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Apple’s 2007 Lineup: The Excitement Underwhelms

In keeping with predictions from the Mac rumor sites, Apple finally delivered its first Mac upgrade for 2007, a minor speed bump and feature enhancement for the best-selling MacBook line.

To be sure, the improvements, through modest, were nonetheless welcome. For example, processor speed is now boosted to 2GHz and 2.16GHz, hard drives are beefier and the standard RAM allotment is enhanced to 1GB from 512MB, which will certainly allow the computers to shine. In addition, the AirPort Extreme module ships with the 802.11n feature activated, so you don’t have to pay $1.99 for the update or buy a new AirPort Extreme base station.

Missing in action, though, is Intel’s new Santa Rosa chipset, which also includes superior onboard graphics. As it is, the MacBook is fine for digital video and so on and so forth, but not so great for gamers. And, of course, there’s no display with LED backlighting, which is something Steve Jobs promised is in the works in his recent statement about Apple’s carbon-friendly commitments.

I suppose it’s possible that the MacBook Pro is due for a near-term upgrade that will indeed incorporate such advances, although I have a feeling you won’t see it until Steve Jobs delivers his WWDC keynote on June 11th. In addition to the unveiling of the final Leopard feature-set, I would expect that professional Macs would be showcased there as well.

I could, of course, be totally wrong. Maybe the hardware updates will simply be doled out gradually before or after the big event.

You see, so far at least, the changes we’ve sen in Mac hardware this year haven’t set the world afire. I suppose you could say that the new AirPort Extreme is significant because of its support for the faster Wi-Fi standard, the additional Ethernet ports and the USB network drives capability. But I don’t regard that as particularly major either.

I suppose if you want to be technical and all, it might be said that the Apple TV and the iPhone are both Macs, since they use a slimmed down OS X. Indeed, the latter does strike me as a handheld computer more than a phone, although the makers of so-called smart phones really don’t want us to believe that the iPhone represents any real competition to their market. They forget, however, that this is a 1.0 product, and that more features can be added via a software update to improve email, add additional applications and other enhancements.

Other than the iPhone, which doesn’t excite me but excites lots of others, I am not bowled over by Apple’s hardware announcements so far this year. Considering that the Mac is holding its own and then some in spite of the arrival of a new operating system from Microsoft, you’d think Apple would rather not rest on its laurels and just keep pouring out the updates as quickly as new chips are available from Intel.

The Mac Pro is another example. At long last, Adobe releases its new Universal creative applications, which is sure to spur sales of Apple’s high-end desktops. But the only change so far has been an option to add a special 3GHz Intel Xeon processor with eight cores. As exciting as that may seem, the load of money you pay for the new chips will probably have little or no impact unless you own one of the handful of applications that are really designed to take advantage of such power.

Sure, Mac OS X Leopard will likely make it easier for application developers to use eight-core processors, but that’s been postponed until fall. No instant gratification there.

So where will Apple go from here?

Well, there are still rumors afoot about a slim and light note-book, one that weighs maybe three or four pounds, contains onboard Flash memory for faster boot times, and possibly lacks of a built-in optical drive. But how many Mac users are clamoring for such a gadget?

By fall, there may be a new iMac form factor. Or maybe just a speed bump in the same old case. It’s really hard to tell.

When it comes to the iPod, is there a 6G version with touch screen in our future? Some claim it’s ready now, but Apple is holding it back so as not to take attention away from the iPhone. Once that product ships in volume, the new iPod will appear right behind it. So get your cleaning cloths ready, because those screens will dirty up fast.

But right now, as far as new Apple hardware is concerned, I might as well go back to sleep. Let me know when the drought is over.