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Summary:

January 2010 will mark the four-year anniversary of Apple’s first Intel-based Mac, the MacBook Pro. With Snow Leopard officially dropping support for PowerPC Macs and the next version of iLife and iWork likely to do the same, a perfect storm is brewing where Apple can begin […]

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January 2010 will mark the four-year anniversary of Apple’s first Intel-based Mac, the MacBook Pro. With Snow Leopard officially dropping support for PowerPC Macs and the next version of iLife and iWork likely to do the same, a perfect storm is brewing where Apple can begin to really push OS X to maximize the potential of the Intel hardware it supports. 2010 looks to be a big year in terms of hardware updates from Apple; here’s our roundup of predictions on what’s to come.

MacBook Pro

Just like where it started four years ago with the first Intel Mac, the biggest and most exciting updates will happen to the MacBook Pro. The good news? With the classic MacBook seeing updates recently that peg its specs a little too close for comfort with its older brother, the new MacBook Pro update should arrive sooner rather than later.

In terms of processors, I predict Apple will adopt the mobile variant of the Core i5 and Core i7 quad-core processors currently found in the latest iMacs. Though these mobile variants, also referred to by their codename Arrandale, only feature two cores, they also come laden with Intel’s better-than-previously-integrated-but-not-quite-as-good-as-a-standalone graphics chipset. Rumor has it that Apple isn’t a fan of this implementation (as right it shouldn’t be, desiring a dedicated professional graphics card for its high-end portable). How this will shake out is still a mystery.

For the past three years, Apple has followed a steady trend of doubling both the entry-level amount of RAM and the maximum RAM that its high end portables can support. It’s a great tactic on Apple’s part as it combats only incremental performance gains with every new processor release. 2010 should be no different, with standard models of MacBook Pros shipping with 8GB of RAM with a ceiling of 16GB.

The big news for the MacBook Pros will be the inclusion of the first Blu-ray drive. It’s been a long time coming but Apple is ready to go for it and ready to do it right. Blu-ray Superdrives will be available as an option (if not standard) on the 15” and 17” MacBook Pros.

Taking advantage of the brilliant resolution of Blu-ray, the 15” MacBook Pro will also feature a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 resolution display, packing the same number of pixels as the new 21.5-inch iMac and the current 17” MacBook Pro. Of course, this also means the 17” will get a display bump as well. 2560 x 1440 seems like a bit of a stretch, but one can always hope, right?

In regards to storage, I predict we’ll see MacBook Pros starting with 500GB hard drives on the low-end 13” model and maxing out at 1TB or 1.5TB hard drives on the high-end 17” model. Before the year is out, the high-end models might even have an option for a 2TB drive.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air, due to it’s ultra slim and lightweight profile, will only see modest updates in 2010. Processors will be bumped to 2.26GHz and 2.53GHz (up from 1.86GHz and 2.13GHz). Hard drives on the portable will see modest size increases to 250GB SATA and 256GB solid-state drives. The next iteration of the MacBook Air will also ship with 4GB of RAM standard. Though it will be difficult for Apple to upgrade the processors, hard drives and RAM while still maintaining a profit, the price point of the MacBook Air is in a sweet spot at the moment that Apple doesn’t want to disrupt.

As a completely outlandish prediction, I predict that Apple will also release a standalone external USB Blu-ray drive for MacBook Air users and legacy users who wouldn’t mind the accessory. Price point? I’m betting $299.

MacBook

Everyone’s favorite little portable recently saw an overhaul just a few months ago. For 2010, the MacBook specs will tend towards the current MacBook Pro offerings. Standard RAM will increase to 4GB (though this may remain the max for this model) and the portable will ship with either a 320GB or 500GB hard drive as standard.

