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.

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