Apple’s keynote address to the faithful today seemed if anything to reinforce what many people have already being saying about Apple as a company that seems to be walking away from its roots as a manufacturer of computer equipment. For the most part today’s speech dealt with new Apple technology but in the most part most of it didn’t actually seem to be computer related.
Of course the event started as most do with looking back at the previous year’s successes and showing us figures with the most positive spin you could place on them. OS X Leopard it would seem has already shipped five million copies and now accounts for 20% of the installed Mac OS X user base. Its also covered the plaudits lauded upon the operating system by the likes of Walt Mossberg and David Pogue, some of the IT industries heaviest hitters in the journalistic stakes. Steve also announced that Microsoft was finally shipping Office 2008 (although from what I saw of the beta at the MacExpo late last year…so what).
The big kick off however came in the form of Time Capsule, a new version of Time Machine for laptops. As those of you use the feature in Leopard on a regular basis will be aware, Time Machine is hardly ideal for backing up your Macbook or Pro mainly because there are plenty of times when your laptop is out on the road with you and is simply not connected to the backup drive being used for cloning your hard drive. Hence the arrival of the Time Capsule, essentially an Airport base station that bears an immediate resemblance to its forebear (which in turn looks like a Mac Mini) however this time around the station comes with either a 500Gb or 1TB hard drive is fitted inside the enclosure ($299 and $499 respectively, UK prices tbc).
Next up was the iPhone which 200 days after initial shipping has now moved more than four million units. Rather than making the announcements that everyone thought Apple were going to make this time around the focus was on giving the iPhone user more software. For my money this was something of a placating eye candy feature. For example the new features were effectively tweaks to the existing software on the phone itself (multiple SMS, Map tweaks and home screen customisation, nothing too astonishing).
There was also a software tweak for iPod Touch in the form Mail, Stocks, Weather and Note applications. Once again nothing too astonishing and these features came with a $20 price tag.
Steve’s next focus was iTunes and the prospect of movie rentals, which in fairness is something that has been bandied about through the rumour sites in the lead up to this event. Apple have linked up with pretty much every major studio to launch their rental service, offering films for $2.99 and “new” films for $3.99 (the user downloads the film and has thirty days to watch it, but as soon as he or she starts the viewing they have 24 hours).
Of course this would be something of a questionable experience if Apple didn’t have the technology to go with it. Hence the arrival of Apple TV Take 2. It would seem that the boys and girls from Cupertino didn’t take the luke warm reception of their first outing into the world of televisual media lying down and with this new version of the TV unit they are trying to address some of the shortcomings they experienced first time round. The Apple TV unit this time requires no computer to use however it remains as compatible with a Macintosh as it ever was if you so require. Out of the box it has compatibility with Flickr and .Mac services.
The new lightweight laptop that most people had been touting as a certainty did make its debut. The Macbook Air is nothing short of a complete oddity in my estimation. So thin its almost excrutiating it truly is a testament to innovative and a degree of aesthetic qualities. It also represents a benchmark for new technologies. However from a marketing sense I can only suspect that what Apple has done here is brought themselves another Newton.
For those of you too young to remember the Newton it was Apple’s first foray into the world of hand held devices. It represented some truly original thinking and some very clever hardware that took Apple a long time to get right (it sported a handwriting recognition system that only truly worked in its final incarnation, right before Steve Jobs returned to Apple and killed the project).
The Macbook Air is essentially the thinnest notebook on the planet right now. At its thinnest its 0.16” inch and at its thickest its 0.75”. Sporting a 13.3” screen and a five hour battery life this model uses a 1.8” hard drive and even has the option (again as rumoured) to use lightning fast flash RAM as its preferred storage medium. Intel’s teams have been hard at reducing the size of the Intel 2 Core Duo CPU by a staggering 60% in order to squeeze it into the svelte body of this machine, which incidentally will fit into an envelope (like you’re going to post it). The Macbook Air of course has to sacrifice items in order to achieve its low body weight. There is of course no optical drive and in terms of ports you have a Mini DVI and 1 USB 2.0 port to satisfy your external hard wiring needs. If you need an external CD drive the option exists for you to slave off someone else’s (via software) and in fairness that should be adequate, because there is no way in hell this could ever be someone’s main machine. Networking is achieved via Bluetooth and Airport so you’re pretty much covered.
There is however one hell of a stumbling block in my estimation with this machine, that is the price. It’s a given that innovation costs and in terms of design and form factor this really is a machine that represents how computers could be made in as little as three years by the rest of the manufacturers. However $1799 as a starting price for a machine that is essentially not as powerful as a Macbook (which has greater storage, networking and CPU’s). Could someone answer me the question…
Who the hell is going to buy this thing?
When Apple were touted as going back into the sub notebook market, people thought that they might be getting something entry level. Scaled down in features but also scaled down in price. I mean when the jaw drop factor wears off, well maybe the limitations of this machine might start to kick in.
Something tells me that this was really a case of aesthetic desires overruling business sense. The initial way that Apple seems to have marketed this machine is band in the middle of the range. Sadly it sticks out like a sore thumb for all the wrong reasons.
So there you have it, personally I was disappointed with the keynote and I’m a Mac fan. Sure there was new stuff, but its gradually becoming more and more clear that Apple’s focus is changing (which I suppose is true for many in the industry, regardless of Microsoft’s recent failures they remain too big for Apple to try and match in the business arena hence the focus on home media).
Oh and by the way, where the hell was 10.5.2 with all our bug fixes ?