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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

I Am Half-Impressed By Apple's SF Announcements
January 18th, 2001

To perpetuate the sacred tradition, Steve Jobs was at the Moscone Center in San Francisco last week in order to impress the masses. As usual, Jobs discussed the latest crop of Apple products and we heard a lot of "oohs" and "ahs". A few rounds of applause surged as Jobs used his magisterial talents to showcase Apple's inventions. He did it in a convincing way that even The Price Is Right bikini babes could not equal.

Now that the dust settled, the smoke has cleared and Jobs is back in his private jet, are those new products, announcements and changes worthy?

Let us start with the good.

In PowerBook we trust

Of course, the new PowerBook G4 is drool worthy. In fact, it may break down a few people's resistance to buy a portable Mac. It combines small size, a killer screen, a G4 processor, beauty, and power. The Titanium material is good enough to take a few hard knocks and everybody will be talking about Titanium within the Macintosh ranks.

A key aspect to its outward appearance is the resurgence of great looks in the world of electronics. Silver and wood textures marked the golden age of sublime taste in electronics design. The bad taste of black was a 1990's thing and the digital world is finally dressing in style again.

With both the inside and the outside of this PowerBook, Apple has a winner on its hands, and many hands will want to touch that winner.

Mac OS X Marching (pun intended)

Still in the positive lane, Mac OS X beta will expire in May. This sounded like a logical date since Apple always holds its World Wide Developers Conference in May. To my surprise, Apple announced that it would ship it on March 24. This eradicates the much-feared syndrome of the modern operating system within Apple and its user community.

The guaranteed advent of Mac OS X is encouraging for the Mac world. It will be a bumpy rode, since compatible software does not grow on trees and a few quirks linger in the system's interface. However, I believe that time will be Mac OS X's best ally. The new system could mature and become attractive to everybody, which is not necessarily the case as of now.

As we saw in the keynote, the Apple menu is back. This means that Apple understood how important the little things that Mac users love are. Let us hope that Apple will surprise Mac users with a few more "classic" features in Mac OS X.

On to the "mixed feelings" category.

A software revolution?

As an industry colleague predicted in private just before the keynote, Apple has made a big software push. iDVD and iTunes add to iMovie to complete Apple's multimedia triangle. The very fact that Apple decrypted how digital lifestyle influences people's lives is a great thing. This will make the Mac more attractive.

However, I wonder if this will be enough to make a difference. We have yet to see if digital lifestyle software will really help to expand Apple's markets beyond the faithful Mac crowd.

iTunes is nice, but not a breakthrough. Titles such as (the very popular) SoundJam MP already boast most of iTunes' features. iDVD could be over many people's heads. Not everybody edits homemade VHS tapes; only 10 million DVD players are in circulation. Among these 10 million households, can we find how many are likely to feel the attraction of a Mac? I remain skeptical for now.

The big catch we should avoid when Apple announces new products is the overestimation of the impact of the new toys beyond Mac enthusiasts. iTunes, iDVD and iMovie certainly add value to a Mac, but I wonder if they are striking enough to make a genuine difference to the rest of the world.

The G4

With processor speed ranging from 466 MHz to 733 MHz, the new G4 is certainly more attractive than before. The fact that only the 533 MHz can result in dual processor configuration is disappointing with a fully optimized (for multiprocessing) Mac OS X about to hit the shelves.

Going from 500 to 733 was a great leap. It does not happen every day and we should welcome it. With current industry standards and the unmoving consumer attitude toward megahertz, though, Apple and Motorola are still playing catch-up regarding processors.

An unanswered question

When he left the stage, Steve Jobs left a question mark behind. He certainly made most Mac users think positive about the year to come. He could afford to do it since most keynote attendees focused on the news at hand, perhaps without thinking about the biggest issue that Apple faces when all is well:

Can Apple handle its own success?

When its products are hugely popular, Apple has often struggled to deliver the goods. When demand is high, Apple's efficiency does not always follow. Last summer, many of us drooled for the new units and ordered through the Apple Store. Many of us had to wait through unanticipated delays before getting the new hardware.

That, Dr. Steve did not address...

In any case, I remain half positive, half negative, and half impressed with the latest Apple news. I find the PowerBook beautiful and powerful. I appreciate the Mac OS X shipping confirmation for March 24. I am skeptical about the potential impact of the new software and I think that the G4 needs another speed bump soon.

The news are interesting, but let's not get carried away, folks.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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