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What Recession? Apple Retail Goes Full Speed Ahead

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Apple’s Retail division has no plans to scale back its ambitions, according to a report Thursday in USA Today, and in fact sees opportunity in the recent economic contraction.

“We’re investing in the downturn,” said Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice president of retail. Apple plans to remodel 100 of its existing stores this year, adding space for customer training and room for displaying more product. The company also plans to open 25 new stores, including a fourth location in New York City, and new ones in Paris, Italy and Germany.

Stores will soon display “twice the amount” of Mac computers and other products, according to Johnson, and Genius Bars will get 50% more room to serve up free tech support for Apple products.

Beginning June 2, Apple’s One to One product training program will limit sign-ups to purchasers of new Mac computers at Apple Stores or via the company’s website, although any of the half million current One to One subscribers will be able to renew their $99 one year subscriptions .

“We originally set up One to One to get people to switch to the Mac,” Johnson said. “Now we want to expand it to make it even more relevant to people who have bought their Mac.”

Still priced at $99, the annual subscription includes personal setup, transferring of files from an older computer (Windows or Mac) and help with projects.

Previously, sessions timed out at one hour; new policy will extend the limit to three hours, but sessions could also include up to three participants.

Even in the light of his division’s expansion plans, Johnson conceded the recession has affected in-store traffic. Apple reported a 3% decline in sales during the most recently reported quarter. Traffic remains strong, he said, but has cooled off since last summer, when long lines greeted the introduction of the second-generation iPhone.

With many expecting an update to the iPhone to be announced at next week’s WWDC in San Francisco, Apple stores could well see the return of long lines and a need for all that extra space.

[USAToday]

White MacBook Gets Minor Update: Faster CPU and RAM, More Battery

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Apple’s entry-level white MacBook received a hardware update on Wednesday, possibly foreshadowing revisions to the aluminum unibody MacBooks.

For the same $999 base price, the WhiteBook now gets:

* CPU bump from 2.0 GHz to 2.13 GHz.
* Hard drive from 120 GB to 160 GB.
* RAM boost from 667 MHz to 800 MHz.
*Battery life upped from 4.5 hours of “wireless productivity” to 5 hours. And now rated Energy Star EPEAT Gold, up from EPEAT Silver.

Thanks to the updates, the WhiteBook now has a faster processor than the entry-level aluminum MacBook, and a bigger build-to-order hard drive (500GB). And it still has a FireWire port. Updates to the unibody soon?

Apple is rumored to be offering similar upgrades to the aluminum MacBooks at WWDC, and rebranding the machines as MacBook Pros to further distinguish them from the white plastic MacBook.

White MacBook tech specs.

White MacBook at Apple’s online store.

New iPhone to Get a Snappy Performance Upgrade

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With WWDC09 now just weeks away, rumors and predictions regarding what Apple may reveal at the highly-anticipated, sold-out developers conference in San Francisco are sure to spread like a California wildfire.

Anyone interested in being on the right side of such talk would do well to consider the logic and analysis out Thursday from John Gruber, the well-placed author of the blog Daring Fireball, who isn’t prone to talking about things he doesn’t know a little something about.

Citing “information from informed sources,” Gruber believes the processor in the next-generation iPhone is going to be the kind of upgrade to make people crowd around and go, “ooooh!” He looks for Apple’s processing secret-sauce to better the speed of current iPhones by 1.5 times, similar to the bump in performance experienced when Mac users got hands on machines with the first batch of PowerPCs, or PC users moved from 486 to Pentium machines.

Follow after the jump for more of what Gruber expects and how likely his expectations are to be met.

Palm Pre To Launch 2 Days Before iPhone Announcement, Cost $200

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Palm’s long-awaited rival to the iPhone, the Pre, will go on sale on June 6, Palm said on Tuesday, and will cost $200 and up with a two-year contract, depending on the plan.

The Pre goes just two days before Apple’s WWDC keynote, where he company is expected to announce the third-generation iPhone.

The Pre looks like a genuine rival to the iPhone. The software looks very slick, powerful and easy to use, and the hardware includes a built-in keyboard, an important distinguishing feature.

But Palm already seems to be pulling consumer-unfriendly stunts with pricing. The $200 price tag is dependent on a $100 mail-in rebate, which is never popular. And the data plans appear to cost between $70 and $90 a month (it’s not clear on Sprint’s page which plan the Pre needs). Plus, Palm is charging an extra $70 for the innovative Touchstone charger, and $30 for a car charger.

Apple of course charges extra for an iPhone docking cradle, but Palm seems to be nickle-and-diming consumers already.

Exclusive: Steve Jobs Will Return, But Not For Long, Says Silicon Valley Psychic

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Like everyone else, I’m dying to know if Steve Jobs will be returning to work at the end of June.

Since I haven’t got a clue, and neither does anyone else, I figured I’d ask someone who might know. Not the usual blowhard pundits, but Barbara Courtney, a corporate psychic known as the “Seer of Silicon Valley.”

Personally, I’m very skeptical of psychic predictions, but Courtney has a long and storied history as Silicon Valley’s leading clairvoyant. Indeed, she’s the only person on record who correctly predicted Steve Jobs’ return to Apple back in 1997.

Speaking by phone from her home in Redwood City, Courtney said Jobs will return to Apple in June as promised — but he won’t stay long.

“My feeling is he will come back,” said Courtney. “I’m not seeing June as too soon.”

