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  • Apple’s Products — But What About the Software?

    December 30th, 2008

    A large part of the speculation about Apple Inc. for 2009 covers the hardware. You just know that the iMac is overdue for a refresh, and the long-neglected Mac mini is likely to get one as well. Beyond that, perhaps there will be a unibody version of the 17-inch MacBook Pro, some new Apple displays and maybe some new variation on a media center. That is, of course, if the revitalized mini doesn’t suit that purpose.

    The prognosticators are also talking in terms of the introduction of a netbook, a “nano” version of the iPhone and a few other tidbits. Maybe there will be that famous headless iMac, or mythical midrange minitower that many of you have on your shopping lists if such a beast ever appears.

    However, at its heart, Apple is a software company. Everything they do revolves around that essential characteristic. Indeed, it’s not just elegance that sells Apple gear, but the ability to master most of the important functions and installation routines without having an IT person at your beck and call.

    On the top of the software list is, of course, the operating system. Although Apple promised that Mac OS 10.6 — better known as Snow Leopard — would appear within a year as of last summer, there are hopes and dreams that it might actually arrive sooner.

    The logic for this is that Windows 7 appears to be on track for release later in 2009, well in time for holiday sales. The late introduction of Vista was a lost opportunity, although I don’t think anything could have saved it.

    So to stay ahead of the game, some say, Apple has to push Snow Leopard out the door by the end of the first quarter. The only support for this possibility is a certain slide presentation by an Apple executive a few weeks back at a conference in which the first quarter 2009 was indicated as a release date.

    Officially, Apple hasn’t changed a thing. The slide could have been a mistake, deliberate or otherwise. If deliberate, Apple just wanted to fuel some speculation, knowing that they could always deny all official responsibility for the premature announcement. Call it a case of implausible deniability.

    But Snow Leopard, pardon the pun, is a different breed of cat. It won’t be feature-laden, and what it does offer may not mean much to most Mac users; that is, unless you ask your Macs to perform tasks that stretch the limits of RAM and CPU horsepower. Then things are apt to change for the better.

    Enterprise customers who depend on Microsoft Exchange for corporate email and collaboration may also be pleased that they aren’t saddled with the flaky, bloated Microsoft Entourage as an email client.

    For everyone else, Snow Leopard might just be a non-issue. Of course, Apple could stoke demand by simply giving it away, or charging a modest upgrade fee, largely because it is not a traditional OS upgrade. Certainly Apple’s bottom line would not suffer severely. With a shaky economy, free or almost free has its undeniable attractions.

    Past that, I haven’t seen much in the way of wish lists for the next version if iWork. Now that a spreadsheet module, Numbers, is present, what about a database component, perhaps derived from Bento, the consumer-grade substitute for FileMaker Pro? It’s not that this would be something unique. After all, AppleWorks had a database feature — sort of a FileMaker Lite — long ago. iWorks clearly has some catching up to do.

    The real question is how far Apple wants to go to match or exceed the features in Microsoft Office. It’s not as if iWork has taken huge chunks of market share away from the leader in office suites. But most Office users harness a mere fraction of its features, so having just the ones most essential to getting your work done ought to be sufficient.

    While they’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to see some fixes to some of the existing iWork glitches. One that comes to mind is that you always have to save your open documents when closing Pages, even when nothing actually needs to be saved. That sounds like a Mac programming 101 issue that should not have happened in the first place.

    With the next version if iLife, I should imagine Apple would want to exploit the sizzle of Snow Leopard and speed up iMovie correspondingly, by harnessing the enhanced multicore processor support and the ability to offload computational tasks to the graphic chips. That could deliver instant gratification for most or all of its rendering functions.

    iPhoto could, I suppose, be enhanced to more closely match the feature set of Photoshop Elements. It is not as if Apple has traditionally had a problem competing with Adobe.

    As far as the rest of iLife is concerned, I can’t say. I really don’t use it all that much. I suppose iWeb might get a boost as well. That would be expected.

    Is there any other consumer-grade software that Apple might introduce? Well, there is the possibility of an Apple TV application with full-bore digital video recorder capabilities that would work on all Macs. It would possibly kill the Apple TV hardware line, unless that migrates to a revised Apple mini.

    And what would you readers like to see?



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    15 Responses to “Apple’s Products — But What About the Software?”

