Catcher unibody plant may reopen as early as next week

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Date: Wednesday, October 26th, 2011, 06:08
Category: MacBook Pro, News

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Maybe the problems weren’t as bad as they said they were.

Per Reuters, Apple supplier Catcher Technology said Wednesday that its China plant that builds unibody MacBook cases will fully reopen at the end of October.

The new details from Taipei, Taiwan are an indication that any supply constraints experienced by Apple could be relatively short-lived. The company was ordered to shut down a factory that builds unibody enclosures for Apple on Oct. 16.

That plant in Eastern China was said to produce 60 percent of Apple’s unibody enclosures for its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air products. The plant has also been responsible for casings for Apple’s all-in-one iMac desktop.

Catcher had previously said that a partial production halt at the factory would slash shipments in October by 20 percent. That number could have grown to as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refused to allow the plant to resume production.

But with Wednesday’s announcement that the plan will open at the end of the month, any concerns about November production appear to be assuaged. Last week, Catcher had originally said it hoped to reopen its plant at some time in November.

The Catcher facility was closed due to “strange odors” said to have been emanating from the plant. The shutdown came just as Apple reported its best quarter ever for Mac sales, reaching 4.9 million units.

Apple quietly updated its MacBook Pro lineup on Monday, with slightly faster Intel processors and updated graphics, while some models gained larger hard drives. The design of the notebooks remains unchanged, featuring Apple’s signature unibody look.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Catcher to invest $2-3 million to reopen Chinese MacBook unibody case plant within November time frame

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Date: Friday, October 21st, 2011, 06:05
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News

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After local officials ordered the suspension of operations at a Suzhou, China factory that supplies Apple with chassis for its laptops, Taiwanese manufacturer Catcher Technology will invest US$2-3 million with the goal of getting its facility back online in November.

Per DigiTimes, details emerged that Catcher had temporarily closed a plant that provides 60 percent of Apple’s unibody enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air product lines, as well as the iMac all-in-one desktop. The company is reportedly spending to “modify equipment and manufacturing processes” to resolve complaints from nearby residents regarding “odorous gas emissions.”

“Catcher aims to resume operations at the plant in November,” the publication noted. The manufacturer’s president, Allen Horng, had previously said that total shipments would fall 20 percent in October and could drop by as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refuses to allow the plant to resume production.

“Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected,” he said in a press conference Monday. “We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement.”

According to the report, Catcher is now considering increasing its investment in Taiwan in order to diversify operations and reduce its operating risk. The manufacturer recently ratcheted up production at a plant in southern Taiwan and purchased a new lot for further expansion in the area.

Catcher’s production woes could restrict an already limited supply chain for metal chassis. In August, it was reported that laptop makers looking to build machines to Intel’s “Ultrabook” specifications were having trouble securing production capacity for unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis. Foxconn and Catcher reportedly have a combined total of 10,000 CNC lathes required for the process, with most of their supply going to Apple.

During Apple’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook said that the company is “investigating and assessing” the potential shortage of Mac unibody casings. In the most recent September quarter, Apple had its best quarter ever for Mac sales, selling 4.89 million during the period. Portables now represent 74 percent of the company’s sales.

In 2008, Apple detailed the new unibody manufacturing process, calling the design “in many ways more beautiful internally than externally.”

Apple is expected to release a modest update to its MacBook Pro line later this month. The laptops will likely receive a speed bump to tide them over until Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge chips are ready next year.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

“Strange odor” at manufacturing plant could lead to reduced Mac notebook shipments in November

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Date: Tuesday, October 18th, 2011, 04:32
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, News

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Come to think of it, metal housings ARE sort of important on your Mac notebook…

According to the Financial Times, a Chinese factory responsible for manufacturing the metal housings for Apple’s uni-body laptop lineup has been shutdown due to “strange odors” emanating from the plant, potentially causing a 40% decrease in shipments for November.

Catcher Technology, a Taiwanese company with factories in Eastern China, was ordered on Sunday to shutdown a factory that produces 60% of Apple’s uni-body enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines. The plant also produces casings for Apple’s iMac and products for other notebook makers such as Acer, Dell, Lenovo and Sony.

The president of Catcher Technology, Allen Horng, reported that total shipments would fall 20% in October, adding that November could see a 40% drop if the local government doesn’t clear the plant for operation by the end of the month.

“Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected,” Horng said in a press conference Monday. “We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement.”

It is unclear whether the plant shutdown will affect shipments of a rumored MacBook Pro refresh, expected to be announced later this month. Notebooks accounted for a majority of Apple’s Mac sales in the quarter ending in June.

Analysts expect another record breaking quarter, bolstered by strengthened MacBook Air sales, when the company announces its quarterly earnings on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple shifts iPad 2 battery orders from Simplo to Dynapack after leak-prone units discovered

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Date: Wednesday, October 12th, 2011, 05:08
Category: iPad, Rumor

When in doubt, switch a component supplier.