Mac mini

The Mac mini will likely see modest processor increases (2.53GHz on the entry-level and 2.6GHz on the high-end) as well as 4GB RAM and 320GB hard drives standard. Build to order options will include 1TB drives and the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server will ship with two 1TB drives. I also predict that Blu-ray drives will be a build-to-order option as Apple is starting to recognize the importance of the Mac mini in the living room as a more robust alternative to the Apple TV.

iMac

The iMac saw a nice update in 2009 that shifted the aspect ratio of the displays from the Apple-familiar 16:10 to the more HD-familiar 16:9. As such, the entry-level iMac is capable of displaying 1080p video, if only there were a source to play it. Similar to the MacBook Pros, I also predict the iMacs will receive built-in Blu-ray drives on the high-end models, if not standard across the entire line. The iMacs will also see a shift towards the quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips reaching clockspeeds similar to the current Core 2 Duo iMacs (a little over 3GHz). A subsequent update later in the year could bring about even faster processors in the neighborhood of 3.2GHz to 3.5GHz. 8GB of RAM will become standard on these Macs with the ability to upgrade to 16GB if desired.

Mac Pro & Xserve

There is still life left in the Nehalem architecture as the Core i9 “Gulftown” processor will make its debut in these high-end Macs at some point next year. Manufactured on a highly efficient 32nm die, this six core processor will boost a clock speed of around 2.8GHz and outfit the Mac in both single and dual processor varieties. This essential “12-core” MacPro or Xserve will feature 8-10GB of RAM as standard and a maximum ceiling of 64GB of RAM. You don’t have to take my word for it though, just start saving pennies now.

The Elusive iTablet

And saving the best for last, we arrive at the iTablet. While many constantly peg Apple’s unreleased tablet as occupying the space between the iPod touch and the MacBook, I predict it is between the iPod touch and MacBook of 2010, not 2009. As such, I predict the iTablet to function like a Mac and run OS X. I predict the tablet to utilize an Intel Core 2 Duo processor around the 2GHz mark. Personally, I feel Apple will disappoint many if the device functions more like an iPhone (in terms of hardware specs, besting out the 3GS 600MHz processor with 256MB of RAM). While I wouldn’t expect the tablet to function as a workstation for heavy video rendering, Apple has shown a history of utilizing hardware that can pack a punch and really maximize the OS. I predict the tablet will feature between a 7” and 10” screen (personally I’m leaning towards the latter, despite rumor sites). The iTablet will also feature support for 802.11n for fast streaming of content like iTunes Extras across your local network, support for Screen Sharing for remotely administering other Macs and the ability to connect to an external display through a micro-DisplayPort connector. I also feel the iTablet will ship in two versions, differentiated by storage size (like every other Apple product ever) and feature a solid state drive like the iPhone and iPod touch. Though the iTablet may not feature a screen with high enough resolution for HD, I do believe it will support playback of HD video through an appropriate video out connector.

What’s Left?

Rumors of Intel and Apple co-developing LightPeak technology are becoming more commonplace and I predict we’ll see some announcement related to this in 2010. This high-speed optical connection might be essential to products like the iTablet that would benefit from its singular connection for power, data transfer, and HD video output. Or perhaps the technology could become employed in MacBook Pros, allowing use of one LightPeak connection to an iMac that provides power to charge the laptop, video signal carried to the iMac’s display and audio carried to the iMac’s internal speakers.

The white elephant still remaining in the room is of course Apple’s Display lineup. With a 24” LED display and a 30” display that barely beats the resolution of Apple’s new 27” iMac, I predict Apple will definitely be refreshing its display lineup. In particular, I expect the price of the 24” LED Cinema Display to drop to $699 and a new 27” LED Cinema Display, matching the same resolution as the iMac (remember, it’s 16:9, not 16:10) to arrive at $1299. I also predict Apple will introduce a new, high-end 32” LED display at $1799, the price point of the current 30” display.

All of these predictions are merely speculation, based on Apple’s history, rumor sites and published roadmaps from companies that Apple sources components from. While this article solely represents my opinion of what could be around the corner in 2010, I’d love to hear what you think or would like to see. Share a comment or two with your thoughts!

