MWSF 2006: First Thoughts

Wow.

I mean, we all knew Intel-based Macs were coming. Jobs said so at WWDC 2005. We even “knew” that they were coming today. But still, wow.

No-one thought we would have new PowerBooks today. No-one really believed that the iMac would see Intel chips for a while yet, given the recent update. We all “knew” the Mac mini and iBook would see updates today. But they didn’t. What gives?

iMac
There will be more than a few for whom the announcement of an Intel-based iMac is at least a little bittersweet. As you will all no doubt be aware, the revised iMac G5 was announced less than three months ago. An extremely tempting machine, it surely enticed more than a few into buying it because, after all, an Intel iMac was months away. Right?

Evidently not. In a move by which I must confess I am at least slightly surprised, Apple has announced an iMac with a dual core 1.83 or 2GHz processor, with an ATI Radeon X1600 PCI-Express graphics card. This is a fast piece of kit, but in terms of the specifications, there is little else to say. It is otherwise as before, with the built-in iSight camera, Front Row, etc. Nice.

MacBook Pro
First of all – the name! Argh! The name! Why, oh why? It sounds like some cheap shareware application for OS 9. Or maybe accountancy software. I’m thinking of Intuit’s QuickBooks, of course. (John Gruber appears to agree.)

OK, so the name is bad, but the laptop is sweet. Extremely sweet. 1.67GHz or 1.83GHz configurations, an ATI Radeon X1600 with up to 256MB of video RAM for graphics, and a built-in iSight camera, reminiscent of at least one Sony Vaio laptop I once saw in Japan, but – knowing how good the iSight camera is – doubtless offering far greater quality. And all packed into a shell only an inch thick! It’s really small.

But three omissions are notable – one is inevitable and nothing to be worried about, but the other is more concerning. The first of these is the loss of the PCMCIA slot, which has been replaced by what is evidently called an ExpressCard/34 slot, about which I must admit I know absolutely nothing I can only presume that, finally, after over 10 years of stellar service to both PC and Mac laptops, PCMCIA is retiring. Fair enough. This is nothing to worry about – it’s just technology evolving.

Far more troubling is the lack of a FireWire 800 port on the new machine. This is going to irritate many pros, who have spent sizeable amounts of money moving to FireWire 800-based storage solutions because of the improved (not to say doubled) performance. This is peculiar, to say the least. It may be that Apple will reincorporate FireWire 800 in again at a later stage – it is a stellar technology and far superior to USB – but at this point in time all we can do is lament. And moan at them. We shall see what happens.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously – where did the 12″ and 17″ models go? The 12″ PowerBook G4 has been considered by many to be the best combination of size and features in a laptop – like the decent (if not state-of-the-art) graphics card and DVD writer. Where has all this gone? Will these models resurface for Rev. B?

MacBook
It’s a little naughty of me to have a whole separate section titled MacBook, when no such product was announced, but it is pretty clear to me from the chosen nomenclature for Apple’s PowerBook replacement that an iBook-replacement, likely named the MacBook, will be coming at some point soon. The name will still suck.

It’s perhaps worth at this point adding a little note on the order in which the professional and consumer lines of Apple’s portables seem deemed to emerge. Before the keynote, everyone was sure that iBook updates would precede PowerBook updates, the reasoning being that Intel-native version of the professional software that PowerBook-buyers were likely to want would not yet be available. Evidently Apple thought otherwise.

As regards updating the iMac before the Mac mini, this makes some sense, as an updated Mac mini might have cannibalised iMac sales. It is interestng to note that none of the ridiculous Mac mini-as-DVR rumours came true (the reason is simple: fitting TV decoders in for each country would be far too expensive and complicated for Apple at this stage).

iWork 06
A welcome update, but still no sign of a dedicated spreadsheet application. Pages does, however, now tout “spreadsheet-style” “tables with calculations” and mail merging with the Mac OS X Address Book, something which it perhaps ought to have had already. Keynote, too, has seen some nice improvements, but was already a PowerPoint-beater for many of us, so many of the new additions are merely icing on the cake.

iLife 06
Another welcome update, and lots to see here. iPhoto 6 promises speed enhancements, something which I, as a PowerBook user with 19,000 photos in my library, am extremely pleased to see. Enhancements too for iMovie HD 6, including real-time effects and titling (à la Motion, I suppose) and video podcast creation, so now you can bore people with your voice and your ugly mug. iDVD 6 brings compatibility with third-party DVD burners at last, so no more stupid hacks! Widescreen support is pretty obvious, and each new iDVD release comes with new themes, so nothing special there.

GarageBand 3 sports a variety of new features relating to podcasting, with Apple seemingly being keen to advertise its utility not just as software for recording music, but also the sound of one’s dull, uninspiring voice. Expect the Internet to be flooded with the incoherent mumblings of single thirty-somethings, bored adolescent boys, and overenthusiastic teenage girls, who will undoubtedly wax lyrical about the latest Hollywood heartthrob and the most recent episoe of Lost. Oh dear.

iWeb is, of course, the interesting one, given of course that none of us know very much about it yet. It is certainly another demonstration of how well Apple understands what people want to do with their computers. Contrast this with, say, Microsoft’s latest offering – AntiSpyware – and note with idle amusement that whilst Mac users manage photos, make wonderful DVD movies and record beautiful (if rather mind-numbing) music and podcasts, publishing all of this to the Web, Windows users are busy removing viruses and spyware from the tangled mess that their month-old Dell has quickly become.

Services like Flickr have made photo publishing easy, but podcasting has up until now been a difficult process, unfathomable for most. Making web sites on Windows used to mean something like FrontPage Express – now, for most users, there is nothing, and even FrontPage Express did not permit the creation of particularly impressive sites. The Mac, too, has lacked in this regard. iWeb, then, is a response to the fashion for blogging, listening to podcasts and publishing one’s photos to the Internet hitherto using services like Flickr, and is a nice “democratiser”, if you will, bringing publishing on the Internet firmly into the hands of ordinary people.

All in all, good stuff, and well worth the $79 price tag.

Other Stuff
No iPod updates, but a new add-on – an FM tuner – controllable through the iPod’s menu screen, which should serve to silence a certain breed of Slashdot reader, who insist – every time the iPod is discussed – on clamouring for Ogg Vorbis support and an FM tuner. Halfway there, then.

Conclusion
A good one for Steve, and a pleasant surprise in many respects, as it means we will now be able to get our hands on next-generation PowerBooks…uh…sorry…MacBooks Pro far sooner than we had previously thought. The question now is – when do we get new iBooks and Macs mini?

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