Per DigiTimes, part supplier sources maintained Wednesday that Apple had recently been pushed into switching battery supply for the iPad 2. Apple moved some of its orders from Simplo to Dynapack at the end of September after Simplo’s eastern China plant produced some leak-prone lithium-polymer packs according to the story. Apple’s use of safer lithium-polymer batteries kept them from showstopper fires, but the recharging problems were enough to require better.

Normally, Simplo would supply about 60 percent of iPad 2 batteries with Dynapack providing the rest. That ratio would have shifted more towards neutral with a part swap.

The issue hasn’t been independently confirmed. Both Dynapack and Simplo are widely known as Apple’s battery suppliers, and Simplo handles the batteries for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Companies like Apple are known to change orders for other components to keep supply up, such as a well known diversification away from LG for iPad 2 displays until it resolved display issues.

A successful swap could minimize any disruption in Apple’s manufacturing, although it still comes just as Apple is likely seeing a peak in shipments as it goes into the holidays. As such, it might be more sensitive to unplanned switches.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple support note advises against daisy-chaining Thunderbolt-equipped displays

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Date: Monday, September 19th, 2011, 03:27
Category: Hardware, News

Apple’s new Thunderbolt-equipped displays are getting good reviews and can do a fair number of things.

But they can’t be daisy-chained.

According to an Apple support document, the company has noted that previous DisplayPort screens will not work when attached to the Thunderbolt port of its new display.

Thunderbolt-equipped Macs can support one or two Thunderbolt Displays, depending on the Thunderbolt chip in the system.

Apple notes that MacBook Airs support one external Thunderbolt Display in addition to their built in screen, while MacBook Pros, iMacs and the Mac mini can all support two Thunderbolt Displays.

With two external displays, the lowest end 13 inch MacBook Pro will lose the ability to drive its built in screen, while the highest end Mac mini with discrete AMD graphics can support two Thunderbolt Displays in addition to a third screen attached to its HDMI port.

However, users with an existing Mini DisplayPort external monitor will not be able to daisy chain the screen from the back of the new Thunderbolt Display, despite it being physically compatible with the port. Apple notes that “Mini DisplayPort displays will not light up if connected to the Thunderbolt port on an Apple Thunderbolt Display.”

Existing Mini DisplayPort screens, such as Apple’s LED Cinema Display, have never previously supported daisy chaining multiple screens to a single Mini DisplayPort interface, but the screens are supposed to work at the end of a Thunderbolt chain if there are no other displays in the chain.

Having any other screen in the Thunderbolt chain will kill ability of previous, non-Thunderbolt displays from being able to receive the DisplayPort signal, negating their forward compatibility with the new Thunderbolt standard.

The new Thunderbolt Display just began shipping to users yesterday after Apple released firmware updates for its new Thunderbolt-equipped Macs to solve remaining issues with working with the new screens.

In addition to serving as an external screen with stereo speakers, a FaceTime camera and a Magsafe power supply for powering a connected notebook, the new Thunderbolt Display also incorporates the features of a docking station, supplying connected Thunderbolt Macs with Gigabit Ethernet, three additional USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800 and an additional Thunderbolt port.

Apple recommends that users connect storages devices to the display’s Thunderbolt port rather than connecting the display further down the chain.

If you’ve received a new Thunderbolt-equipped Apple display and have feedback regarding it, please let us know what you think in the comments.

Rumor: Apple looking to slim down MacBook Pro, move towards lighter/thinner form factor

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Date: Thursday, July 28th, 2011, 02:54
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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The notion of slimming a notebook down and having it sell well seems to be working for the MacBook Air and this may be where the MacBook Pro is headed.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Apple seems likely to completely redesign its MacBook Pro line in favor of a thinner and lighter form factor. A 15-inch Air-like MacBook Pro and a 17-inch model are in the works, sources say, and may be here in time for holiday gift giving.

To get to that leaner form factor, Apple will likely ditch the optical drive (perhaps ultimately signaling the death knell for discs) while integrated SSD storage is also expected. The MacBook Pros have been Apple’s laptop workhorses, so we can also expect the premium laptops to offer more ports, better graphics, and more storage than the MacBook Air–at a more premium price but with the slimmer design.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple may switch to ARM processors for notebooks in 2013

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Date: Friday, May 6th, 2011, 05:27
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Rumor

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the rumors that make life interesting.

Per SemiAccurate, sources have claimed that Apple will be transitioning from Intel processors to ARM processors in the not too distant future.

The short story is that Apple is its notebook line, and presumably desktops too, to ARM-based chips as soon as possible.

The transition seems unlikely to take place after ARM has moved to full 64-bit cores which won’t likely be until at least mid-2013.

At that point, Apple can move to ARM without worrying about obsoleting code with an [instruction set architecture] that is on the verge of changing, and no memory overhead worries either.

Apple has made a heavy investment in the ARM architecture which presently powers their iOS line of products. Apple even made the bold move to take ARM processor design in house with the acquisition P.A. Semi and Intrinsity.

A transition of the Mac notebook line over to a different processor architecture would still present some roadblocks. While Apple did previously succeed in such a transition in the past with the PowerPC to Intel transition, it was not without an incredible amount of engineering to ease the process. Existing Mac applications would be unable to run on the new ARM processors without some sort of emulation layer. Mac applications would have to be recompiled to support the ARM processors.

