Apple announced a handful of product upgrades and price cuts today, including: * Faster Xserves, now standard with 1 GB RAM and available with 2.3 GHz CPUs. * Lower prices on all of their LCD displays, including their monster 30” model. * Xsan, their long-delayed shared-disk filesystem (like GFS on Linux) is finally shipping.

Taken as a set, that’s a fairly impressive number of announcements from Apple. They didn’t make many changes to their computer lineup in the second half of 2004, which makes today’s announcements a bit more noteworthy. Especially when you consider that MWSF is happening next week, and Apple traditionally uses the keynote at MWSF to announce a pile of new products. Given that, today’s announcements suggest that Apple is going to be busy next week–if they were short of new things to talk about, then they’d have kept the Xserve announcements for a week and used them for keynote filler.

So, enquiring minds want to know, what is Apple going to announce next week? So far, the rumor mill has given us 4 items:

  • iLife 2005, including a new iMovie with HD abilities and upgrades to the rest of their $50 home media tool pack. iMovie is the oldest of their iTools, and has always been kind of flaky for me; hopefully this will be the big upgrade that its been needing.
  • iWork. No one’s completely sure what this will include, besides an upgrade to their Keynote presentation software, but most rumors feature a program named “Pages” or “Notes”; presumably a word processor. There are also rumors of some sort of Keynote-companion program, maybe a simple drawing/sketch program? This is supposed to replace Apple’s ancient AppleWorks package, which hasn’t been updated in years, but none of the rumors mention a spreadsheet, without which iWork won’t be very useful.
  • The “headless iMac.” Thinksecret swears up and down that Apple will finally be selling a cheap ($500-$600) computer without a monitor. It’s been years since Apple’s sold low-end computers without an integrated monitor. I’d love to see this; I’ll probably buy a couple of them if they show up without any bizarre problems. Conventional wisdom suggests that Apple’s going to spin this with a “you love our iPod, wait till you see our computers” angle, aiming to make it cheap enough for Windows users to add a Mac to their collection without needing a $2,000 commitment. The downside, of course, is that tons of Mac people will buy these instead of Apple’s much more profitable iMac and Power Mac systems.
  • Tiger. Apple announced the next generation of OS X last summer, but didn’t give us a shipping date other then a vague suggestion of 1H2005. I’ve heard rumors of late March the whole time; presumably Apple will actually give us a date next week. They’ll probably also show off a bunch of new features and abilities, including a better view of Spotlight and some new widgets for Dashboard. Personally, I think Dashboard might be the most important addition to Tiger, because it’s going to turn lightweight application development on its head–Dashboard widgets are really just web pages with Javascript attached, but Apple has added a handful of additional widgets and the ability to talk to more system services. Spotlight is cool, but Dashboard may just be cooler.

That looks like more then enough content for a 2-hour presentation. Odds are, there are a few fascinating little details missing, like a new feature for Tiger or a cool take on the iMac, or maybe the missing spreadsheet in iWork.

On the spreadsheet front–there’s no real reason to assume that Apple is building yet another Powerpoint/Word/Excel clone set. Frankly, given Apple’s usual history, it’s probably better to assume that they’re doing things a bit differently. The two names floating around–“Pages” and “Notes” suggest something more akin to a DTP program and a free-form organizational package then a real word processor. I’d really love to see something more innovative–none of the tools that I have today are really ideal for me, and Apple’s as good as anyone when it comes to finding unscratched itches in the market.