• The Macworld Expo Report #3: Sorry, No Cheap MacIntels

    January 14th, 2006

    Well, he did it again. Steve Jobs went and pulled a fast one on the media analysts and rumor sites. Yes, two Mac models with Intel processors were introduced, but they weren’t quite the ones many expected. That’s either good or bad, depending on whether a budget-priced Mac was in your sights.

    Take the iMac. Since Apple refreshed the line in October, and the changes were, aside from the modest performance improvement, reasonably compelling, I, for one, didn’t expect a change so soon. Am I’m sure some of the folks who took home one of these computers during the holiday season will be disappointed it became obsolete so soon. But Apple thought otherwise, I suppose. Without going into details that you can easily find at Apple’s Web site, both the 17-inch and 20-inch iMacs, which are now shipping, use Intel’s Core Duo processor,

    However, if you don’t have any of those Universal applications, the ones designed to run on both PowerPC and Intel chips, except for Apple’s, there’s not a whole lot to fret over. However, I’m willing to bet that comparisons between the Intel-based version and Power Macs will begin in earnest, especially since Apple boasts of speed boosts of two to three times. On the other hand, not all that many applications are capable of supporting dual processors, whether on one chip or two, so differences in the real world may not be quite as great.

    Yes, there was a new Apple laptop, but it wasn’t a replacement for the iBook, something expected and sorely needed. Instead, we’re seeing the beginning of the end for the PowerBook line. But it’s largely in the the nomenclature, with the word “Power” on its way to the dust bin of history. The Intel-based version is a MacBook, and I wonder why Apple never gave its laptops such a logical name previously. No matter. The MacBook Pro is essentially a mainstream PowerBook replacement, and a 15.4-inch screen will satisfy most, other than folks like me who have grown accustomed to a 17-inch display. I’m pretty confident that Apple will address that shortcoming soon enough. I’m also a little concerned about the pricing. It’s not that $1,999 and $2,499 are exorbitant. In fact, the former is the same as the present 15-inch PowerBook. The fact that the MacBook Pro has a dual core processor, iSight camera, remote control and is thinner than the older model makes it a far better value. If you can accept Apple’s claim of four to five times the speed, it’s even a greater value. But again, there is the matter of getting native applications, particularly ones that care about multiprocessing.

    I did get a little face time on the iMac; the lines were overwhelming at the MacBook Pro display. In general, the iMac seemed pretty speedy on everything I tossed at it, but it’ll take a prolonged encounter to really assess performance from a subjective level.

    On the iPod front, Apple decided not to mess with a good thing. Financial analysts were no doubt amazed over the news that Apple sold 14 million iPods during the last quarter, far above most estimates. Total sales for the quarter were $5.7 billion, again better than analysts expected. There were no changes in the product line despite introduction of a slew of iPod-killer hopefuls last week at the CES. Apple, after all, couldn’t produce enough iPods as it was, so there’s no incentive to change things, at least for now.

    As keynotes go, this one was pretty subdued. Jobs seemed to falter momentarily on a few occasions, and he seemed to waste a lot more time than necessary on the iLife ’06 applications, particularly iPhoto. Yes, I’m sure they are wonderful, and I look forward to trying the new Podcast feature of GarageBand. The iWork ’06 upgrade was barely mentioned, and the rumored spreadsheet component was nowhere in evidence. In fact, it seemed the big story, the first Intel-based Macs, got short shrift in comparison. Aside from having Intel CEO Paul Otellini appear in a white clean room uniform within a burst of smoke, there was minimal fanfare. For the most part, the new iMac and MacBook Pro were presented simply as new Macs that just happened to sport superior processors. That could be some psychology involved here, to demonstrate continuity. Or maybe Jobs didn’t take as much time as usual to polish his presentation.

    The show got a busy start regardless. Crowds were thick through most the exhibits as the Expo opened, and I’ll have more to say on that subject later.

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