  1. Wow MacBook Pro starting at 500GB hard drive and 8GB RAM? That would be awesome. I really hope they do this with the MacBook pros and hopefully they’ll do it in early 2009. They should, because they skipped the late 2009 MacBook pros, and they update them about every 8 months. The last update was mid 2009.

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  2. [...] Mac Lineup [...]

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  3. The MacBook Pro was the second Intel Mac, with the iMac being the first. I remember, mostly because I ordered a MacBook Pro right after they were announced at MacWorld 06. They did a silent spec bump before they shipped, and finally got them out to customers that March. By then, the iMacs had already been in peoples hands, along with new Mac Minis, and people had hacked Windows support in, prior to the official Bootcamp release.

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    1. You’re right in terms of shipping date. When I was writing this piece, I was thinking in terms of announcement at MacWorld 2006, when both the iMac and MacBook Pro were announced together. If I recall correctly, the Mac minis were announced in February and the MacBook Pros suffered a shipping delay, though it did result in the speed bumped processors as you mentioned. Great memory, Tom!

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  4. [...] TheAppleBlog also has Apple-related predictions for everything from the cloud, to 2010’s Mac lineup to what lies ahead for iLife, iWork and [...]

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  5. No way 8GB standard for MBP.
    No way starting at 500GB HD.

    More likely starting with 4GB and 250GB. Cheaper and faster SSD as option.

    MBAir is likely to become lighter and thinner due to fierce competition in this category.

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    1. Thanks for your comments!

      Regarding your thoughts on 8GB standard on the MacBook Pros, perhaps and perhaps not… but a few years ago, Apple used to charge a hefty premium for additional RAM. With the lack of substantially faster processors, Apple has been sacrificing profit on RAM in other to make the machines more marketable and competitive. (That and they seem to have such a huge hand on the memory market nowadays anyway….). That being said, there really has been a trend of the standard amount of RAM doubling every year. The current $999 MacBook starts with a 250GB hard drive now. Why would the next revision MacBook Pro start with anything smaller than a 500GB? :-)

      I’d like to see the MacBook Air become thinner and lighter, but the line as a whole really hasn’t seen huge performance increases while it’s been around for almost two years. Sorta looks like Apple has painted themselves into a corner.

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    2. I have a question for you Mr. Ryan. I’m planning to buy a macbook pro, my first, but I haven’t done it because I want it with blu ray and I think it would be silly to desperately buy one now if a new version with blu ray it’s going to get release next year as you said. What I want to know is, when will it be release? I read apple is not going to be at macworld in february, so where and when are they going to announce their new products? Thanks a lot for the help, I really want to know cause I’m eager to get it and I’m a complete newbie. Thanks also for the great article!

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  6. lastoffthefield Monday, December 7, 2009

    Any idea on when these updates will happen ?
    Also what will all these upgrades do to the price?

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    1. january 26th

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  7. Where is the iPhone 4?

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  8. well i really hope you are wrong about the iTablet. last thing i want is another full blown computer OS and its complex applications to maintain. pain in the butt! what i need is a much larger Touch with its ultra simple OS and apps on a “big” (10.5″? – 3x the iPhone dimension, 9x the screen area) screen.

    and none of the three “prediction” pieces discussed iPhone apps. what about an iWork app suite? be great for an iTablet and MobileMe. ditto iMovie which a more powerful iTablet processor could support.

    this would also differentiate an iTablet from both netbooks – it would be much simpler – and other media tablets – it could do so much more (100,000 apps). Apple loves to focus on unique niches, so that’s my prediction.

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    1. Wow I couldn’t disagree more. If the tablet doesn’t run OSX, but some larger iPhone OS, I’m not interested. Yeah a giant iPod Touch = Lame. Unless there is some killer app that makes me realize I can’t live without this product.

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    2. Wow, you nailed it.

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  9. Any idea of a new aperture 3.0 software soon? I own the first generation of aperture and with the latest snow leopard upgrade it stoped working.
    Nice predictions & blog.
    Thanks

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  10. If Apple were really going to add BD drives to their computers, they would’ve done it with the most recent iMac revision. I gave up on that dream a long time ago.

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