Apple R&D’s Crown Jewels Exposed

On November 1, 1999, in Features, by Abraham Amchin

Apple R&D’s Crown Jewels Exposed

Over the past year or so Apple has introduced exciting new technologies that have left many Apple-bashers scrambling to find something to criticize. The new expandable iMacs, the wireless iBook, the fast and light PowerBooks, and the amazing new G4-based systems are almost too good to be true. These, however, are products that have been in Apple’s secret pipeline for some time. As always, a Mac media feeding frenzy preceded the release of each new technology, with Apple’s legal department trying hard to protect its corporate secrets.

A case in point was the theft and publication of photos and concept drawings of the ‘Kihei’ iMac. I suppose ‘theft’ is a loaded term that may offend some of the principals, but you are as much of a thief if you accept stolen property as if you stole it yourself. The websites AppleInsider.com and the German site, Macnews.com were first to publish the pictures, but were not the only ones. Macweek.com chose to display a screen shot of the MacNews web page, as if that made a difference. The problem with this type of over-aggressive reporting is that it may have forced Apple to announce the machine before it had cleared old inventory and appropriately stock-piled the new hardware. This may have had an impact on the Apple’s stock price as we saw it plummet by as much as $20 from its 52 week high.

Having said all this and taken this holier than thou stance, those of us who regard ourselves as journalists still have a responsibility to report the news as it comes our way. Clearly, if My Mac had received copies of the ‘Kihei’ photos, we would have been faced with a real moral dilemma. Did the NY Times hesitate before it ran “The Pentagon Papers?” Did ABC hesitate before it ran the story about Monica Lewinski’s blue dress? To display these photos or not? Quandaries of this kind are probably why Ben Bradlee has gray hair.

It is with considerable trepidation and some moral misgivings that I divulge a report that exposes the ‘crown jewels’ of future Apple development. Though it may hurt the company in the short term, I believe the public has a right to know. The information was compiled from a source within the highly secret Apple New Products Lab deep within the R&D bunker in Cupertino. In assessing the value of this data, I weighed the credibility of the source along with the reliability of the information. Though some of these developments are months or even years off, I believe the report to be factual at this point in time.

For her own protection, I won’t comment on the source of the leaks except to say that she is highly placed, and all of the information ‘Monica’ has provided to date has been confirmed by secondary and tertiary sources. I should note that though the subject was ‘convinced’ to cooperate, she did so voluntarily and was under no duress.

The Eye of the Beholder

Though great strides have been made in developing smaller and faster computers, one of the constraining limits has been the size of the video display. Clearly, the video display has to be both readable and convenient. Hand-held computers as well as portable phones have run into this display dilemma. It makes no sense to be able to surf the net on your portable if you can’t read a page. Attempts to design mini-web pages specially tailored to the portable electronic market are doomed to fail because they must sacrifice valuable content. In addition, it’s virtually impossible to pepper these mini-pages with adverts, thus removing the provider’s incentive to publish for this market.

The Apple Heads-up Ocular Display Unit is designed to resolve this dilemma. Combining technologies from molecular biology and digital photography, military breakthroughs in ‘heads-up’ jet fighter displays, and its own wireless communications research, Apple has designed a prototype Ocular Display Unit (ODU) that seamlessly bonds to a soft or hard contact lens and provides a focus-driven foreground display. While in an ‘inactive’ state, the ODU displays a semi-transparent menu in the top right field of vision. Focusing on any menu item and blinking triggers that item and summons an ocular keyboard at the bottom of the field. Command/blinks increase the display resolution and Shift/Command/Blink instantaneously brings the display into full focus.

Preliminary tests indicate that the ODU is quite comfortable to install and use, and outside observers find it difficult to determine when a subject’s ODU is engaged. The ODU System Extension along with special storage case will be available as part of the Apple ODU Accessory Kit and should retail for around $40. Microsoft is allegedly working on a Special ODU Edition of Word that could be available as early as MacWorld, San Francisco.

Night Airport

Night AirPort refers to a revolutionary new technology from Apple that lets remote workstations maintain communication with hubs even when the remotes are turned off. This could result in significant cost savings for downloading information and files from the Internet, and for conducting off peak network and workstation maintenance. Night AirPort is made up of two separate, though interrelated technologies:

Runway Lights consists of a sweeping radio signal from the Night AirPort hub that is picked up by remote systems and redirects and refocuses their signal. This results in a remarkable reduction in power expenditure by the remotes and allows remote stations to maintain contact even without a steady AC source.

Baggage Handling is a new technology that delivers a packet of information even after it is initially ‘lost’ due to network collisions or loss of contact with a hub. Broadcasts from remote stations include unique traveler identification. Packets of information are tagged with both destination codes and the prospective traveler ‘ID,’ and if the base station is busy or off-line, these packets are sent to an adjacent, overnight remote and then delivered when the base is finally available.

Skew Processing

Another technical breakthrough from the company that thrives on innovations, Apple developed skew processing as an alternative to traditional parallel processing. The new Apple flexible processor orientation (FPO) allows multi-planing processors that can be arranged outside the plane of the motherboard. Vertically arranged processors (VAP) provide significant speed advantages as electrical charges seek the motherboard ground. Apple is the first major company to offer skew processing, and though the technology is in its infancy, the PC industry is expected to follow suit. In a move to marginalize this new technology, Dell recently sent an advisory to its user group suggesting that the standard Dell desktop could be vertically arranged to maximize the effects of gravity on processor performance. Apple’s legal department is currently weighing a decision on whether to seek an injunction against Dell and Dell computer users to prevent reorientation of their computers. Apple argues that Dell’s advisory was based entirely on copyrighted Apple trade secrets and therefore Dell should cease and desist. It is expected that if Apple prevails in court, Dell will be ordered to physically check the orientation of each user’s system to ensure that Apple’s trade secrets are observed.

