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  • Another Look at What Apple Has Taken Away

    October 20th, 2008

    Back in the early days, your expandable Mac came with technologies that other personal computers didn't always contain, such as NuBus for peripheral cards for graphics and other tasks and SCSI for such devices as external hard drives and scanners. There were also the proprietary ADB ports for input devices.

    But with the introduction of the iMac in 1998, huge changes were heralded. The iMac depended on USB, a standard that had actually been introduced in the PC but had gone virtually nowhere. Suddenly, you had to go out and hunt for conversion interfaces for your older mouse and keyboard, if you didn't want to use the ones Apple provided. There was, of course, the requisite Ethernet for networking.

    Now, an all-in-one computer with minimal expansion possibilities didn't need NuBus, although you had to wonder about the lack of SCSI. Then again, when you considered all the problems you might encounter when you'd daisy chain several SCSI peripherals to your Mac, maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

    With the huge success of the iMac came an explosion of USB devices, and, once the 2.0 standard was finalized, an external hard drive could actually give FireWire a run for its money when it came to performance. FireWire, in fact, didn't debut on the iMac until the DV model arrived, although it did appear in the famous Blue and White G3, which had a form factor that would, with minor changes and color alterations, remain for high-end Macs for several years, until the G5 arrived. And, by the way, it didn't have SCSI either.

    At first, there was a proliferation of SCSI adapters so you could continue to use your legacy devices. But you only see SCSI in high-end applications these days, and even then not so often.

    In any case, you had to assume that FireWire was in for the long haul, although not a lot of PCs adopted it. After all, it was not just an industry standard, but one that Apple invented. What's more, it was widely employed on camcorders and audio and video breakout boxes. So you had to think it was downright essential.

    What happened next? Well, the iPod went all USB. Since the majority of iPod sales are actually to PC users, who usually don't have FireWire, this was an advantage. More to the point, USB is a tad cheaper, and not supporting two transfer technologies means Apple can shave costs even further on the iPod and remain competitive.

    When Apple went to Intel processors for all Macs in 2006, the first iteration of the MacBook Pro lacked a FireWire 800 port. All it had was regular FireWire, and you can bet the video editors and other content creators who depended on Apple notebooks for onsite production complained loudly. The faster FireWire port returned in subsequent models.

    But when the first rumors that the latest MacBook refresh would contain a new case design, likely aluminum, but might lack FireWire, you had to wonder what Apple was thinking about.

    Now we have the reality, and the best explanation you get so far comes from one of those famous one-line pithy comments from Steve Jobs himself, that camcorders have included USB 2.0 for several years. As far and he and Apple are concerned, FireWire is no longer needed for a consumer-grade notebook computer. Besides, that omission shaves precious production dollars from the cost of building a MacBook. When you add in the price of a glass-based touchpad with integrated button, an LED backlit display and more powerful integrated graphics, not to mention the unibody aluminum enclosure, you have to assume that Apple's profit margins will still decline; that is, until production ramps to full capacity.

    As far as the MacBook Pro is concerned, there is but one FireWire 800 port, but you can get FireWire 400 adapters, so perhaps you can live with that particular omission.

    So is the handwriting on the wall now? Despite all of Apple's hard work lo these many years, does this mean that FireWire will soon join ADB as another dead technology?

    Probably not, at least for a while. Apple realizes that professionals use MacBook Pros and they will not buy the new model if they can't have FireWire. But it's certain that continued use of FireWire products will dictate where Apple goes next. If the next USB standard, USB 3.0, is, as promised, up to 10 times faster, it's quite possible the need for FireWire, which will also become speedier in the next revision, will be further reduced.

    One thing is sure: Apple seems to know where the market is heading, and, if they see traction, they will be at the forefront. But if the new technology is still in flux, or its future success is not yet certain, Apple may pass it by until things settle down. An example is Blu-ray, although I rather like high definition DVDs, even if the technology will, in the end, probably be replaced by movie downloads.



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    13 Responses to “Another Look at What Apple Has Taken Away”

    1. Terry says:

      Firewire's superiority to USB has more to it than just basic speed. Bus power, different transfer protocols and smart controllers are more important

    2. Terry wrote:

      Firewire’s superiority to USB has more to it than just basic speed. Bus power, different transfer protocols and smart controllers are more important

      True, but the better product doesn't always win.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Karl says:

      Gene Steinberg wrote:

      Terry wrote:
      Firewire’s superiority to USB has more to it than just basic speed. Bus power, different transfer protocols and smart controllers are more important

      True, but the better product doesn’t always win.
      Peace,
      Gene

      Isn't that the truth. I agree that FireWire is superior to USB but had my suspicions it was on it's way out when the iPod started being USB only.

    4. LonePalm says:

      "And, by the way, it didn’t have SCSI either."
      As an option, it did, via PCI card. I own one. You are correct if you meant the pre-configured machines did not have SCSI on the MOBO. The ATA interface on the initial Blue and Whites was horribly slow, and the first generation had serious issues with the ATA bus. BTW, SCSI as an option made SCSI better, as you could upgrade the controller card. But I digress....

    5. John says:

      @ Karl:

      That didn't strike me that way at all.

      First, that was quite some time ago and second, FW was/is overkill for transferring mp3 files.

    6. cdude says:

      FW may have been overkill for MP3s, but I'm going to miss Firewire Disk Mode dearly for troubleshooting and super-easy file transfers.

