The WWDC Report #5: A Few Possible Sore Points

June 12th, 2008

I suppose I’m lucky, though I’m also broke. You see the Steinberg family recently completed its migration to Intel processors this year, and we’ll be paying the monthly credit card bills for several years as a result. However, it also means that we’ll be able to run Snow Leopard when it ships, whenever it ships.

Now to be perfectly fair, Apple did not officially acknowledge the system requirements, but a few screen shots posted from a developer’s release protected by NDA clearly omit any reference to the PowerPC. The Night Owl’s sources basically confirm those reports, although, to be fair, it’s always possible PowerPC support will ultimately be restored before OS 10.6 (Apple apparently isn’t using the word “Mac” anymore these days) ships.

On the other hand, before you prepare your petitions, maybe you want to look over this situation a little more carefully. You see, Snow Leopard isn’t meant to be a feature release, though businesses will appreciate the native support for Microsoft Exchange 2007. Instead, it’s supposedly a slimming and performance enhancement upgrade, and one way to trim the code is to ditch support for a bunch of older hardware utilizing a different processor platform. That also simplifies the testing process, which speeds up the development process.

Another significant point is the fact that Snow Leopard’s biggest performance boosts will impact multicore processors and the most powerful graphic chips. To be fair, only a small number of Power Mac G5s had multicore, and that was only in the latter stage of its production run. Sure, others had twin processors, and I suppose that would help somewhat, though Apple doesn’t mention the number of chips. Also, Apple has been becoming better and better in providing more robust graphics hardware with the Intel transition.

As far as the millions of owners of a G4 Mac that runs Leopard are concerned, they will probably not benefit much, or at all, from Snow Leopard. Yes, there are two processor models, but we’re talking multicore here. So does it really make sense for Apple to spend development dollars for an aging and discontinued platform?

Indeed, the key to Snow Leopard is the name, which implies something that builds upon Leopard, and thus you can understand where Apple is going. At the same time I feel bad for the people who will not be able to upgrade — unless Apple changes its mind of course — but with a year or more before 10.6 arrives, one hopes you’ll have time to save your cash or clean your credit lines so you can afford a new Mac.

And if you can’t, remember that Leopard will offer pretty much all of the features of Snow Leopard — absent the enhanced Exchange Support — and that includes Spaces and Time Machine. What’s more, I’m sure Apple will still churn out 10.5 maintenance updates for quite some time.

The other possible sore spot is the new pricing strategy for the iPhone 3G. Apple claims the price was cut in half, and that’s true for the 8GB $199 version, compared to the former price of $399. The percentages are off with the 16GB model, which is $100 more.

However, AT&T quickly let the other shoe drop, pointing out that you’ll have to also buy a 3G data plan, which is $10 per month more than the 2.5G or EDGE version. Over the minimum required two-year contract, that’s the equivalent of giving them $240 to save $200. As far as credit card interest rates go, that’s not so bad, but you can’t say the iPhone 3G is really cheaper on the long haul. At the same time, though, the lower initial purpose price is going to attract a lot more customers and even make the $99 BlackBerry handsets look a whole lot less inviting.

It’s also clear that Apple did a little cost cutting to shave the retail price. Plastic casings are somewhat less expensive than metal, and one hopes the new design will be reasonably robust and will survive rigorous wear and tear in a similarly friendly fashion. The loss of the docking station is also a sensible cost saving measure, since that accessory costs $49 separately. Then again, is this something you really need? I’ve yet to use mine, really.

In addition, Apple ignored user requests for a higher resolution camera. It’s still two megapixels, and going to three or four and perhaps adding flash capability would combine to increase the bill of materials. Whatever it takes, but they’ll still make a lot more money on the long haul, since they’ll be churning out more units for ultimate sale in 70 countries.

In fact, the financial and tech analysts are already speculating that Apple’s promise to sell 10 million by the end of 2008 is probably far too conservative.

The other irritating factor is that activation will take you a lot longer. You won’t be able to do it in the comfort of your home or office, using iTunes. Apple is going to fight hard to stop people from unlocking their iPhone 3Gs, and one way to do that is to require in-store activation. It also means the lines will be longer, as you’ll have to endure a 10 minute process.

My plan is to go to the local AT&T factory store, since it’s not as apt to be as crowded as an Apple Store during the early days of the iPhone 3G’s release.

Yes, I do plan to buy one, even if I have to restart my two-year pact with AT&T.

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13 Responses to “The WWDC Report #5: A Few Possible Sore Points”

  1. Joel Fagin says:

    I understand (from completely unsubstantiated rumours) that the plastic back was to improve reception. The metal even with the plastic at the bottom, was interfering a bit.

