RealTime IT News

Will 'Leopard' Be Apple's Only Leap?

Apple's big five-day Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off Monday with CEO Steve Jobs playing to his favorite audience, several thousand Mac faithful.

The only thing Apple  has and will officially confirm ahead of the conference in terms of news is that Jobs will preview "Leopard," the next version of Macintosh operating system. Leopard is expected to be available by then end of this year or early in 2007.

In keeping with its penchant for keeping product details under wraps, Apple isn't saying much about the features in Leopard beyond plans to integrate its "Bootcamp" software, currently in beta, into Leopard.

Bootcamp lets users run Windows on Intel-based Macs, albeit in a less than convenient fashion. With Bootcamp, you can run either Windows or the MacOS; to switch operating systems, you have to reboot the system.

An independent company called Parallels has software that lets users run both operating systems at the same time. There has been speculation Apple might develop Bootcamp further to operate in the same seamless manner as Parallels, but analyst Tim Bajarin doesn't think that's likely.

"I don't think Apple wants to promote Windows," Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told internetnews.com. "Bootcamp is a clean way to offer Windows without endorsing it because you still have to buy Windows separately and start it separately from the Mac OS. But it's good for Apple to be able to say to parents, where kids love the Mac, you can still do work in Windows on it as well."

Meanwhile, the Mac rumor mill is in full gear with talk Jobs might unveil what's being called an iPhone (its first phone, with integrated iTunes), new Intel-based desktops and portables.

The timing seems good for Jobs to show new hardware, and perhaps another iPod. Apple has previewed new hardware at past developer's conferences and there is no more summer Macworld Expo.

The Cupertino, CA company has also pledged to move all its systems over to the Intel architecture by the end of the year and still has a ways to go. And it's a good time to get new products in the pipeline with the back-to-school buying season about to kick into high gear.

The Apple rumor site <"http://www.thinksecret.com">Think Secret said Jobs is likely to unveil a new iPod Nano with more storage (6 to 8 GB at the high end) than the current Nano, more color options and a metal alloy enclosure. The latter feature would address earlier complaints that the Nano's screen is prone to scratch easily.

Another hot rumor is that Jobs will announce a deal with major studios to offer movie rentals at the iTunes music store. Think Secret said if the announcement is made, it will represent a victory of sorts for the studios over Jobs preference for letting users own the movies much as they can now buy music at the iTunes store. The movie rental system will likely include technology that either limits the number of playbacks or the period of time the movies can viewed.

Analysts agree the phenomenal success of the iPod has been driving the company's success, so much so that it's helped bring in more customers for its computers. Still, Apple hasn't budged much beyond its tiny share of the market for x86 computers worldwide (2.5 percent for the most recent quarter, according to IDC). The research firm says Apple now is the fourth biggest seller of x86 computers in the U.S., with a 4.8 percent share, behind Dell, HP and Gateway and ahead of Lenovo.

The good news? "Apple's been growing faster than the rest of the market which has been slowing down the past two years," IDC analyst Richard Shim told internetnews.com. "The key drivers of growth in the market mesh perfectly with what Apple's been doing."

Shim said there's been greater consumer interest in new PCs and Apple's focus is almost totally consumer with the exception of education and some professional markets like graphics and video. "Mobility is another big trend and Apple has some good products there, though they do tend to be more expensive than the competition," he said.

Jobs keynote will be the only part of the conference open to the media and analysts. The rest of the conference is for developers who are bound to sign a non-disclosure-agreement NDA before attending. It's all in keeping with Apple's propensity to keep much of its development work under wraps.

"A lot of the other developer conferences are more about marketing," said Anuj Nayar, an Apple manager for OS X & developer relations. "We really open the kimono and let developers meet with Apple engineers and get deep into the technology."

And keep it to themselves.