While ARM is known for their low power processors, last year they announced plans to move into high-performance computing in the future, and has been rumored to moving into the 64-bit space as well.

Codenamed “Eagle,” the A15 architecture is ostensibly aimed at netbooks and tablets, but a look at the spec sheet leaves no doubt that ARM is absolutely gunning for the server market that Intel and AMD currently dominate.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available

Rumor: Supply chain sources indicate updates to various Macs in coming months

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Date: Thursday, May 5th, 2011, 03:03
Category: Hardware, Rumor

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When in doubt, check the supply chain.

Per AppleInsider, analyst Shaw Wu has conferred with sources along Apple’s supply chain and has noted that Apple plans to refresh the rest of its Mac lineup, which would include the MacBook, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and MacBook Air, “in upcoming months.”

Not included on Wu’s list are the MacBook Pro, which underwent a refresh in February, and the iMac, which saw a new version on Tuesday. Both products saw a transition to Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors and the addition of the new high-speed Thunderbolt input/output port.

Wu believes the MacBook refresh is especially important because the entry-level notebook represents roughly one-third of Apple’s portable business, which itself has grown to 73% of all Mac sales. The last update for the MacBook came in May 2010.

As for the other Macs, the Mac Mini was most recently refreshed in June 2010, while the Mac Pro saw an update last July and the MacBook Air received a substantial upgrade last October. Wu sees the upcoming Mac refreshes as offsetting “a very minor cannibalistic impact” that the iPad 2 could have on Apple’s Mac business.

In February, a report claimed that Apple will replace the MacBook Air’s aging Core 2 Duo chip with the current Sandy Bridge processors in June.

In his note, Wu told investors that Tuesday’s iMac refresh stands as “a worthy upgrade” and should help “reinvigorate” Mac’s desktop business, which has declined to 27% of Macs shipped. Sales of Mac desktops actually dropped by 12% year over year last quarter, compared to 53% year over year growth for portable Macs.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple to start production of Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Air notebooks in May

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Date: Monday, April 25th, 2011, 03:05
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

Apple next month will reportedly begin manufacturing the first updates to its rejuvenated MacBook Air line as the company looks to maintain the impressive sales momentum generated by the ultra-thin notebooks and limit the market opportunity for would-be competitors hoping to wedge their foot in the door.

Per AppleInsider, sales of the aggressively-priced 11.6- and 13.3-inch MacBook Airs got off to a hot start following their introduction last October, with Apple assembling roughly 1 million units within their first quarter of availability. During those three months, consumers reportedly chose the new MacBook Airs at a one-to-two ratio to the company’s more established MacBook Pro offerings, making for one of the company’s most successful Mac product launches ever.

However, shipments of the Airs declined 51% sequentially during the first calendar quarter of 2011 — including a 40% month-over-month decline in February — as Apple introduced new MacBook Pros that caught consumers’ eyes, according to Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has proven sources within the Cupertino-based company’s Far Eastern supply chain.

Kuo stated that his latest round of checks with suppliers and system builders in the region reveals that MacBook Air shipments are set to rebound during the current calendar quarter, fueled by an upgrade to Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge microprocessors, integrated Intel graphics, and the expected adoption of the new Thunderbolt high-speed I/O technology that made its debut on MacBook Pros earlier this year.

Specifically, he said the new models will “go to mass production in late May,” which corroborates an earlier report that cited reliable sources as saying Apple would be ready to publicly announce and ship to consumers MacBook Airs with Sandy Bridge processors during following month of June.

The upgrade should help boost Apple’s overall notebook shipments between 5% to 10% sequentially for the current quarter, according to Kuo, reversing a 5% decline from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2011, which he notes was still less than the 11% average decline for notebook shipments from the top 6 OEMs worldwide during the same period.

In moving to Intel’s 32-nanometer (nm) Sandy Bridge architecture, the mid-2011 MacBook Airs will jettison two-year-old Penryn-based 45-nm Core 2 Duo chips for the chipmakers’ new line (below) of low-voltage and ultra-low-voltage Core i5 and Core i7 chips, which sport between 3MB and 4MB of Smart Cache and support a theoretical maximum of 8GB of internal system memory.

Should Apple follow its current trend of using ultra-low-variants for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and low-voltage ones for the 13.3-inch models, consumers can expect to see new 11.6-inch MacBook Airs sporting 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz Core i5 and Core i7 chips and 13.3-inch MacBook Airs with 2.10 and 2.30GHz Core i7 processors.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Adobe Reader, Adobe Reader Pro updated to 10.0.3

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Date: Thursday, April 21st, 2011, 09:50
Category: News, Software

On Thursday, Adobe released version 10.0.3 of its Adobe Reader application. The update, which can also be snagged through the Adobe Update Utility, adds the following fixes and changes:

- Addresses critical security vulnerabilities while providing more stability. Adobe always recommends that you install the latest security updates.

Acrobat Reader 10.0.3 and Acrobat Pro requires an Intel-based processor and Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new versions and noticed any differences, please let us know what you think.