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The WWDC Report #5: A Few Possible Sore Points

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.