    1. Terry McCune says:

      Hi Gene
      As always, a bang-on article. Yes, about that software! Bring back AppleWorks. iWork was the worst $79 Cdn I ever spent on software. I was give AppleWorks 6 on a CD as part of a booty bag at a convention I helped host in one of my last working years as a teacher. It still gets used every day. But fix the database part, please.
      iPhoto – I know it’s free, but why can’t I flip photos left to right, so that Uncle Hector’s watch is on his left wrist and his shirt doesn’t button like a blouse?
      iMovie – this is a toughie. I really liked iMovie 2 but everything since then has appeared so slap-dash, it’s embarrassing. I know, I know – buy Final Cut Express if I want to go Hollywood, but that’s the point – I don’t.
      I like linear logic and putting things, like clips and sound bites in a row. Old fashioned, I guess.
      Now some Blue Sky stuff. Wide open and Out There. A successor to HyperCard. Man, I loved that program. It turned a fusty old English teacher into a super computer studies teacher, able to do animations and programming like some sort of geek. I still have old floppy disks (and nothing to run them on) of students’ projects done on it.
      While I’m at it, there used to be a program called L*X*R Test made by Logic Extension Resources out of Rancho Cucamunga (sp?) Calif. (I’m not making that place up – I drove near it on my way down to San Diego State University to get my MA, summers of ’95, ’95 & ’96) To a Canadian, I’m not sure if even “Timbuktu” had a more exotic ring to it. But I digress. L*X*R was briefly adopted by the gov’ts of several western provinces as the gold standard in test creation. I attended many workshops and helped create a database of questions in my subject areas. One of my colleagues, a fair bit older than I, actually scanned, typed and otherwise entered over 9,000 questions in English Lit. and history – complete with diagrams, maps, cartoons etc. He even did a presentation at a convention in San Francisco. We loved that program. Now it’s owned by some industrial grade Big East concern and is available only as a subscription ($2,500/ yr US, last I looked) and doesn’t do what it used to.
      I still have a cd of questions for Geography 12 given to me by an ex- student whom I met at a provincial exam marking session. Fond memories.
      Anyway, L*X*R stopped programming for the Mac, and I received one of the nicest “dear john” letters from a company honcho, when I wrote to protest the change.
      My point, and I do have one, is that Apple, as a sop to its education roots, could/should buy up L*X*R or create a similar program. Given 25 billion in the bank, surely this isn’t too much to ask.
      Whew, I think I’ve used up my word allotment for 2009, and taken too much of your valuable time.
      All the best of the season to you and your family and a happy and prosperous New Year.

      Oh, and keep up the excellent articles. You’re still one of the best in the business.

    2. hmurchison says:

      Software to me is going to be the highlight of Macworld. I’m really not in the market for a new computer but I’m very excited to see the next versions of iWork and iLife.

      Let’s see …starting with iWork

      1. Numbers is a great start to showing Apple’s way of doing spreadsheets. Version 2 needs to shore up performance issues with larger spreadsheets, add more spit and polish, deliver Apple’s way of doing pivot tables and have some sort of scripting and the people will scream Job’s name in adulation.

      2. Pages I really can’t think of too many major missing features in Pages probably because I haven’t learned enough about what it can do. I’m sure Apple will have some nice new surprises available.

      3. Keynote….I guess improved multimedia support and animation (Core Animation?) would smooth out what is really a great presentation program.

      What i’d love to see added:

      Database- quite honestly Bento covers that need and i’ll probably purchase Bento soon enough. I think Bento would have been a great additon to the family.

      Drawing/Painting- The initial Macintosh ship with MacDraw and MacPaint. I can’t believe Apple doesn’t have a Drawing/Painting module in iWork. When I look at the landscape right now there are too few low end vector and painting programs. Lineform hasn’t seen a major update in a while, VectorDesigner is promising but missing a lot of features, DrawIt is a nice but limited an Intaglio is nice. What I want to see is Apple’s take on low end vector drawing and painting.

      iLife – I purposely skipped iLife 08 so I’m raring to go here

      iMovie- Yes version 8 is skimpy on total features but it has a far more modern core and some great features (like skimming) to build upon. I’m expecting BIG things from the next iMovie that will flesh the app out more. Adding plugin support and better iDVD and Apple TV export options. I think it will remain an easy program for people to quickly assemble video into pleasing presentation. I don’t think Apple will allow iMovie to feature creep into some surrogate Final Cut Express program. They’ve got the program back on track with it’s original intention which is movie editing so easy your Granny could do it.

      iPhoto- Big issue for me is the duplicate files. Any program that scans my computer for photos ends up pulling up duplicate photo after duplicate. Apple needs to enable non-destructive editing by “saving the recipe” a la Aperture here. Store these recipe in a format that doesn’t show up with photo scans.

      Garageband- As always make editing audio easy and finding and manging apple loops easy. Keep working on the podcasting features as well.

      iWeb- Leverage Sproutcore javascript framework on MobileMe for adding nice web widgets and start adding some features of HTML5. Improve the editing and previewing of websites.

      I’m ready to upgrade to both of these apps and now that Leopard is the dominant OS X version I expect Apple to leverage the unique features of Leopard to good effect. I find that Apple likes to wait until an OS gets critical mass before they leverage some of the neat features of a new OS. That way they can make the biggest impact. I’m ready for the Leopard savvy iWork and iLife.

    3. Doug A says:

      One last thing:

      http://dougitdesign.com/blog.html

      Well, maybe not just yet.

