Steve Jobs famously poo-poohed the idea of Apple adopting Blu-ray, describing the technology as a "bag of hurt." But with hot rumors of an imminent iMac redesign, the Blu-ray drive issue is again in the spotlight. Is Apple about to give in?
The latest rumors spring from a number of sources, but they're all pointing to one thing: An iMac redesign is on the way, and the machines are already rolling off the production line. In one sense it's terribly early--Apple only uprated the iMac's specs six months ago. But the aluminum-chassis hasn't been adjusted for around a year and a half. The new rumors say it'll remain an aluminum-based design, just as the MacBooks are, but in a significantly thinner casing that borrows design cues from Apple's Cinema Displays.
But exactly what might Apple have in mind for its classic desktop machine? The hottest, if vaguest, rumors are that Apple will be including at least two new tech items.
The technology has matured since Blu ray arrived, meaning the price of the hardware has dropped somewhat. Blu-ray also won the high-definition disc format war against HD-DVD, and sales of BD movies have been slowly picking up. Both of these factors may tempt Apple into including BD support, at least in terms of playback on desktop machines. The leap in sales of the newly redesigned PS3 may also be a contributory factor--it means there will be a lot more consumers buying Blu-ray discs, which makes the market less risky for Apple.
But why would Apple take the plunge? It's hard to say. The company's slowly positioning iTunes as a vehicle for movie and TV-show downloading, and offers some content in HD format already. Including the drives inside iMacs will also definitely impact the cost structure of the machines, making the hardware more expensive than the DVD and CD-based superdrives Apple currently uses. That means either the cost to the consumer would have to bump up (not sensible in the poor economic climate, especially after Microsoft's series of ads lampooning Apple's high prices) or Apple would have to take a hit on the profit margin of each machine.
Intel Core i7 CPUs?
At the Intel Developer Forum this week, Intel revealed  its new suite of Core i7 quad-core processors, previously codenamed Clarksfield. The chips are 45nm units, based on Intel's Nehalem microarchitecture and they're designed to run at 1.6GHz and 1.73GHz--"Extreme" editions were also shown, running at 2.0GHz and 3.2GHz. Intel even tagged this press release with "Fastest Laptop Chips Ever."
It's definitely possible that Apple's planning on using these chips inside revamped iMacs. The two companies have worked together behind the scenes in the past to include new chips in Macs before they become available to the rest of the world, and if rumors that the new iMacs are already under production are true, it looks like the same thing's happened again.
The quad-core architecture also works nicely with the Grand Central  code now included in OSX Snow Leopard, specifically designed to make the entire OS multi-core aware, which should result in significant performance improvements
Super-sized iMac instead of a TV?
This rumor is right on the edge of the plausible, but it ties together some thinking about how the iMac line could evolve, how the rumored redesign has a much thinner chassis, and fervent analyst claims  that Apple wants to make a TV.
What if Apple added a 30-inch or 37-inch iMac to its 20-inch and 24-inch line ups? The 30-inch unit would be able to use screen tech from the existing Cinema Display, and a 37-inch unit would compete directly with a popular size of HDTV. With the rumored thinner chassis, both could ditch the now-classic iMac bent metal stand, instead incorporating the standard Vesa wall-mounting technology the LCD and plasma HDTVs use.
If you think about it, this would place the Mac at the center of a consumer's entertainment system--with iTunes delivering music and video, and DVD drive (or perhaps even that rumored Blu-ray unit) catering for pre-owned movie material. It also obviates the need for Apple to introduce a new product: televisions. We're also increasingly used to seeing widget and web-enabled HDTVs, which are essentially small dumb computer units built into TVs. A TV iMac totally sidesteps that issue and makes a computer into a TV. Apple's media-control software, Front Row, has not been updated for some time, and it's certainly possible that during the Snow Leopard revamp some attention was given to that software.
It's a remote possibility, for sure--but a highly attractive one.