FireWater

Strange things happen in the bathtub. While lolling in his bubble bath, Archimedes discovered the principal of bouyancy and allegedly ran nude down the streets of Siracusa yelling “Eureka!, Eureka!” Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was in his Jacuzzi, playing with his small baking soda powered submersible, when he was hit by a more modern brainstorm. Water molecules are fairly dense and thus uncompressible, which means that in a confined space (a tube) a push on one molecule will result in a pop at the end of the chain. A data bus made up of stacked water molecules would have several distinct advantages over a traditional data bus. First data could be cooled, easing heat sink requirements, and second, water is still relatively cheap. ‘FireWater’ architecture will first be used to speed Mac data bus performance while the R&D lab continues working on a FireWater processor.

Though FireWater technology is still in its infancy, the experts suggest it could revolutionize data transfer. A tiny hose—thinner than the thinnest fiber optic cable—could be used to connect two systems and almost instantaneously transfer information. A prototype data pump has already been built and the company is rumored to be shooting for a commercial version in the $400 range.

Initially, FireWater will be colored an iridescent teal blue and the iMac data bus will be viewable through the semi-transparent case. Eventually, Apple will offer the full range of iMac colors with the possible exception of Tangerine, which the marketing folks suggest may offend some users. To ensure data integrity in the event of a bus leak, the new iMac cases will sport a FireWater Straw Port (FSP) with a seamless lid. The user can pop the lid by inserting a simple paperclip.

FireWater cartridges will be available from Apple and 3rd party companies and these cartridges can be ‘front loaded’ with software and/or commercial databases. Connecting a cartridge to the FSP will require both an Apple Data Pump and the FireWater Accessory Kit (approximately $40 from the Apple Store). SCSI to FireWater, USB to FireWater, and FireWire to FireWater interfaces are supposedly under development.

FireWater Technology (FT) will undoubtedly revolutionize the industry, but its application in personal computers is just the beginning. Apple Fellow, Thom Tylde, suggests that FT could also be used to send information directly to organic organisms (OOs). For example, gardening data could be loaded from your computer and the lawn sprinkled with ‘smart’ water. Eventually, humans will also ‘drink information’ (DI). This form of information delivery could have a limited impact on our future educational systems. The phrase ‘school sucks’ could take on a whole new meaning.

Googleflops

The G5 processor featuring front, back, top, bottom, and side caches and a veracity engine for true binary adds will be the first googleflop processor released on a personal computer. Because of export control laws, the US Government is expected to ban shipment both domestically and internationally. Though government regulations may dent sales in the short and long term, Apple will make extraordinary gains in inventory management and marketing. As yet unconfirmed, one source suggests that MacWorld, San Francisco could be the target non-shipping date.

Chameleon Chassis

Apple, of course, was the first major computer company to release stylized, colorful computers, and though the original iMac was terrifically successful, anticipating demand for a particular colored system was problematic, at best. Some computer colors like Blueberry and Strawberry were always in demand while others like Tangerine were not so successful. Insisting that dealers take on inventory of all five colors caused significant logistics problems and more than a little bad karma.

R&D’s solution to the problem is ingenious. The new chameleon iMacs take on the hue of a provided color patch that the user places on the wall next to the computer. Changing the patch immediately alters the color of the computer chassis. The Chameleon iMac will provide the best of all possible colorful worlds.

The ‘Lualué’ iMac Concept Drawings

Front View

 

Rear View
 

Though a bit sparse on details, the above concept drawing of the ‘LuaLué’ iMac clearly shows Apple’s movement towards a more stylized design. Note the rounded edges and the subdued almost invisible controls. The major advantage to this startling design is accessibility, as the chassis and self-righting, built-in monitor can be rolled to another user and used in virtually any orientation. The rugged, rubberized chameleon shell means this system can take a lot of beating and will literally bounce back.

Flaccid Drive Technology (FDT)

Apple engineers finally have convinced the iCEO that, after all, it was his idea to develop the floppy drive and not Steve Wozniac’s and by completely revamping the Woz Disc Controller it would be possible to introduce a high density ‘flaccid’ drive capable of formatting and accessing disks in the 1.4 meg range. Jobs, allegedly, was impressed with the portability these small 3.5 inch disks provide and may demonstrate this new technology at MacWorld, San Francisco. The demonstration may include copying a file from one system’s hard drive to a flaccid, ejecting the flaccid, and inserting it into another system. Though we’re not sure how this demo might pan out, it’s thought that the marketing folks will ensure ample rehearsal time.

Disclaimer:

No portion of this column was written by Mick O’Neil, his brother Jeremiah, or any associates thereof. My Mac Magazine accepts no responsibility for the content of this article and warns the public that the information contained therein was assembled by persons unknown and possibly unloved. Any resemblance of the code named source ‘Monica’ to any other person living or dead is purely coincidental, and attempts to relate this moniker to ‘Deep Throat’ is simply scurrilous.

•Mick O’Neil•

 

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