Jobs took six months medical leave in January saying his ongoing medical problems were “more complex” than suspected and he needed time off work to concentrate on his health. The company has promised several times that Jobs will return in late June as planned, but many are pessimistic.

On Tuesday, hopes were further dashed when Apple said the WWDC keynote in early June will be given by a team of executives led by head marketer Phil Schiller. The slot has traditionally been Jobs’, and many hoped (and are still hoping) he’d put in a surprise appearance.

Sneak Peek of OS X Snow Leopard Features

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YouTube user LeopardOctober has posted videos, screenshots and information about Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on YouTube since mid-March or so, and in the last few days has put up some interesting clips of a few things we can expect to see when the new OS debuts June 8 at WWDC.

The first video above shows that users will be able to set the default behavior of Spotlight so that performing a search can ‘search this Mac’, search the current folder or use the previous search scope.

In the video below, we see users can assign an application to a space or all spaces, quickly from within the Dock.

LeopardOctober has several additional clips on the YouTube channel with embedding disabled, so you’ll need to head over there to check ’em out.

The videos posted are from fairly late builds of the Beta (10A261 and 10A286), which has reportedly been ‘frozen’ at 10A354 for the final release software.

[Thanks Rafael!]

Rumor: New iPhones will be Bigger, Better, Faster, More

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With less than a month to go before the anticipated launch of iPhone 3.0 firmware and a widely expected upgrade to the hardware, widely reported claims by a poster on a Chinese Apple fan site suggest the next version of Apple’s revolutionary smartphone will sport a faster processor, more disk storage and a much improved camera, among other upgrades.

The next gen device will have a 600MHz processor (up from the current 400MHz unit), 256MB of RAM (up from the current 128MB), up to 32GB of storage, a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus, as well as a digital compass and FM radio, all while retaining the same battery, basic shape, and screen size, according to the poster, who claims to have a connection at Foxconn, Apple’s China-based OEM for the iPhone.

Could it be? If you’ve got your ticket to the sold-out WWDC ’09 coming up in San Francisco, you’ll likely be among the first to know.

[The iPhone Blog]

Rumor – Media Pad Could be Apple’s Newest Device Hit

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About a week ago, MacFormat posted a partial image of a mysterious Apple device “without comment”, saying it had been submitted anonymously by email.

It was just a tease, though, as MacFormat Illustrator Adam Benton had submitted via email his case for what you see here, a full-fledged Apple Media Pad, Cupertino’s answer to the world of netbooks.

In Benton’s conception, “Your entire Home folder – all docs, photos, movies and music – would live ‘in the cloud’ on Apple’s servers. Regularly used files would be cached locally, but the system would enable you to keep files in sync between the tablet and your desktop Macs, whilst getting away with a smaller SSD.”

Benton’s idea calls for a that dock would support USB and FireWire, plus Mini DisplayPort, and Bluetooth to be used for peripherals like headsets and keyboards. The OS would be the iPhone and iPod touch OS, scaled up to support the larger display, with integrated 3G connectivity – proper 7.2Mb/sec HSUPA – to keep users connected to Apple’s servers at all times.

See more details at MacFormat and start checking that secondary market for WWDC keynote tickets.

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Thank Heavens This Isn’t the iPhone Nano

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Though we’re still about two months from the WWDC keynote and new iPhone hardware, that hasn’t stopped the most audacious maker of iPhone knock-offs, HiPhone, from creating a rip-off of the still unannounced iPhone nano. Yes, meet the HiPhone nano. On the outside, it looks like an ancient iPod mini, if only Apple had no taste in colors. And then it flips open and has both a touchscreen and a keypad — an ungainly keypad with tiny buttons, at that.

I don’t know what the iPhone nano will look like, when and if it ever arrives. I don know that Apple would never in a million years ship anything like this. Thank goodness.

Ubergizmo via Digg

Wall Street Analyst Expects Apple to Continue Stock Leadership

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There are a number of excellent reasons to be bullish on Apple (AAPL) stock, according to Wall Street analyst Shaw Wu. Despite already having risen 45% on the year, Wu believes Apple could bake another 25% or more of profit into its share price, based on expectations around what the Kaufman Bros. high-tech analyst calls “several catalysts in the months ahead.”

“We anticipate [Apple’s] new iPhone 3.0 software to ship” in time for the 2009 WWDC in June, Wu said in a report released Monday. He’s also expecting consumer interest in Apple to remain strong with the introduction of new iPhone hardware, also in time for WWDC.

The expected launch of Snow Leopard should be a further catalyst for the Mac business, which has already seen a boost from recent desktop refreshes (iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro). “And last,” Wu said, “the potential for a new form factor, perhaps Apple’s answer to the netbook, with a large screen iPod touch-Mac hybrid” could end up pushing AAPL from its current $119 price to something more like $152.

Less than a month ago, on March 24, Wu removed Apple from his “Focus List” citing the appreciating stock (then up only 19%) and the fact that “many of the product catalysts we were looking for, namely the new iMac, have occurred.” But that was at a point just after the overall stock market had been tanking since January; in the last several weeks the market’s been on a tear and some in the financial analysis business believe the worst of the “recession” is behind us.

For a little more perspective on the inscrutable science of stock price analysis, recall that less than a year ago, when Apple was opening its AppStore and releasing the iPhone 3G, Wu and many other AAPL analysts expected the company’s stock to go as high as $225. AAPL had already topped out just over $200 prior to the AppStore launch and nose-dived to well below $100 by January of this year.