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  • Some Good and Not-So-Good Updates For Apple

    February 2nd, 2009

    Whenever you hear people tell you that the Mac has a teeny tiny market share, you should alert them to the latest news, because they seem to be somewhat out of touch. You see, according to Net Applications, which surveys a huge chunk of Web sites to gather such details, the Mac OS gathered 9.93 percent of the total in January. Small yes, tiny no.

    Even better, media analysts who have said that Microsoft owns 90% of the world’s personal computer desktops need to begin to revise their estimates. The latest number is 88.26%. Now that may be close enough, but don’t forget how Firefox fared not so many years ago when it surpassed 10% of the browser market and the skeptics still suggested that Internet Explorer 7, combined with the impending arrival of Windows Vista, would halt that upstart’s progress.

    These days, Mozilla’s worldwide share is 21.5%, Safari (both Mac and PC) lies at 8.3% and Internet Explorer is holding on to 67.6%. With nearly a third of the market using a non-Microsoft browser, webmasters have fewer excuses than ever to tailor their content strictly to the eccentricities of Internet Explorer. Of course, they’ll be forced to often develop workarounds that allow IE to render the content, but maybe Internet Explorer 8 will remedy at least some of that disparity.

    This isn’t to say that everything is coming up roses for Apple. It’s quite true that they confounded the street when they delivered stellar sales figures and earnings for the past quarter. But within those numbers were troubling signs. Mac sales were high, and 71% were note-books, on the upside. Desktops, which include the iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro, declined.

    For competitive reasons, Apple doesn’t really break out the specifics, except to say that the iMac did well, even though it’s clearly overdue for a refresh, which may come this month. The Mac mini is also overdue, but Apple isn’t answering questions about its future, so we don’t know if it’ll just get a cheap refresh, with speedier internals, or there will be a major revision involving the case and other details.

    Then there’s the Mac Pro, Apple’s powerful workstation, whose sales also faltered. Some are suggesting it’s because there hasn’t been an update to the product since early 2008, and tight money has made this model’s prime audience, content creators, more hesitant to spend the extra dollars right now.

    If you can believe the published reports, Intel will have more powerful Xeon processors available by late March, which would perhaps make for a spring upgrade. No doubt graphic cards will be brought up to date as well, but it’s questionable whether the aging case or its internals will be subject to further alteration. It’s not as if the looks that resemble an oversized aluminum cheese grater are going to be changed, or even that there’s any reason for Apple revise its looks. Most people who own a Mac Pro stick them below their desks, and spend their work days staring at the display.

    What won’t happen, no doubt, is an end to production of desktop Macs. I realize where the market is heading, and that even PCs are going portable in larger numbers. But for me and others, there will be a need for a powerful desktop computer for a number of years, and so long as Apple can continue to sell a decent number of them, they won’t disappear.

    In fact, there are now rumors, unconfirmed as usual, that at least the high-end iMacs will get one of those new low-power quad-core processors from Intel. Of course, everything has a downside, and such a model is apt to cannibalize sales from the Mac Pro, but to what degree nobody can estimate, except possibly for Apple’s own product planners who work with data that nobody outside of the company can access.

    I do think, however, that lower desktop sales probably put the kibosh on the prospects for a midrange expandable desktop Mac. In theory, it’s a neat idea, but even with a growing Mac market share, it is questionable how much they want to fragment their desktop product lineup. Just because the media and some Mac users clamor for such a beast doesn’t mean the interest is sufficient to guarantee success.

    The other high question mark is whether Apple intends to play in the netbook space. Yes, I realize that Apple’s leadership continues to pour cold water on the concept, or claim that the iPhone and iPod touch are their answer to such needs.

    But that’s not the entire picture. Despite being quite small, a netbook has a workable keyboard, and much greater screen real estate. While they are otherwise little different from regular note-books, Apple has lots of possibilities to make a play in this arena. Again, consider the implications of a Pro version of the iPhone, with both physical keyboard and touch capability. Or maybe just a USB input for a standard keyboard if you feel you need one.

    One thing is certain: Even though Apple refuses to recognize the 25th anniversary of the Mac, they still have the mojo to amaze us. Despite the continued absence of Steve Jobs from the company, you should expect some genuine surprises in the next few months.



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    9 Responses to “Some Good and Not-So-Good Updates For Apple”

    1. Joe S says:

      And what about the Mac mini? It seems to me that Apple has two reasonable choices, upgrade or kill. The older mini made sense due to the commonality of parts with the notebooks. The notebook chipset has changed substantially and the mini is the only product left using the older chips. I want to replace my G4 mini with a new one.

    2. Karl says:

      With the times they way they are… I’ll wait to upgrade my PowerMacG5. It seems to be getting a bit long in the tooth but still has the legs to run a good race.

