A New Leaf for Apple?

Rothenberg: What does the Mac maker have in store through the rest of 2003? Its moves could radically change the company.

What will Apple Computer Inc. look like by the end of 2003?

The picture should come a lot clearer in the next couple of months, as Apple moves simultaneously on several fronts that encompass its home turf as well as new swaths of territory.

Addressing the former first, Apples grand unified plan for the next Mac chapter seems to be progressing apace. As I wrote back in October, mid-2003 will mark the next major crossroads for the Mac as a software and hardware platform. I believe that crucial moment will arrive slightly earlier than I predicted, at Junes Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Apple said it was pushing this traditional gathering of Mac developers back five weeks to give it extra time to prepare a beta version of Panther, the first major rev to Mac OS X since the Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" release, which shipped in August 2002. Like many other observers, I believe that Apple will also use WWDC—and the launch of the 64 bit-complete Panther—as the official coming-out party for new Macs based on IBMs 64-bit PowerPC 970.

Behind the scenes, Im told, Apple is discussing how Panther will present new challenges to Windows XP in terms of interface features and (potentially) performance. At the same time, some hardware wonks at Apple have been privately predicting that new boxes shown at WWDC will close chronic performance gaps compared with Wintel boxes.

Ill miss the bells and whistles of a Steve Jobs keynote at The Trade Show Formerly Known As Macworld Expo/New York, but for 2003, WWDCs opening day is clearly the premier event of Apples summer season—and a turning point for the Mac platform.

The coming months should also mark new inroads for Apple as a multimedia developer and a promoter of pervasive media devices.

At this months National Association of Broadcasters gathering in Las Vegas, the company showed fruits of its recent buying spree, in which it picked up a formidable list of third-party multimedia developers and technologies. The new video wares due this summer include Final Cut Pro 4, DVD Studio Pro 2 and Shake 3; on the audio front, sources also predict an upgrade to Logic. These professional packages should underscore Apples commitment to ensure Mac OS Xs grip on multimedia authoring, and judging from past precedent, innovations launched here should find their way into the iLife suite of consumer media utilities that Apple refreshed at Januarys Macworld Expo/San Francisco.