|[Editorial] MACWORLD Tokyo: Making iMountains Out Of Molehills
by Oliver Dueck
After the absence of new Apple hardware at the San Francisco Macworld Expo in January, the recent announcements at the Tokyo Expo were more than welcome, as the company introduced updated PowerMac, iBook, and PowerBook lines, leaving only the iMac untouched. Sounds impressive, but the fact is, the latest round of updates were either minor or long overdue. Has its recent success gone to Apple's head, and it is now content to sit on its laurels?
Take the PowerMac G4. When they were first announced last summer, these systems topped out at 500 MHz. Shortly after they were released, Apple downgraded the processors, resulting in a line where the top model was rated at 450 MHz; this was done because 500 MHz G4 processors were in very short supply. Now, almost six months later, Apple announces it is back at 500 MHz. Big deal. Over on the PC side of things, Pentiums are running at 800 MHz and climbing.
This announcement would have been a good one if Apple had done something alongside upgrading the processors. For example, if they had packed in some more features, and/or dropped the price by a couple hundred bucks. That would have made sense; after all, what we get now is scarcely changed from what was announced back in August. (Granted, the low-end 400 MHz model has drastically improved now that it uses the same motherboard as the higher-end configurations.)
Next up is the iBook. Not much new here, even with the new graphite SE model. All configurations now ship with 64 MB of RAM and a 6 GB hard drive, both double what the original iBook had. But these changes were badly needed anyway; who can really use Mac OS 9 with a mere 32 megs? And how long does it take to fill up a three gig hard drive?
The $1799 iBook SE, in its snazzy graphite case design, has a 366 MHz processor, while lower configurations continue to use a 300. Other than that, it is identical to the base model, which means no DVD, no FireWire, and no sound input. I would be very impressed if Apple had added those features, along with 128 MB of RAM and a 10 GB drive, for $1999. The updates to the iBook line are more than welcome, but they are nothing more than routine maintenance to Apple's product line.
Finally, we have the new PowerBook, by far the most impressive of Apple's new wares. But again, if you stop to think about it, this product is long overdue. Finally, power users who need a laptop system get FireWire, AirPort, and other such cool stuff, long after they have made their way into other Apple product lines. But better late than never. The good news is that these new PowerBooks offer true dual monitor support with an ATI RAGE Pro 128 chipset, G3 processors up to 500 MHz, and generous amounts of RAM and hard drive space.
All in all, I don't think these updates are keynote-worthy material. Maybe we've just been spoiled in the last two years with all of the great announcements Steve Jobs has made, but its seems to me that hardware-wise, Apple is slowing down its momentum. In a way, this makes sense, because Apple has indeed completed its infamous product matrix. But yet, it seems that Apple is trying to make this stuff seem almost as important as the original iMac or iBook.
Granted, we can't completely blame Apple for this; after all, the main reason why we aren't seeing faster G4s is because IBM and Motorola simply can't make these processors in any great quantities.
However, my concern is that Apple seems to be pushing out products with relatively minor updates as if they were revolutionary changes to the product line, which is not the case. Does this imply that Apple doesn't have much new hardware up its sleave for the time being? I can't answer that, but it is a possibility that we will see Apple concentrate on its software products, particularly Mac OS X.
With all the great new hardware we have seen in the past two years, it may be somewhat disappointing if Apple fails to impress us this year with new systems. For Apple's sake, let's hope Mac OS X proves to be enough of a distraction that we won't care so much about new systems.
Oliver is a computer science student a the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has been using Macs since 1986 when his father would bring home a Mac Plus on the weekends. He was one of the original writers for Webintosh, and before that was a contributor to the now-defunct MacSense CD magazine.