MacBook Pro: What Future Features Might Mean for OS X

Apple is expected to introduce its all-new super-powered MacBook Pro tomorrow and its iPad on March 2 (invite below), and leaked information as to its new features raises yet more interesting ideas for what we can hope to see inside Mac OS X Lion when it ships later this year.

The usual websites are hitting us with the usual grainy images purporting to showcase elements of these new Macs, presumably as whoever does the leaking uses the Mac press to prep the mill in order to maximize publicity once the products actually appear.

What's known today?

Among other things the new professional Macs will offer larger trackpads and support for Intel's LightPeak technology, (which provides data transfer speeds of 10Gb per second) christened in typical Apple fashion as "Thunderbolt" and placed where the DisplayPort option used to be.

German Apple site fscklog.com claims the following features:

  • 2.3GHz Dual-core Intel i5 processor with 3MB L3 cache (As expected, Apple is crossing the Sandy Bridge).
  • 4GB DDR SDRAM at 1,333MHz
  • 320GB, 5,400rpm drive
  • 13.3-inch, 1,280-x-800 screen
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor with its own 384MB of DDR memory
  • A SuperDrive (so optical isn't dead yet)
  • Thunderbolt, MiniDisplay port, Firewire 800, USB 2.0, optical digital audio out, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

A report yesterday let us know that the new Macs will ship with 16GB SSD drives on all models to store the OS. While this claim hasn't been confirmed in the later leaks from the usually accurate French sites, it is food for thought.

What's interesting here, other than the not entirely unexpected introduction of support for LightPeak, is the move to embrace SSD so avidly. That's where speculation as to the future of the OS comes in.

Lion is slim, trim and dangerous to know

What the move teaches us is that Apple is now working to ensure the core Mac OS is capable of running comfortably when held on a 16GB drive.

What this means is that Apple continues to implement technologies to reduce the code required to manage the Mac, borrowing presumably from code miniaturization projects within the iOS team.

The move to sequester the OS onto a separate SSD drive will also make for instant start up of your Macs, which is nice. Of course, it also hints at huge improvements in security, as the OS is kept in a different place from the data.

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That last point is also important because it means, in theory, that you'll be able to launch any Mac without necessarily being able to access another user's data. That's both good security and opens up yet another possibility.

Apple's presumed plans for a cloud-based OS architecture have been alleged to include improvements to MobileMe. These improvements may include the ability to store a user's Home folder in the cloud.

Now imagine that when you launch a Mac you are presented with the choice to log into any one of all the user identities held on the hardware of the Mac itself, along with a new MobileMe option allowing you to log into your own remote account.

How this could work:

  • On launching a Mac, you might be able to log in to your own Home account.
  • The system would launch quite happily, while the contents of the Mac you are actually using would remain inaccessible and untouched
  • As a user you'd be presented with a simulacrum of the Mac desktop on your own machine, just as you left it the very last time you synched with MobileMe.
  • Work on your own projects without affecting data on the Mac
  • The best bit? Your work syncs with your own machines. Even better: you can access your Mac from any supporting device.

This is the speculation that came to mind on those claims of the looming Apple division between the church of the OS and the user's own data estate. It isn't so far-fetched, either -- PatentlyApple has confirmed Apple has a plan for a cloud-based iteration of its FileVault technology, which may be called SafetyDeposit.

Lion's going public

We shouldn't have to wait too long until we learn more about the new OS. Allegedly now in wide use inside Apple itself, the company is expected to begin wider alpha distribution of the in-development software in the coming weeks. This is likely to be confined to a selection of hand-picked developers, rather than any wider distribution, but it is inevitable we'll learn more about the future OS.

After all, Apple wants to tease the market with speculation about the release, in order to maximize adoption once the software launches in late summer.

Apple is eating the PC industry's lunch at the moment. HP's consumer PC revenues declined 12 percent in the most recent quarter. Dell's slipped 8 percent. Apple sold 23 percent more Macs and 7.3 million iPads. Windows sales climbed just 3 percent, mainly due to business PC sales. This is impacting the wider supply chain, probably raising Apple's influence across manufacturers.

With figures like these the industry must be hoping OS X Lion is an upgrade too far. Even as Apple modestly declares itself "king of the jungle'.

We'll learn more about the MacBooks tomorrow when Intel will "host a...press briefing to discuss a new technology that is about to appear on the market." Apple is expected to roll out its new MacBook Pro the same day.

Far from being delayed, in tablet news, iPad 2.0 is now expected to make an appearance (albeit in somewhat limited quantities, implying the now traditional US-first launch Apple loves so much) on March 2. Digitimes sources claim there were about "1-1.5 million units worth of iPad inventory in the channel in January and since Apple only ordered about 1.8-2 million iPads in January, it indicates that Apple is already set to phase out the first-generation iPad and let iPad 2 take its place."

What do you think? Let me know in comments below. I'd also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld. And feel free to send me tips at jonny@jonnyevans.com.

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