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  • The Apple Product Report: Too Much Hype?

    June 7th, 2007

    You know, wherever I look online, there seems to be a story about Apple. Of course, that’s also what we do here, but even places where you expect to read about politics, the rush release of Paris Hilton from prison and other more traditional coverage, there’s something about the iPhone. If it’s not the iPhone, it’s the alleged slip of the tongue from Sun Microsystems president and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, in which it was revealed that Mac OS X Leopard would include support for their ZFS file system.

    Of course, none of this is any accident. Even that revelation from Schwartz is most likely part of a carefully calculated marketing program ahead of next week’s WWDC and the forthcoming release of the iPhone.

    You know, for example, that over a million prospective buyers have contacted both Apple and AT&T about being first in line for an iPhone. How many will actually buy one — assuming there are enough on hand to fill such a huge initial demand — is anyone’s guess.

    This week, the low-key release of a new version of the MacBook Pro, complete with chips from Intel’s new “Santa Rosa” processor family, still got a fair amount of coverage. Sure, I have no doubt the new note-books are up to 50% faster than the first generation models released over a year ago. It’s probably true that the new 15.4-inch LCDs with LED backlighting operate more efficiently and are more environmentally pure than the fluorescent lighting previously used. All well and good.

    But that’s nothing earth shattering. It’s just a natural evolution of the MacBook Pro, in the same fashion that the MacBook was updated earlier this year.

    Now there is talk about some new stuff next week, perhaps even an iMac revision with a new case, adorned with brushed aluminum fittings, and an updated line of Apple displays. It is even possible that the Mac Pro might receive its first real upgrade, except for that eight-core processor option, although a new case design doesn’t seem to be as important to professional content creators.

    The real attention next week will, of course, be on Leopard. At long last, the complete feature set for Mac OS 10.5 will be revealed, and developers will receive a near-final beta to take home with them and pound on to help Apple find and squash the final bugs.

    That may be the most important event — aside from the iPhone’s impending arrival of course — because it will signal Apple’s future operating system direction. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t amount to more than bread crumbs. Sure, Time Machine is a neat way to back up your files and recover the stuff you trash by mistake, but it’s nothing earth-shattering. Spaces, which provides extended desktops, is simply a feature that’s already available in third-party software without the Apple-inspired eye candy.

    The under-the-hood stuff described so far, such as improved 64-bit support and core animation, seems to represent nothing more than natural development of an advanced operating system. None of it is particularly innovative.

    So is Apple going to do something special to better compete with Windows Vista for the holiday season — or is that even necessary? What about improved collaborative features, an enhanced Finder, and all the other wish list items Mac users have been clamoring for over the years?

    In all, the typical Mac OS X upgrade needs to contain from 150 to 250 new features. Of course, some will be simple enhancements to an existing system application, such as the various and sundry changes to Apple Mail and iChat. You’ll also see the shape of the final version of Boot Camp, and, no, I do not expect that it will offer virtualization in the fashion of Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion.

    It is possible, of course, that Apple will outfit Boot Camp with something similar to the “Fast User Switching” option, which will allow for speedier double-booting. Then again, with that notoriously long startup time for Windows Vista, I can’t see where Apple can gain much ground there.

    One area where Apple can certainly make a difference is with improved multiprocessing support. Consider that eight-core Mac Pro. The reviews have been tepid at best. Paying $700 extra for eight-cores over four cores doesn’t do much unless you are using a small subset of 3D rendering applications.

    In the not-too-distant future, you will see note-books with four-cores, and future developments include even more processors on a single chip. All that will go to waste unless the operating system is especially tuned to use all that horsepower, and simple tools are made available for developers to provide support where necessary. It may not make a difference with Microsoft Word, but what if Photoshop could run separate rendering operations in each core? Consider the possibilities.

    To be sure, Apple’s employees indeed have their work cut out for them. Can they fulfill all these exceedingly inflated expectations? Or will anything they do come up with strike all of us as profound letdowns, regardless of how significant those products and features really are? Friends, I am not taking any bets, but I the await the developments with heightened curiosity.



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