    It makes sense. And even if it doesn’t, if you have to have some plastic on the back for the aerial, then going to all plastic would make the phone look more consistent and stylish. Apple does like seamless designs.

  2. shane blyth says:

    a couple of comments:

    $30 is the current plan price for 3G so they are not actually charging you more. Not by upping the price falsely anyway. I mean they wouldnt charge you the $30 previously but the $20 as you where only running an Edge speed plan. Considering At&T is spending alot of money to roll out 3G it seems reasonable.

    Itunes maybe possible activation process and Ill quote from an internal AT&T email below

    It looks like iTunes activation may not be completely gone after all. According to the e-mail, “in the event that a customer’s device is not tethered in the Apple store,” customers will need to activate via iTunes. ……. The return policy for the iPhone 3G is being extended to 30 days in both Apple and AT&T stores, and customers will be limited to buying three units, although presumably they’ll now have to activate them pretty soon thereafter.

    I also noticed on the Technightowl you where discussing shareware throught the appstore and seemed perplexed as 2 how this would work. I suggested in a previous email that the simplest way was to release your shareware in 2 flavors. The trial version which bombs out so you get prompted to go to the appstore and buy the Full version. You naturally delete the timed out version. You could also release the first iteration in limited features for free and nag people to buy the full featured version. Seems a simple process to me.

    Cheers from New Zealand and yes we are getting iphones though I dont know what will happen to my jailbroken unit. I am hoping I can now take it in and sign a contract and go legit. I dont see the need to get the 3G personally as this one with the right apps does all i need. It has a great camera app with all sorts of options and Twinkle i use which is Twitter with the ability to take a photo and auto post it along with a link in your tweets. There are a few good Video apps and even MMS apps though I was told just get your friends to put the email address in there phones and you can recieve photos that way. I have an article on the process is anyone is interested.. Seems simple enough for people with phones that dont have email support.

  3. Dana Sutton says:

    I don’t see how PowerPC owners have a legitimate beef. Apple put out two OS versions (Tiger, Leopard) designed to bridge the transition to the Intel Mac, just as it had previously put out versions containing Rosetta to bridge the transition from OS9 to OSX. Owners of PowerPC Macs are free to continue using Leopard well into the future, and, judging by its past performance, Apple will probably continue to support it by issuing such things as security upgrades (and probably also by issuing upgraded Universal versions of software such as Safari, iTunes and Quick Time Player) well into the future. In fact, the very name they chose for the next OS, “Snow Leopard” (instead of some entirely different cat) may hint at an unprecedented period of coexistence of these two OS versions, so that, for example, fresh versions of Leopard may continue to be issued even after the debut of Snow Leopard. Now it is time to move on. Apple has done a very brilliant and very responsible job of facilitating these two major transitions, and it is easy to imagine the chaos and the damage (to users and to Apple itself) that could have occurred if they had failed in either case. But (as with their dropping of Rosetta a while back) it is unrealistic to expect them to remain mired in the past.

  4. gopher says:

    Maybe once the new Macs are released with only Snow Leopard compatible to them, it will be easier to code for them too, as the code to develop on top of is smaller too.

    As for the phones, I’m still rather wary about them:

    1. No flip camera for video chat.
    2. Still bulky in terms of horizontal and vertical size, difficult to fit into most pockets except perhaps jacket pockets, and an eyesore on your belt cases. You look like Dilbert with all his gadgets. Had they used OLED, they could have shrunk down and made the screen folding.
    3. Coverage of AT&T sucks high time. They need compatibility with more carriers.

  5. In the U.S., T-Mobile is just rolling out 3G and it uses a different frequency for that. So you may have little choice. Unless Apple delivers a CDMA version, so you can use Verizon.


  6. Tim harness says:

    PPC owners will still feel hard done by, something like grand central would be useful on any dual processor machine. But it is Apple’s line to draw, even if it seems too soon.

  7. PPC owners will still feel hard done by, something like grand central would be useful on any dual processor machine. But it is Apple’s line to draw, even if it seems too soon.

    Maybe this is a fine distinction that a programmer can enlighten me on, but Apple’s published material on Snow Leopard talks of “multicore” rather than multiprocessors. There are very few of those in the PowerPC line, the last generation of the G5. I expect the user base of that particular model is no more than a few hundred thousand, if that.


