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10/19/2010
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Apple 'Back to the Mac' Predictions

Look for a new model MacBook Air, along with a preview of the next version of Mac OS X.

Apple on Wednesday is holding an event for the media at which it's widely expected to announce a new MacBook Air and to outline its next revision of Mac OS X, code named "Lion," if the media invitation depicting a lion can be taken as a hint.

The MacBook Air was last refreshed in June, 2009, making it ripe for replacement. Two new models are rumored, at 13.3 inches and 11.6 inches. A single unit, however, seems more plausible, unless Apple intends to replace its entire MacBook line with MacBook Air units. That's not likely until solid state memory becomes more affordable than hard disk storage.

The MacBook Air could be offered with only SSD storage, as a prelude to a broader move to solid state storage across Apple's product line. Apple has a tradition of changing standard computing configurations before the rest of the industry, as it did when it got rid of the floppy disk drive. Maybe Wednesday will be the day that the hard disk drive gets put on notice, at least for mobile and portable computers.

One reason Apple might want to push SSD storage is that SSD computers start up quickly, a feature that will be heavily advertised in the forthcoming crop of Google Chrome OS netbooks. Apple could position the MacBook Air as a computer that does everything that a Chrome netbook does, while also providing a traditional operating system.

Some observers believe that Apple will introduce iLife '11 and iWork '11 at its event. This is based on the fact that Amazon in early September advertised the iLife '11 Family Pack for $99, saying it would ship in two to four weeks.

A number of Apple watchers believe that Apple will announce some form of iOS-Mac OS X convergence. This could involve a way to run iOS apps in a Mac OS X wrapper or the eventual convergence of the two operating systems when Mac OS X 10.7 actually ships, probably next summer.

The former possibility makes more sense than the latter one. iOS is restricted because iOS devices face battery and usage challenges that portable and desktop computers plugged into wall sockets don't have to deal with. So it seems reasonable that Apple would maintain two separate but related operating systems to accommodate both mobile and fixed computer usage, at least through next year.

XCode 4, the next iteration of Apple's IDE for developers, is likely to get some air time at Apple's event. We may even see developers granted access to Apple TV, though that would be more likely at an iOS event.

There's also speculation about a MobileMe upgrade. Apple has an interest in expanding its cloud services and has been building a large data center for that purpose. Certainly Apple users would welcome a unified cloud file storage mechanism to facilitate file sharing across devices.

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