    4. @ Doug A: Nice article. But the concept won’t fly. Apple makes the bulk of its profits from hardware. Unleash the Mac OS (except for the small number of hobbyists who do these things) and Apple is a goner.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Doug A says:

      Thank you, Gene.

      “Apple makes the bulk of it’s profits from hardware.”

      Maybe that is only because they never opened up the Mac OS to other PC’s.

      Apple MADE the bulk of their profits from hardware, UNTIL they decided to open up the Mac OS to the rest of the world, now they made an equal bulk of profit from software……..maybe?

      You said it yourself Gene, “However, at its heart, apple is a SOFTWARE company.”

      just wondering out loud…

      Doug
      http://dougitdesign.com/blog.html

    6. A software company that integrates most of that software with its own products. By supporting alimited number of configurations, Apple doesn’t run into near as many hardware conflicts as you run into on the PC platform.

      This opens up a giant can of worms and you won’t see it happen anytime soon.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Apple makes amazing software. The professional-looking documents produced by amateurs using iWork is incredible.

    8. Degrees of Truth says:

      The main theme of my wish list that Apple do what it takes to build market share so that the still-existing marginalization indignities — such as Microsoft-proprietary web and media technologies — fade to nothing. While Microsoft is foundering with Vista and Vista-polishing in Windows 7.

      For that to happen, on the software side I wish for Snow Leopard to provide enough multi-core/processor performance magic that Windows runs faster in Fusion than it does natively on the same hardware. For the five years that it takes Microsoft to rewrite Windows again to catch up.

      I wish for Apple to announce an alliance with Sun Microsystems, for Sun become a one-stop support shop for enterprise customers. That Sun distributes and supports Apple hardware and provides roadmaps and other hand-holding that IT departments think they require.

      On the hardware side, I wish that Apple takes the Mac mini, the Airport base station, the Time Capsule, and the AppleTV, and converts them into a set of stackable modules. Stacked together, with expansion modules for Blu-ray or additional drives, they form a desktop mini-tower or home server, using the ZFS file system in Snow Leopard. Or they can be used independently as makes sense.

      I wish for Apple to announce a netbook-sized notebook computer using ARM architecture and both internal flash memory and hard drive, with optional integrated but user-changeable 3G access. With big battery life.

      And just for the heck of it, I wish Apple would really make the iPod touch an iPhone without the phone network connection, e.g. include GPS and camera. Just add software for VOIP. And make the camera optional on both devices, to get it into enterprises with security requirements.

    9. Bill in NC says:

      I’d like 10.6 to be better optimized than 10.5

      Leopard has some neat features but is still slower than Tiger on my C2D MacBook.

    10. Bill in NC wrote:

      I’d like 10.6 to be better optimized than 10.5

      Leopard has some neat features but is still slower than Tiger on my C2D MacBook.

      Well, that is precisely what Apple is promising. Most benchmarks, by the way, do not show Leopard being slower than Tiger, but you need more RAM for it to flourish.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. hmurchison says:

      Bill

      10.6 is certainly centered around optimizing and should be more fluid than Leopard or Tiger. I was happy the hear that PPC support is gone and that Carbon is finally deprecated in lieu of Cocoa. One framework with optimizations and polish is what Apple and its customers need.

    12. Jim says:

      @Terry:

      Rancho Cucamonga does exist. I t is the location of the Apple Store Victoria Gardens. It is an upscale hangout for all those “rich” Claremont Colleges (Pitzer, Harvey Mudd, Pomona, etc.) professors. (rich + professors in the same sentence; there is a oxymoron for you.)

    13. bc says:

      One thing Pages needs is better compatibility with other apps, especially an RTF importer that will read footnotes, headers, footers, images and other attributes.

    14. GBledsoe says:

      @ hmurchison:

      Bento lacks a critical feature which I need as a teacher: mail merge. No, I don’t need to mail merge addresses, but as a teacher I create weekly reports using Appleworks mail merge features which parents find very useful. Besides creating non-generic letters (instead of “Dear Parent” I can be specific about the name of the parent) I can use the student’s name and the personal pronouns (he/she, his/her, him/her) as well as put in information about spelling words and test scores. These letters can be emailed to those parents with email addresses and printed for those who don’t.

      I’ve posted a mail merge request at the Bento site, but they didn’t listen for Bento 2. Mail merge seems like a no-brainer to me.

    15. Degrees of Truth says:

      Re Bento:

      I also don’t understand the Bento market. I use Excel’s data features. I’m familiar with relational databases. Bento is way short of a full database app and doesn’t even replace all Excel data features.

      Recently I thought of a case for which I might purchase Bento. My wife coordinates an annual luncheon. She needs to keep a simple list of attendees, with some associated data, and print announcements, address labels, and name tags. Bento doesn’t do labels; you’re supposed to use Address Book, to which it’s tied. Great, except Address Book only knows how to print addresses, not names for name tag labels. No sale.

      It seems bizarre that so long after Appleworks was deprecated, there’s no collective replacement in Apple’s apps.

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