Amazingly, I’ve almost caught up with my e-mail, almost a month after returning from the last trip… and the remaining offline work is clearing up, so I hope to be able to post more here again.

The catchy title is just to remind people that Apple has a lot of shoes to drop in the near future.

In particular, there’s been some news recently that I should comment on while I still have all the links. First of all, Apple will prepay $1.25 billion (yes, gigabucks) to a new Intel-Micron consortium to secure supplies of NAND flash memory – the flash memory used in some iPods. This of course is, obviously, also meant to dispel investor’s fears about iPod supply problems, as the present manufacturers aren’t quite able to keep up with Apple’s demands, let alone the rest of the industry.

Separately, the latest build of Tiger for X86 has been cracked; seems they’re not using the TPM encryption capabilties yet, but just checking for the chip’s presence. The latest build also extends Rosetta to emulate the G4 with AltiVec, so a wider range of PowerPC apps should be able to immediately run emulated on X86 – although there’s no word yet about speed ratios.

The Motley Fool and some other folks speculate that Apple will be introducing instant-on capabilities; this would use the suddenly plentiful flash chips to hold parts of the operating system while the power is off. Incidentally, the IBM/360 mainframes I worked with in the 1970’s had something similar; the core memories they used at the time held data when the power went off, so with some care – stopping the processor before turning it off – you often could just continue after turning it back on without a reboot.

Finally, it’s no surprise that Intel has a special “Apple Group” where engineers from both companies work together. As I believe it unlikely that Apple will use a standard Intel motherboard, the most likely focus of this group is to make special motherboards and custom chips for Apple.

Put these bits together and what do you get? I think the X86 hackers are in for a surprise when the new Macs come out. I think Apple will take OS-hardware integration to a new peak with the Intel Macs. They’ll have a gigabyte or so of flash memory where an encrypted version of the Mac OS X will reside – a return to the days of the first Mac 128, when most of the toolbox was in ROM and the “System” file just contained patches and late-minute additions.

This giga-firmware will be encrypted with each machine’s own unique ID – contained in the TPM chip – and will be decrypted on-the-fly as needed into a secure portion of system RAM. Future system updates will come encrypted and be re-coded by the update process, which will run in full secure mode, perhaps even inside the TPM chip itself. Since some Intel CPUs are rumored to have the TPM chip built-in, this hypothesis gains weight. The instant-on capability would be just a nice side-effect…