• The Macworld Expo Report #5: So What’s Missing?

    January 14th, 2006

    Macworld Expo 2006 is notable not just for what appeared, but what didn’t. Although iPods were discussed at the beginning of the Steve Jobs keynote, it was largely in the context of how how Apple sold and how much it earned last quarter. Of course if you were lucky enough to get an iPod during the holidays, you’d be highly disappointed now if the line were refreshed, and a combo remote and FM radio is nothing original, even though it bears the Apple label. You can already get that from an accessory company.

    Cruising the show floor, of course, was another story. It seemed nearly every row had some sort of iPod add-on, even though a fair amount of standard Mac products were in evidence. But the watchword was continuity rather than killer. It’s not that you couldn’t find some neat new products, but it’s hard to recall anything earth shattering. And since Apple’s transition to Intel was announced months ago, the release of new products to fulfil the promise, even though it came months early, can’t be considered revolutionary either.

    In fact, if you didn’t catch Apple’s posters asking “What’s an Intel chip doing in a Mac?” and weren’t aware of the significance of the new models, you might just regard them as a standard product introduction. The computers themselves look and behave as any other Mac, although they are pretty fast ones of course. The technology publications, online and otherwise, will be measuring real world performance in the weeks to come, and you’ll see the first true comparison between the Mac OS and Windows. No excuses that megahertz and gigahertz doesn’t matter. Just raw numbers to demonstrate which operating system is more efficient of system resources.

    But the blogs are already in full swing. Is MacBook Pro a suitable replacement for PowerBook? What about the missing features? Did you require FireWire 800 for your work? Well, the video editors and other content creators among you have reason to be concerned, although it’s conceivable an adapter can be created that’ll occupy the new ExpressCard slot. Where’s the modem? Well, $49 will get you one, but that seems retro, since it harkens back to the days of the original PowerBooks, where modems were also optional. Of course, Apple is telling you that broadband is the way to go, but that doesn’t help if it’s not conveniently available in your city, or at the hotel. If it makes any difference, the built-in SuperDrive won’t burn dual-layer DVDs either. Maybe Apple has some explaining to do.

    My concern, though, remains when a 17-inch version will appear. I’m not as yet inclined to want to order a MacBook Pro, although my brief encounter with it was highly favorable. Compared to all previous Apple laptops, it really does scream.

    Nothing, however, is lost on the iMac with Intel within, and I use that phrasing because “Intel Inside” is no longer a part of that company’s marketing program. It possesses all the elements of the last iMac G5, with the addition of a slot for an external display that works in both extended desktop and mirroring modes. The iMac has always had great possibilities as an office computer, despite the media center appliances, and this new port just extends the joy. Except for the Power Mac G5 Quad, I rather suspect that product line will suffer in the sales department for quite a while, since it is expected to be the last to receive an Intel chip. And just one more thing: Will the Power Mac simply become a Mac Pro? And what about the Xserve?

    I also hope that Apple won’t wait too long before refreshing the Mac mini and iBook lines. In light of the new nomenclature, I rather suspect the iBook will also be christened “MacBook,” with only the word “Pro” to distinguish the consumer from professional lines. But there’s no reason to change the name of the Mac mini, although you never know what might happen with Apple.

    On the software front, I am anxious to give iLife ’06 its due, but I am on the fence about iWork ’06. It is still not a true AppleWorks successor not anything approaching a Microsoft Office competitor. But one feature does bring it closer to Word, and that’s the addition of the Review Comments feature in Pages. From the demonstration, it appears to be closely aligned to the Track Changes features that publishers and editors cherish in Word, a capability other Mac word processes have, until now, failed to match.

    Regardless of my concerns, the crowds at Macworld were clearly pleased. Although still confined to one of the two exhibit halls at Moscone Center, there were more companies in evidence. Even small companies I might not have expected to attend decided to spring for booths. From morning until dusk, the crowds were large and evidently enthusiastic, and from the stellar and continued growth of Apple’s stock price, it’s clear Wall Street is pleased as punch.

    So why should I attempt to spoil the party?

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