MacBooks and Other Happenings

Update: I've watched the keynote webcast and updated the post here and there.

Okay, looks like I will be getting myself a new laptop soon. Exactly how soon is a matter of applied financial engineering, but it was on the cards for this year, and the MacBook looks like it will be it.

But let's look at the rest of the keynote, shall we?

iPod World Domination... (yawn)

First off, the amazing figure of 14 million iPods (out of 42 million) sold during this holiday season. I'll be digging around for some sort of global perspective of the MP3 player market, but the number is impressive. And so is the near-a-billion-song mark on the iTunes Music Store.

Almost routinely impressive, to the extent that it's starting to get meaningless without a bit more context (which Steve Jobs probably presented as well, but I haven't seen the video yet - it will be tonight's TV show for me).

He did. 14 million iPods this Xmas against last year's 4.5 million, plus some interesting overall figures (US$1 billion retail store revenue during holiday season, US$5.7 billion revenue for last quarter, etc. Should drive stocks up a bit.)

I'm not particularly impressed by the video downloads (yet, although 15-minute American football highlights seems a particularly shrewd move) or the iPod accessories. Unless you consider a Chrysler an iPod accessory...

"We've got a Google widget so you don't have to go to Safari"

Duh? Like, how counter-intuitive is this sentence?

I'm not particularly impressed by more Dashboard eyecandy, and the first thing I'm going to check in 10.4.4 is whether or not still has the infamous "port 0" bug. In fact, I'm not particularly taken by the decision to release 10.4.4 today - there are Tiger bugs that needed more aggressive fixing, and putting it off for eyecandy, well... that's just wrong.


No big earth-shattering news here. iPhoto gets a makeover (and like all others, it's described as bringing "incredible speed", so I'm not impressed until I've confirmed it myself).

Full-screen editing looks interesting, though. It actually looks like a simple light table. Hmmm. And a clone of the old Photoshop matrix color tuning dialog, now used for effects as well.

Couldn't care less about the .Mac features, though. More on one of those below.

It now becomes trivial to export from iMovie to an iPod, and iDVD (finally) gets third-party DVD burner support (which was one of the major hassles anyone trying to use it on a PowerBook ended up having, sooner or later).

A big, gaping information hole that I'll be trying to fill is support for dual-layer DVDs and Blu-ray, but that's mostly curiosity at this point.

Wow, GarageBand got a Podcasting authoring studio. That's, er... so 2004 of them. I had visions of Clippy popping up and saying "You appear to be recording a podcast! What kind of cheesy background music you want to pick?"

But no, you get a "speech enhancer" so that you won't sound like a geek in a basement/attic somewhere. Or, if you prefer, to sound like a geek in a big, echoing cave.

Kudos to Steve for making fun of the rumor mongers in his demo podcast, though. The man has a sense of humor.

iWeb doesn't seem to be the bees' knees, either. It's going to steal Sandvox's thunder thanks to the templates and it being very tightly integrated with the rest of the iLife suite, but I draw the line at it autolinking songs to the iTunes Music Store.

That particular bit smacks of Microsoft's Smart Tags, and I, at least, remember all the arguments about unfair cross-promotions... In fact, they eventually dropped them.

Bottom line: I'll probably buy it if iPhoto is proven to be a significant improvement, if only because it's cheaper than Aperture (by an order of magnitude), has lower system requirements, and I'm not yet committed to either Adobe's Lightroom or iView Media Pro.

Incidentally, Aperture was the reason for the first gratuitous mention of "bringing photography into the twenty-second century" I've ever seen.

The rest is, well, kid's stuff.

Photocasting, i.e. .Mac+RSS

As you may have noticed, I am no big fan of Podcasting, and Photocasting seems like a particularly dumb idea to me. The meat of it is that you can upload albums straight to your .Mac account and other people will get the updates via RSS - which, incidentally, you can do on your own today with very little hassle and without a .Mac account.

