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  • The Mac Report: No Surprises From Apple

    August 7th, 2007

    As soon as Apple contacted selected members of the media and summoned them for a briefing at its corporate campus in Cupertino, speculation mounted as to what new developments have been wrought. For the most part, that speculation was, amazingly enough, almost right on the money, close enough that you begin to think that maybe a few of the rumor sites actually had advance information. Or that the changes were so expected, that little came as a surprise.

    But first, let’s start with what didn’t happen. There was no mid-range Mac minitower, to fill the gap between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, no slim and light note-book, nor was Apple’s display line refreshed. Instead, the iMac simply adopts the latter’s basic design.

    Out are the fashionable white plastics, and in is industrial strength aluminum, with slightly speedier processors from Intel’s Santa Rosa family, larger hard drives, and the rest of the standard array of speed bump niceties. Also history is the 17-inch version, with a 20-inch variant moving into a reasonably-affordable $1,199 slot. Oh yes, for business users, Apple added support for FireWire 800.

    With but a single comment on the subject during the question and answer session, the Mac mini received a new lease on life and a minor speed bump, with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor topping out at 2GHz. This minor upgrade also means that all of Apple’s computers now have 64-bit processors, but clearly it’s the all-in-one computer that lights Steve’s fire these days, witness the rapidly growing sales of Mac note-books.

    The other three developments were essentially telegraphed in advance too. Subscribers to .Mac get a few more features, including iPhone integration, and online storage is now expanded to 10GB from 1GB, the better to compete with free offerings from Google and Yahoo.

    At long last, iLife is revised, with the ’08 version receiving major enhancements to GarageBand, iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto and iWeb. There’s little to be said other than the fact that nothing on the PC platform was able to match the power and simplicity of iLife ’06, and iLife ’08 will only raise the bar.

    Another confirmed rumor had it that Apple would release a spreadsheet component for iWork ’08 known as Numbers. Well, they had it right on the money again. This iWork revision hits four-square into Microsoft Office territory, with substantial Excel import and export support in Numbers, a track changes feature in the word processor and desktop publishing application, Pages, and more tools for your Keynote presentations.

    Both applications will continue to sell for $79 each, which retains their bargain status. Oh yes, they will fully support Leopard, but will also be fully functional with Tiger. So much for my theory that iLife ’08 would become a free value-added extra in Mac OS 10.5.

    The Mac revisions come at an opportune time. Aside from the Mac Pro, which hasn’t had a change since last year except for that dual four-core processor configuration, all Macs are current, and Apple’s consumer applications have now left the starting gate. This puts Apple in good stead for the back-to-school season, and establishes the climate for plenty of holiday cheer.

    With sales of new Macs increasing three times faster than the rest of the PC industry, the Windows-based competition has been left flat-footed once again. Sure, Dell is pushing a new line of PC boxes that sport new names and new colors, but that doesn’t change the fact that they remain hobbled by Windows Vista. Microsoft hasn’t done as well with Vista as the industry hoped, and now that Apple has a major operating system upgrade slated for October, this may be a ripe time for Windows users to serious consider jumping ship.

    This is not to say that Apple is through revising computers for the rest of the year. There is still time to see a Mac Pro upgrade of one sort or another, for example. And I would not count a slim and light note-book out of the running. Maybe it is still being worked on, but simply wasn’t ready for a late summer introduction.

    Then, of course, there’s the iPod and the iPhone. The former will likely come in for some big changes in a few weeks. Some are betting that the iPhone’s touch screen will appear in a high-end iPod with either Flash memory or a hard drive, or perhaps both.

    Oh, and in case you’re curious about the other unannounced changes, it seems the AirPort Extreme is now available with gigabit Ethernet ports, while remaining at the original price of $179.

    The iPhone? Well, my crystal ball doesn’t see any major changes for 2007, though I suppose Apple could pull a surprise on everybody and introduce a 2.0 version by November, or just confound the critics and cut the price by, say, $100. But then what do I know about marketing, right?

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