  8. Adam says:

    Snow Leopard –
    This is a performance bump and one that simple does not apply to the VAST majority of PPC machines which–as Gene points out–cannot take advantage of the multicore optimization. I suppose they could do parallel computing via their GPUs, but again the only PPC Macs that would benefit would be PowerMacs, which are a relatively small installed base. Those with the most powerful GPUs are typically graphics/video professionals or (yes, even on the Mac) gamers who are statistically likely to upgrade every 3 years or so anyway. Will PPC owners feel hard put upon? Yes. Should they? No. Why not? The Intel transition was announced years ago and this is a logical path to take. By the time this OS comes out the only multicore PPC Macs will be 3 years old (maybe more) and traditionally that is the point where hardware starts to be long in the tooth for the latest new OS.

    iPhone 3G –
    I want cut and paste, as well as a few other software tweaks, but I think the new designs are pretty darn good. I do NOT understand why people are so upset at not being able to video chat over their mobile phone. Think about the battery life. An iPod Nano (no hard drive, video capable, similar to the phone) has an estimated battery life of 24 hours of audio playback and 5 hours of video. I need my iPhone to have power. If I need to video conference, then I will arrange to do it over a computer. Really, is this necessary?

    Gopher, where do you live? To say that AT&T coverage sucks is an awfully broad statement to make with no substantiating data to support it. I grant that in some parts of the country this is undoubtedly true, it certainly is not the case where I live, nor for that matter where any of my out of state relatives live. In fact, I have far fewer connection problems than my friends on Verizon which is supposed to have better coverage. I am not a big fan of AT&T, but I am even less so of blanket statements like “this sucks”. I feel for you if the situation in your area is bad, but let’s keep it in perspective, OK? Also, I don’t know if it’s the phone or if AT&T has just been improving it’s coverage in general, but my razr (again a purportedly more connection friendly device) had much greater problems on AT&Ts network than my iPhone does.


  9. Tim harness says:

    To clarify, my understanding of grand central is that it divides work between processor cores, if they chose to use the technique on PPC, it should be able to take advantage of dual processors as easily as dual cores, it must, to get the maximum advantage from multi-processor Mac Pros. It’s understandable that Apple would wish to promote the newest hardware, and perhaps Steve wouldn’t mind the early burial of all things PPC. Have fun, or something like it.

  10. David says:

    I’m looking forward to Snow Leopard’s trimming of excess code, but I hope they leave Rosetta in there so PowerPC native apps will still be able to run. Office 2004 is arguably a better product than 2008 and I’d rather not be forced into a new version that drops some cross platform compatibility features. I also run an old version of Photoshop to color correct and adjust my photos. There’s no way I can justify the cost of the current version for my personal use.

    When I add up all the costs, if Snow Leopard doesn’t have Rosetta then I definitely won’t be buying a new Mac in 2009 because the combined hardware and software upgrade bills would kill me.

  11. My personal opinion is that Rosetta won’t be dropped. It’s too important, and the impact would be catastrophic for some users. Removing PowerPC support and trimming some bloat would be more than sufficient to slim the code base.


  12. Dana Sutton says:

    Rosetta is a background function designed to dynamically translate PowerPC-based applications to run on Intel Macs. It is not needed for so-called Universal applications which are “fat” apps containing code for both PPC and Intel Macs, and these do not require Rosetta to run. Rosetta was meant only as a stopgap until developers could get out Universal versions. My impression is that by now almost all mainline commercial software for the Mac, and much else besides, has been updated to a Universal version (although I’m sure somebody will be quick to point out examples of individual apps. not available in Universal format). Rosetta is therefore obsolescent, if not already obsolete, and if Apple doesn’t drop it for OSX.6, it will soon thereafter. And if they do drop it, most people won’t feel any pain, in fact won’t even notice that it’s missing. I know I won’t — I don’t think I have a single piece of PPC software left in my collection, and that includes shareware utilities and (as far as I am aware) drivers. There will also, of course, come a time when developers start writing Intel-only software, which will mean that PPC owners will hit the end of the upgrade line for the software they own. But nobody seems in a hurry to do that.

  13. Well, bottom line is that Rosetta’s footprint is far, far less than the PowerPC code itself. So I don’t necessarily think Apple is in any rush to drop it. Remember that the Universal transition actually didn’t conclude (so to speak) until this year when Microsoft Office 2008 came out. There’s still lots of legacy stuff out there, and I don’t think you’ll see Rosetta’s removal until early in the next decade.

    Other than bug fixes, I can’t see where Rosetta needs to change over this period. Whatever slowdown you experience with a PowerPC app is more than compensated for by the fact that Macs keep getting faster.


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