It's also the pretext for one of the most complex diagrams Steve ever showed in a presentation, detailing the "simplicity" of it:

"Incredibly new?" You might have heard of a little minuscule site called Flickr... Which I bet will be supporting whatever RSS dialect iPhoto requires pretty soon.

So what's the real benefit? What use is it (besides the obvious aspect of making it easier for the common Joe to do, which is good enough for most people), and what's the real technical achievement behind it?

Well, pretty much none, I guess. But .Mac's added value has always been making it easier for people to have a personal web presence, so I guess this rounds it up and brings it kicking and screaming into the (pardon the expression) Web 2.0 age. It's even got Ajax, bless them...

There's a new word in the Apple dictionary, by the way: "sharing" means "uploading to .Mac". I wonder if they ever did it via an European ADSL connection...


Well, I sure hope Pages can now generate PDF files with HTTP hyperlinks.

There's no mention of that anywhere, but it's the thing that would make me pony up some cash for the upgrade. Keynote is good enough as it is for me right now, so I'm nonplussed.

And yes, there isn't a spreadsheet yet - although "tables with calculations" might work out for most common uses...

"We're going to offer it with the same features. We're going to offer it for the same prices. So what's different?"

Yep. My question exactly. This new iMac holds no big mystery to anyone who's seen NeXTStep running on Intel years ago and (more recently) had the most unusual experience of seeing Mac OS X 10.4.3 running on a Dell box.

The Intel ad video is up, by the way. Very neat.

Unless you remember when Steve didn't consider SPECmarks significant... But that was years ago, and on the other side of the CPU wars.

The biggest news there is that Apple got Microsoft and Adobe to commit to delivering universal binaries (and are doing it themselves for iLife), although I'd love to know more about whether or not they will be updates to the current versions.

Apparently we're due to get a few updates to ensure the current Office runs properly under Rosetta and iSync/Spotlight support for Entourage, but no word on Universal binaries for Office 2004 yet - maybe never...

The MacBook Itself (i.e., One More Thing)

Okay, so the MacBook Pro is not an iBook, it's not black, and it sure as hell isn't a budget offering, but it's got pretty much everything I need (including Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate).

My guess is that the iBook will vanish and be called (just) the MacBook, and if it's updated further down the line we're likely to see a single-core CPU with a lower power consumption (it would be a good differentiation factor, and would fit with the Intel chip roadmaps).

The iSight is a nice touch (although I have never used iChat for more than a few minutes, since it's anything but industry-standard as far as telcos are concerned), and keeping the PowerBook form factor helps persuade the unwashed masses that an Intel Mac is still a Mac, first and foremost.

I am, however, completely non-enthusiastic about the new power connector - which implies a new transformer, and is therefore a new part number to order for anyone serious about commuting with a laptop. I wish I could use my iBook adapter, magnetic tricks be damned.

Charging it via PoE, now that would be cool. And standard. Plus, like Thurrott points out in this comparison, there was no mention of battery life. Pretty damn weird indeed.

Two other aspects I'm not too keen on are ExpressCard (regardless of the new power management and throughput niceties, since I have to date seen only one card I'd be interested in using), and the fact that no matter how much power-saving voodoo Intel crammed into Yonah, it's still likely to get hot.

Portugal has 40C summers, and even my iBook gets unpleasantly hot occasionally...

The built-in modem is gone and Firewire 800 also seems to have died an untimely death (my bet is that there will be ExpressCard adapters for it really soon). And don't get me started on their using ATI, but hey, we'll see how it pans out.

I do hope that the IR remote port can double as an IrDA interface for syncing with mobile phones. But it's too soon to tell, and I've seen no hints of it working that way with new iMacs.

And that's pretty much it, I guess.

I am a bit curious about the April 1st mention, though. I remember the 20th Anniversary Mac, and it would be interesting to speculate about a 30th Anniversary model...

Update: The video streaming quality over Netcabo is (again) so pitiful that I decided to browse the news for a bit until I felt like reconfiguring my routing to use my ADSL connection instead. They could put it up on the Music Store for free download...