of processors, but there are several issues with ultra-low-voltage Arrandale chips in terms of marketing because they run at lower “default” clock speeds than their Core 2 cousins and use lower-clocked RAM (800MHz versus 1066 for the current Core 2 based Air lineup). Their overall performance and energy efficiency are superior, but the same issues that have kept Core 2 in the low-end Macbook/Macbook Pro models — notably the inferior performance of the on-chip GMA HD graphics processor as compared with integrated GPUs such as the nVIDIA 320M used in the Macbook — make putting Arrandale into the Air a complex equation.

Several leaked photos of prototypes confirm that Apple is working on adding more battery life by shrinking the rest of the internals — notably by replacing the 1.8-inch storage drive bay (which can host either an SSD or hard drive) with a custom “SSD card” which is thinner and longer than a 1.8-inch drive. This heralds a move to an Air lineup consolidated entirely on SSD storage which may render aftermarket user upgrades more difficult or even entirely impractical due to the custom design of the SSD “card.”

Along with the smaller display, further shrinking of the overall enclosure, and under the hood upgrades, the entry level price for the Air is rumored to be dropping significantly to $1299 or perhaps even less. What sort of specs we’ll get at that price is an open question, particularly with the move to all-SSD storage. Smaller storage space on the entry level model is widely anticipated, and the market seems ready for that since the entry level Air is increasingly competition for low-cost netbooks and Apple’s own iPad rather than just the ultracompact high-end laptops of years past.

The current model’s “port door” will reportedly be removed from the enclosure, replaced with traditional open ports on both sides. A second USB port as well as an SD card slot and Mini DisplayPort are expected to be added. Expect wireless reception/range to be substantially improved by a new Wi-Fi antenna design.

Oh, and “one more thing”: many prototypes have played with carbon-fiber unibody frames or similar exotic material construction to reduce the Air’s already feathery 3-pound weight and improve its ruggedness. Whether we’ll see such exotic materials in the final product is widely debated, largely due to questions about cost. But either way, expect the Air’s construction to make a big step forward. This is not a small incremental upgrade; it is very much a generational one, the first since the original Air’s introduction.

*iLife & iWork ’11

Both iLife and iWork are due for an update, and based on recent source reports, the next versions of both suites are ready for their close-up. iDVD may be on the chopping block, but the rest of the familiar iApps will receive top to bottom overhauls to be consistent with the Mac OS X 10.7 look-and-feel, 100% 64-bit optimized, and have close ties to their new iOS cousins which will be announced at the same time. iWeb in particular is dramatically revamped and a “pro” cousin may be added to the iWork suite in an effort to provide top-shelf HTML 5 authoring tools to the professional web developer community.

*Other possibilities?

Although the three announcements above would be quite enough to fill out an Event on their own, numerous other possibilities have come up between the grapevine’s ruminations and our own discussions with those in the know.

There has been much speculation over reports that Apple is in the advanced stages of talks with chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to increase adoption of both the company’s GPU line (formerly known as ATi) and its CPU products. Although anything is possible given the amount of time the two companies have been negotiating, our analysis suggests the time is not yet right for Apple to do this. Some of AMD’s future product roadmaps are very promising, but at the present time AMD’s current product offers don’t fit very well into Apple’s product matrix. Never underestimate Apple’s ability to surprise even many of its own employees with initiatives known only to a handful of people in the Executive Suite, but don’t go buying stock in AMD just yet.

Updates to other Macs: If Apple has settled on a solution for using Arrandale “i-Series” mobile chipsets in products where Core 2 currently reigns, this could mean an update to the Macbook and 13-inch MBP is imminent similar to the recent update of the iMac lineup which replaced Core 2 with Core i3 dual-core/four-thread desktop CPUs. We would assign this a likelihood of roughly 50/50, entirely dependent on the timing of progress on cost and technical concerns which prevented those upgrades from happening earlier this year during the last round of Mac laptop revisions.

No other Macs are expected to be upgraded in the near future, given Intel’s roadmap and the recent revisions to all of Apple’s desktop Mac products. However, if an AMD-related announcement does in fact take place, all bets are off due to the wide-reaching implications of such a partnership.

Stay tuned to Rumors for ongoing coverage of tomorrow’s Event and all things Apple including live updates via our Twitter feed @MacOSRumors starting just before 1PM Eastern/10AM Pacific time on Wednesday. Have questions that weren’t answered by this Preview? We’re always happy to answer them as best we can via Twitter, email, or our AIM account (SN: MacOSRumors).

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  • Zaph

    Aperture 3.5 (or even 4) would be welcome.

  • Sugo89

    is it going to be streamed live?