      What I really want is clear direction on the AppleTV. I want to buy one but have been waiting to see Apple’s plans for it. Since it’s a “hobby” for them I really don’t want to make the investment until I get a better understanding that the product is going to be something worth continued development.

    3. @ Karl: You never know with Apple, but it does seem as if Apple TV will just continue to get minor updates for a while until they figure out where to take it.

      Unless they already know, and just referred to it as a “hobby” again to throw competitors off the track. They’ve been known to do that. 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. hmurchison says:

      It’s a fact that laptops are outselling desktops at least where Apple is considered.

      I don’t buy the argument that the iMac is cannibalizing Mac Pro sales. Hell you may s
      well state that every Mac mini purchased is cannibalizing Mac Pro sales. Only the true
      optimist that they are at Apple can look at every computer sale and posit that many customer
      were indeed going to buy a $2799 workstation to manage their checking account and surf
      the web.

      There will always be a need for “balls to the wall” performance. I’m into digital video and frankly
      it’s a laugher when analysts speak about the economy and how that will scare people away from
      the pricier Mac Pros. Well a person doing top shelf video has likely spent more on lighting or tripods
      or a steadicam than a Mac Pro. They invest in computers, if a Mac Pro refresh saves them x amount
      of hours a day it’s worth the investment.

      As for the Mac mini and iMac. Sheesh could it be anymore layed out for Apple.

      Mac mini – Core2 Duo …refresh it next year with Havendale Nehalem (2-core 4 threads)

      iMac – Core2 Quad for all computers above $1200. Transition to Lynnefield Nehalem (4-core 8 threads)

      Mac Pro – Gainesville Xeon

      Havendale and Lynnfield have PCI-Express support right in the CPU allowing for lower cost designs. Havendale will have IGP (integrated graphics processing) right in the CPU making a low cost computer as easy as they come.

      Clarksfield Nehalem for portables will come Q3 of this year for Macbook/Macbook Pro refreshes

      It’s only just now getting good. We haven’t fully reaped the rewards of integration that are coming. 2009 will be a transition year. Snow Leopard transitions OS X for the next decade and Cocoa as the framework. Nehalem is really the transition to a multi-core multithread paradigm and Intel, Nvidia and AMD and more are transitioning into the GPU becoming more of a peer component.

      There is so much to look forward to that the non-enthusiasts head will spin.

    5. Bill in NC says:

      MacMini should be the Macbook stripped of screen/keyboard/trackpad.

      Powered by a standard MagSafe adapter.

    6. Joe S says:

      <<<
      MacMini should be the Macbook stripped of screen/keyboard/trackpad.

      Powered by a standard MagSafe adaptor.
      >>>

      Sounds good to me. You forgot about the battery.

    7. Andrew says:

      I’d love to see the Mac Mini mirror the specs of the new MacBook White just as the G4 Mini mirrored the iBook and the Intel Mini the MacBook (two generations back). It would be fast-enough, cheap-enough and just plain good-enough for everything except high-end graphics work (including games).

      Of course, that assumes that you want a desktop for other than high-end graphics work. I own an 8 core Mac pro that is used mostly as a server (excellent), and I still use my MacBook Pro for gaming as it is entirely adequate. When the games of 2011 or whenever won’t run anymore, perhaps I’ll play on the desktop, if I haven’t bought a newer and faster MacBook Pro by then.

    8. David says:

      I’ve never understood why Apple made a Mac mini in the first place when a slightly larger design would have improved specs while lowering parts costs. A bigger box could accommodate higher end parts too so it could appeal to a wider demographic. I know, Apple only wants to sell all-in-ones because they’re obsolete faster and have a higher risk of breaking out of warranty forcing a new sale.

      I’ve also never understood why, once they chose to make the mini very small, that they went with a square box instead of a low, flat shape that would have allowed them to use the same logic board as their consumer notebook. Such a move would have lowered costs and given them great flexibility to allocate the parts to whatever product was selling better at the time. I still think the next Mac mini might move to a notebook shape and use the MacBook internals.

      I’ve accepted that if I want an expandable Mac I have to shell out a small fortune for a Mac Pro, spend big bucks for a used Mac Pro or take my chances with a hackintosh. I don’t have enough cash for a Pro and my wife wants a full warranty and support so I’m hoping for major changes to the iMac:

      – a hard drive that can be swapped in 5 minutes
      – a modern quad core processor
      – a serious OpenCL compatible GPU

      Of course I need them to retain FireWire 800 and IPS displays for at least the 24″ model. I’d like them to include eSATA because its faster and less expensive than FW800, but that’s unlikely. Oh and fix the mini DisplayPort to DVI problems because several members of my family have old towers that they’d like to replace with the 2009 Mac mini.

    9. I doubt I’d ever buy a Mac Pro — but a 4-core iMac count me in!

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