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Macs, Modularity and More

MacWorld Expo 2006 -- From Power to Pro

2006 Mac

The Mac World Expo 2006 was a relatively benign affair this year. There's the annoucement that iLife and iWork were updated to their '06 counterparts (do you detect a yearly trend evolving here?) which brought in minor advances rather than major steps. They did introduce one new app, iWeb, which is a simple point-and-click web publishing application as well as being able to upload photo collages from iPhoto. It seems that they're trying to encourage content generation via RSS feeds, to allow other people to see what new entries have been written. It's my guess that this will have two effects:

  • It is an application designed to increase update of .Mac subscriptions. As part of this media-rich experience, they've upped the bandwith limits. This seems sensible enough; now it's possible to have less computer-literate friends (and/or family) to be able to have content generated and hosted on-line.
  • There will be a number of iBlog AppleScripts/Automator workflows that will be built upon the iWeb framework.

Perhaps more anticipated is the introduction of the new Mac Book Pro laptops and refreshed iMac desktops. These now contain (as expected) an Intel chip; but interestingly enough, they're the new dual-core Intel Core Duo chips. I predicted previously that the PowerBook/PowerMac line would be split into the Power configurations (with dual cores) and the non-Pro systems into single cores. Obviously the non-Pro books haven't been announced, but it would seem sensible to assume that they'd be called the Mac Book. One assumes that the name change is a way of distancing themselves even further from the PowerPC range, and to distinguish Intel from non-Intel books.

I personally think that they've shot themselves in the foot a little. I don't think it's going to go gangrenous, but it's likely to hurt a little in the short term. For a start, they're 32-bit laptops. I know that in effect, it doesn't make any difference in a laptop since you're unlikely to have it loaded with more than 4Gb, which is the limit for 32-bit systems. And the fact that it's got dual cores on board means that (for natively compiled/multi-threaded systems) it can probably churn through the numbers properly. But with all the fanfare of Apple's systems being 64-bit, it does seem a step backwards along the line for people who look at the numbers of a system rather than its usability.

The other key thing is that these MacBooks are differently equipped from the PowerBook G4s that they replaced. There's no FireWire 800 (though I also predicted the demise of FireWire; I was surprised that it even had a FireWire 400 port) and the PC card has disappeared. That could be a real killer for the 3G/GPRS cards that are starting to come onto the market (like the one I almost got from T-Mobile, who were doing a combined WiFi+GPRS combination -- the only reason I didn't was that they wanted a 2 year contract and only gave 1 year's free WiFi).

But perhaps the biggest block of all is that there's no cheap-end MacTel book 'for the rest of us'. I personally bought a PowerBook over an iBook because they're much more professional, as well as the fact that it has dual-screen display which I needed for work at the time. These MacBook Pros are aimed at, well, Pros, and one of Apple's key markets has always been publishing (and more recently, video editing). And as of now, you can't buy a native version of the Pro applications. So the books are going to saunter gently off the shelves rather than fly, because the market that they're aimed at doesn't have the software that they need. The Expo also demonstrated Photoshop -- one of the stalwarts demonstrators of a Mac's superior processing power -- running in the Rosetta emulation environment. Maybe it's just because Adobe didn't have enough time to iron out the kinks and they had to fall back to demonstrating it on the emulation layer, but from a marketing perspective, it fell flat on its face.

Having said that, they're nice machines, and if you don't need a PCMCIA card for GPRS connectivity (or whatever) and don't own any FireWire 800 devices, then they're great (as a breakfast cereal character might say). I think that someone's going to dual-boot into Windows relatively quickly, and they'll be very nice machines for doing Windows work.

This year's developer conference is going to come up with some interesting tidbits. For one, we've not seen/heard about any of the new-fangled BIOS-replacing aspects (does it come with EFI, for example).

I made a suggestion that Apple will get into the HDTV market at some point. I still think this is a case of when, rather than if. Sony and Microsoft are setting up a new video-on-demand service, and if there's anyone well placed in the market/environment/consumer for this kind of operation, it's Apple. FrontRow will just be a window onto it when the time comes, but for right now, it seems that Apple has neither the content distribution rights nor the confidence in the market for such a system. And we can't even connect any external TV devices over FireWire any more ...