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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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