Gazing into the WWDC crystal ball: Updated iMacs, MacBook Pros, what else?

If Apple revamps its Mac family of computers at its Worldwide Developers Conference next week, here's what we expect to see.

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Apple

During the upcoming WWDC conference in San Francisco, Apple is expected to announce updates to its Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. This may include the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, Mac Pro desktop, iMac all-in-one, and perhaps even the Mac Mini small form factor desktop.

Rumors , leaks, alleged lists of part numbers, and blurry photos of spec stickers have all surfaced in the past weeks. Some of these sources seem more reliable than others, and Apple prognosticators are wrong at least as often as they are right. The leaked part numbers and spec sheets found here and here are a reasonable starting point, if you choose the believe them.

We've sorted the most prevalent items into three distinct schools of thought: those that are a virtual certainty; items that certainly seem plausible; and rumors that are recurring, but most likely are more wish fulfillment than reality.

All but certain

  • Continuation of existing features, including Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt has not really caught on, outside of a handful of compatible accessories, but there's no reason to think the underutilized high-speed data connection, which doubles as a DisplayPort video output, is going away.
  • Intel Ivy Bridge processors. The timing is perfect for adding dual-core and quad-core versions of Intel's third-generation Core i-series CPUs.
  • USB 3.0 ports. Support for this faster connection is baked into Ivy Bridge, so it's likely to replace the older USB 2.0 ports.

Semi-plausible

  • OS X Mountain Lion onboard/ready. Apple has said "late summer 2012" for its release of Mountain Lion, but adding an operating system refresh to a new Mac lineup certainly wouldn't hurt sales momentum.
  • Retina or higher-resolution displays on MacBooks and iMacs. Supposedly leaked specs for the 15-inch MacBook Pro listed a new 2,560x1,600-pixel screen. The 27-inch iMac is probably crisp enough already at 2,560x1,440 pixels, but the 21.5-inch model, currently a 1,920x1,080-pixel display, could certainly stand a resolution bump.
  • No more 64GB SSD on the 11-inch MacBook Air. A year and a half ago, having 64GB of storage, even on an 11-inch laptop, seemed impractical, especially because you were left with closer to 50GB of actual usable space even on day one. With 128SSDs in laptops starting at $799, there's little justification for keeping the 64GB option.

Wishful thinking

  • A more radical product redesign. The look and feel of most Apple computers has been the same for a couple of generations. With Windows ultrabooks and all-in-ones catching up design-wise, it may be time for a new ground-up revamp.
  • A 15-inch MacBook Air, or a unified laptop line. A thin 15-inch would be welcomed by many laptop shoppers, but that would further narrow the line between the Air and Pro lines. Could both give way to one unified series of ultrathin laptops?
  • Touch screens on laptops or iMacs. Probably won't happen, as CEO Tim Cook may think this violates his views on convergence (of which he recently said: "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.")
  • Blu-ray and/or HDMI. DisplayPort is great, but your TV probably doesn't have a DisplayPort input. As for Blu-ray, it would be nice, but remains firmly planted in the wishful thinking category.
  • Ethernet on Airs. We're seeing more and more MacBook Airs in the workplace (it's now one of the systems issued by our own IT department). But most of those spend at least part of the time tethered to hardlines by an unsightly Ethernet dongle. Several ultrabooks have managed to work in a Cat 5 jack, so it's not out of the question.

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