    7. cdude wrote:

      FW may have been overkill for MP3s, but I’m going to miss Firewire Disk Mode dearly for troubleshooting and super-easy file transfers.

      I agree. Maybe Apple will find a way to do that with USB 3 when it comes in the next year or two.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Karl says:

      John wrote:

      @ Karl:

      That didn’t strike me that way at all.

      First, that was quite some time ago and second, FW was/is overkill for transferring mp3 files.

      While you might think FW was overkill for MP3 files. I found it to be faster than USB and perfect for transferring files from Mac to iPod. That's not saying dropping it from the iPod was a mistake, just at the time when Apple was pushing QuickTime, iTunes and FireWire technology via the iPod. I found it surprising to drop it so readily from the iPod line.

      Regardless of how long ago, I took it as the writing on the wall that FW was put on the back burner for Apple. Unfortunately it didn't seem FW800 caught on quite as well as FW400. Reading into that, along with the drop from the MacBooks, I see it as another sign that FW is on its way out.

      Which to me is too bad, I found it worked nicely for my needs.

    9. John says:

      Well... I'm not alone in my opinion. A number of tech pundits said exactly that when Apple dropped FW from the iPod. Considering where Apple has taken the iPod in its various flavors, dropping FW probably greatly simplified development and production.

      If Apple has put FW on the back burner you wouldn't know it from the further developments that have been going on (just like with USB) in FW technology. FW is, after all, Apple's technology.

      I don't see these developments (the iPod and now the MBs) as Apple abandoning FW. I just think Apple considers USB to be "good enough" for what are essentially consumer devices, while FW is being reserved for higher-end "professional" users.

      Which is not to say I agree with Apple's decision. I think it's a mistake at his time. A lot of mid-level consumers who have been using FW for video transfers to their current Macs, are going to think twice about buying a new Mac of any kind.

      Because... while I disagree that this is a trend to drop FW completely, I do think it is a trend to drop FW from consumer grade Macs. Meaning Apple is probably going to drop FW from the next revision of the iMac, also. Except for possibly the higher end 24" model.

    10. Karl says:

      John,
      Putting stock in what a "number of tech pundits" said doesn't mean much to me. I seem to remember most of them thought it was wrong for Apple to drop the floppy drive from the iMac. Apple would never use Intel chips. Apple is going out of business... etc.

      With that said, I'm not here to get into a p*ssing contest about which was better for the iPod - USB or FW. I don't really care, they both worked. USB got the final nod, but as Gene stated earlier, the better technology doesn't always win. I agree with that statement.

      I'm never questioned if dropping FW from the iPod (or now the MacBooks) is right or wrong and apologize if I wasn't clear in my previous post. So to hit my points again... I still think (and offer it as only my opinion) that was the first sign that FW was on the way out. Also, I still think that FireWire is a superior technology to USB and am disappointed that it looks like it is going the way of the dinosaur.

    11. John says:

      Karl,
      I tend to agree with you about tech pundits, in general. However, a number of them have held opposite views (although almost all agreed about the floppy drive)... Apple should go Intel, etc. I was just saying that it wasn't just my opinion.

      My view is this... from a technology perspective as an indicator of things to come, Apple dropping FW from the iPod happened so long ago that it has no meaning. Did it make the iPod less useful for certain things? Definitely, but first and foremost the iPod was an mp3 player.

      If Apple (at the time it dropped FW from iPods) was planning on dropping FW altogether, why not drop at least one FW port (say FW400) from Macs? Particularly in the iBook line, where it would have made sense. I think the fact that Apple kept two FW ports since then means something. It is possible that dropping FW from the low end MBs is a sign of FW's demise, but it's just as likely that Apple is trying increase differentiation between what they consider their consumer and pro models.

      And they could just be testing the market with the FW issue. If enough people complain or sales drop because of the FW issue, Apple can always add FW back in. It wouldn't be the first time they reversed a decision.

      FWIW, I'm not here to be argumentative, either. You've been perfectly clear... we just interpret things differently. Except this... I totally agree that FW is a much better than USB and that better things don't always win in the marketplace.

    12. gopher says:

      As much as I like Firewire things went bad for it.

      The Firewire bug with 10.3 really gave it a run for its money.
      The iPod dropping Firewire.
      The fact that when PCs adopted it, they chose the 4 pin unpowered version.
      Firewire over IP was poorly documented, but was a great choice early on.
      Apple let Belkin sell poor thin cables at their store at outrageously high prices for these cables. A mixture of third party Firewire drives could not boot from Firewire without a firmware update. Some from companies that even sold through the Apple Store. If you are going to showcase the abilities of your technology, make sure devices you sell are fully functional in those abilities.

    13. Karl says:

      True enough that most people didn't see that dropping it from the iPod was the beginning of the end. But looking at the iPod phenomenon as a whole, Apple has steadily used the popularity of the iPod to "push" their technology...

      QuickTime... which overall probably didn't need much of a push. But still with the every PC user that owns an iPod now has QuickTime installed.

      iTunes... with QuickTime and the iPod and now you have a store/distribution center of PC and Apple friendly content.

      ACC... Another Apple friendly technology that gained popularity due to the iPod.

      FireWire... This was the only thing that didn't really catch on the PC side of computing even with the help of the iPod so Apple dropped it.

      So to me, while it wasn't dead I guessed that it would stay more of an Apple technology, with USB becoming more of the "industry standard". True, Apple kept it alive on the Mac the years after dropping it from the iPod. I know it is still available to PCs and the Pro Macs, but again it never seemed to gain the traction that USB did.

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