Hints that Apple will soon refresh its iMac desktop and MacBook Pro laptop lines accumulated today as several Mac-centric blogs revealed new details gleaned from the Web and unnamed sources.
Analysts who cover Apple agreed, saying that the new notebook models could appear at any time.
"I don't see them waiting for WWDC," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "As soon as they have enough supply built up, they'll release them."
Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, the firm's annual get-together for programmers, runs June 11-15, and has been touted as a possible platform for new Mac hardware announcements even though the company last did that in 2009.
Brian Marshall of the ISI Group echoed Gottheil. "They'll just quietly put them out there when they have them ready," Marshall said.
Today, several blogs that specialize in covering Apple's every move speculated about an upcoming refresh of the iMac and MacBook Pro.
MacRumors, for example, highlighted benchmark results at Primate Labs' Geekbench that showed new models being run through their paces. According to the Geekbench results -- which can be faked -- the as-yet-unreleased Macs sported new quad-core processors from Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture.
Ivy Bridge is Intel's third-generation design of its Core CPU family, and the first to use a 22-nanometer manufacturing process.
Quad-core Ivy Bridge processors are now available to computer makers and have already debuted in some Windows-powered PCs.
9to5Mac, on the other hand, citing unnamed sources in Apple's supply chain, claimed that new MacBook Pros would be thinner, come minus an optical drive and boast a Retina-style display.
The omission of an optical drive seems like a slam dunk, said Gottheil, noting that Apple's successful MacBook Air has long dispensed with the drives. And he was bullish about the chance that a refresh MacBook Pro would include at least some models with a sharper screen.
"There's really no way of knowing [display] yields, but the new iPad is available in more locales so they seem to be keeping up with demand," said Gottheil about availability of higher-resolution screens in Apple's supply channel. "And there's a benefit to a Retina screen.... It renders type wonderfully better."
Apple will want to differentiate its notebooks from the increasing supply of Windows "ultrabooks," the name given to Intel's campaign to push lighter, thinner laptops that can compete with Apple's MacBook Air. A Retina display would be one way Apple could separate its notebooks from competitors'.
Marshall was not as optimistic about higher-resolution screens making it to the MacBook Pro. "I'm not 100% sure that the [supply] channel can support that," said Marshall. "But it would be the next major transition for the MacBook Pro."
Neither analyst expected Apple to move its price points in a Mac system refresh; Apple typically keeps prices stable as it boosts performance with faster processors, more memory or larger-sized hard disk drives.
But both Gottheil and Marshall anticipate that Apple may feel the heat from the flood of new Windows laptops that mimic the MacBook Air, particularly after Microsoft launches Windows 8.
"Ultrabooks are the first innovation we've seen in PC laptops in the last four or five years," said Marshall. "If they can come in at a 30% discount of the MacBook Air [approximately $699] Apple will have to realize they need to take pricing down, perhaps by lowering the [entry-level] Air from $999 to $899. Apple has to stay somewhere in the price band."
Also bolstering the chatter about upcoming Mac refreshes are price cuts at some major resellers, including Best Buy and Amazon.
The former has cut MacBook Pro prices across the board by between $75 and $140 -- sometimes a sign that inventory is being cleared -- while the latter has marked down Apple's notebook line between $100 and $210.
Apple last revamped the MacBook Pro in October 2011, and the iMac in May of the same year.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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