It's been a little longer than the "few more weeks" that I suspected in April, but Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) new line of MacBook Pros still look like they're en route. This time around, instead of questionable rumblings from the Far East supply chain (I'm looking at you, Digitimes), major outlets like Bloomberg and ABC News are chiming in.
The rumor mill is firming up as usual as we approach an Apple release, and the Mac maker's Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, kicks off in just under a month on June 11. Apple had long used WWDC as the stage for iPhone introductions, but that all changed last year when the iPhone 4S was unveiled in October.
What does Apple have in store for us this year at WWDC?
What to expect when you're expecting
New MacBook Pros. That's what, according to Bloomberg's "people with knowledge of the plans." Among the latest round of reports, some of the details are already widely expected, such as the inclusion of Intel's (Nasdaq: INTC ) latest batch of Ivy Bridge processors. Those chips were a lock to be featured in the newest models.
Source: Apple. Current MacBook Pro family.
There's been much speculation that the new MacBook Pros would take various design cues from the current MacBook Air, as Apple has called the thin notebooks the "next generation" of MacBooks on numerous occasions.
9to5Mac says the new lineup won't borrow the tapered wedge shape, but the laptops will be significantly thinner than the preceding ones, made possible by ditching the optical DVD drive and using flash storage. Apple is also supposedly set to include USB 3, in addition to the Thunderbolt ports that it adopted last year.
ABC News recently hired Joanna Stern away from popular tech site The Verge, and she's confirming what many of us already suspected: NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) has scored the graphics slot. The company's newest discrete GPUs based on its 28-nanometer Kepler architecture have overtaken the seat from Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) , after AMD enjoyed the spot for a few years.
On the most recent earnings conference call, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang called the new GPUs the "best [NVIDIA's] ever made" and that they boast unrivaled energy efficiency. With Apple's emphasis on energy efficiency, it makes sense to switch to NVIDIA.
The notion of Retina Displays on Macs has been gaining steam lately, and the recent reports similarly confirm that. The high-resolution displays have helped drive iPhone and iPad sales, despite the naysayers who brush it off as a minor feature. The displays on the new MacBook Pros are supposed to be "jaw-dropping."
One more thing
On the software front, there's a good chance that Apple will give us a timeframe on when to expect the next major upgrade for its desktop operating system OS X, which it previewed in February. Dubbed "Mountain Lion," it's slated for a summer release, but we may get more details next month.
While the iPhone intro had to wait last year, Apple did unveil the fifth iteration of its mobile operating system, iOS, at WWDC last year, and this year should see iOS 6 unveiled. There's a good chance that Apple will kick out Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Maps in favor of an in-house offering as the pair's rivalry has continued to escalate in recent years.
Apple has acquired three separate map companies: Placebase in 2009, Poly9 in 2010, and C3 Technologies in 2011. Yet it has little to show for it publicly. We may see a new integrated Apple Maps app next month. The Wall Street Journal also corroborates other reports that Apple is upgrading its iCloud service to include a social photo-sharing feature analogous to the popular Instagram service, which Facebook just acquired for a cool $1 billion.
We'll probably get more info on the next major upgrades of both OS X and iOS at WWDC.
Back to the Mac
Asia-Pacific is also Apple's highest growth geography by far in Mac unit sales, just as it is with iPhones.
Year-Over-Year Mac Unit Sales Growth (MRQ)
Source: Earnings press releases. MRQ = most recent quarter.
This year's MacBook Pros will probably be the most significant upgrade in years and as such should drive further Mac growth, even as the product family remains less important than Apple's mobile devices.
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