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  • From the Expo Floor #1: Should I Say I Told You So?

    January 15th, 2005

    Although my ego is larger than normal–which is why I choose to remain in the public eye–I am not one to say “I told you so” when I am proven right, while others are proven wrong. But when someone calls folks like me “deluded” for suggesting that it made sense for Apple to build a cheap Mac, clearly Steve Jobs fits into the same category. So I’m in good company.

    But the Mac mini is so logical, so right for its time, I wasn’t a bit surprised to hear the announcement as I sat in row 5 in the press section to watch the keynote. I’d say that even though the Mac rumor sites and a certain lawsuit pretty essentially revealed the focus and basic specs of the new product. Let’s just say that the $499 entry-level model is similar enough to the eMac in terms of standard equipment that I expect they’ll perform pretty much the same. But for the audience Apple’s trying to reach here, and that includes home, small office and educational users, it’s just ideal.

    More to point, you no longer have to make apologies or excuses when you compare a Mac to a basic Windows box. If anything, the Mac mini is probably superior in some respects. The cheap PC has, for example, integrated graphics, while the Mac mini has an ATI Radeon 9200 chip. Yes, it’s ala carte, and that means you have to buy your own keyboard, mouse and display, but you probably have one or more of these around already if you’ve been a Mac user for awhile. On the other hand, this BYOMKD (bring your own mouse, keyboard and display) approach is apt to make the mini far more costly than you’d otherwise expect if you have to buy these components from scratch. And once you add an AirPort Express card, you’re in eMac territory. No matter, I am willing to bet that PC switchers will line up to get their hands on one. And Mac users looking for a cheap upgrade path will also get in line.

    Will it cannibalize sales of other Macs? When it comes to the iMac, it’s doubtful, considering the built-in LCD display. You outfit a Mac mini with the same display, and you’ll end up paying more for less performance. As far as the eMac is concerned, well that’s another story, unless you must have a cheap all-in-one computer.

    Will it cannibalize sales of other Macs? When it comes to the iMac, it’s doubtful, considering the built-in LCD display. You outfit a Mac mini with the same display, and you’ll end up paying more for less performance. As far as the eMac is concerned, well that’s another story, unless you must have a cheap all-in-one computer.

    Onto the other new product announcements: I can see the value in the iPod shuffle, regardless of which version you buy. I believe Steve Jobs when he says that a great number of iPod owners use the random or shuffle play feature. But the lack of an LCD display is quite limiting, because it makes it near impossible to simply select the individual songs you want to play at any one time. Of course doing that on a music player that’s about the size of a piece of chewing gum (see the picture of Grayson at the left) would be no small feat, and probably impractical, unless Apple supplied a magnifying glass or reading glasses. Despite this, Apple will still sell millions of them, because the competition simply doesn’t deliver.

    Pre-Expo speculation also centered on whether Apple would dare to build a Microsoft Office killer, and the answer is that Apple isn’t going to go there. iWork seems a serviceable combination of word processing and presentation software. The heavy reliance on templates will certainly go a long way to help most of you get going without having a lot to learn. The $79 purchase price is encouraging, and one hopes it’ll end up on new Macs eventually, although the iMac mini ships with AppleWorks. At the same time, iWork is a step down from its predecessor, because it apparently lacks database and spreadsheet features, except for some charting capability. So if you’ve spent a lot of time building a database in AppleWorks, you may be forced to stick with the existing software or consider FileMaker Pro.

    I was, however, fairly impressed with the possibilities for iLife ’05. The new iPhoto will lessen the need for Photoshop Elements, which doesn’t make Adobe happy, but that’s how it goes. I appreciate that Apple is looking to the future by adding HD capability to iMovie, but don’t expect to go out to your favorite consumer electronics store to buy an HD camcorder. That is, unless you want to spend $3500 on that new Sony, but prices will come down eventually. Do you recall what those first DV camcorders cost a few years back? Apple is just preparing you for the future. And musicians, budding and professional, will appreciate the new features in GarageBand, such as the ability to record multiple tracks, but it’s too early to know if its prodigious CPU and memory requirements have been reduced.

    You can expect more Expo updates over the next two days. At first glance, though, the Expo is smaller, with fewer exhibitors, and it only spans one of the two halls at the main Moscone Center building. But Apple is making its strongest bid ever to hit the mainstream of the PC market head-on. If the sales of the Mac mini are only a fraction of those for the iPod, you can expect to see the first real market share jump from Apple in years. Can you feel the joy?



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