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After the WWDC III: The Good and the Bad

When one’s predictions are largely fulfilled at an Apple event, you have to feel delighted, and that’s an understatement. Consider Snow Leopard. For quite some time, I have joined some of my colleagues in suggesting that Apple ought to provide an upgrade version, for Leopard users, that was priced far lower than usual. My reasoning is that, despite some new features, Snow Leopard is largely a bug fix and cleanup version, hence shouldn’t command the full upgrade price.

Yes, some were suggesting that we hadn’t heard about all the new Snow Leopard features, that Apple was secretly working on a new interface motif called Marble and other cool stuff that would be disclosed at the WWDC. Well, developers got their final beta release this week after a public demonstration of 10.6, but the new features are pretty much what you already read about, such as under-the-hood enhancements and full support for Microsoft Exchange. There are some interface tweaks, a snappier Finder, but nothing that would match the 300 new features touted for the original 10.5 release.

In addition, Apple has big competition on the horizon to contend with, and that’s Windows 7. Sure, it’s probably fair to say that the upgrade to Windows Vista is largely a refinement of the original along with some new eye candy to make it seem new and different. However, you just know that Microsoft will pretend that it is a whole lot more, a huge path to the future of personal computing under their aegis.

We really don’t know the exact upgrade costs for Vista, though some supposedly mistakenly released price lists show that Home Premium, the most common individual user version, will be roughly twice the $29 fee Apple is charging. If you want to get the Ultimate version and have all the features at your beck and call, expect to pay far more. In contrast, as we all know, the client version of Snow Leopard has it all in a single package.

The other promising development was Apple recasting the 13-inch unibody MacBook as a MacBook Pro and restoring the FireWire 800 port that the larger versions contain. That and a lower price across the board ought to make them far more attractive to potential buyers on a budget. On the other side of the coin, losing the ExpressCard slot may be a huge negative for some, who will be forced to acquire the 17-inch MacBook Pro to retain that feature. Apple claims only a small number of users ever bother with that expansion slot, but we’ll see.

In any case, Microsoft’s laptop ad campaign is now in worse shape than before, if that’s possible. You could argue before that comparable Macs and PCs were roughly similar in price. Now things have changed in Apple’s favor, and the spin control is going to be more difficult to tolerate. Talk about an alleged Apple Tax is now less credible than ever.

When it comes to the iPhone, the introduction of the 3G S was surprisingly low-key. Many expected Steve Jobs to make a cameo appearance, and perhaps provide a “one more thing” event to launch the new product. Not only didn’t it happen, Apple is rushing it to market far faster than you might have expected. I suppose using the same case design helped, and the revised internals are largely to be expected given the availability of new, speedier components for less money.

Indeed, going from a 3G to 3G S may not be so compelling an upgrade for many of you. If you don’t crave more storage space, a superior camera with video recording capability, support for faster 3G downloads and a few other odds and ends, you can probably stick with your existing iPhone. It will, as a matter of fact, still benefit from the performance improvements promised for the iPhone 3.0 software.

I’m also fascinated by the decision, not unexpected, to offer a $99 version, and the fact that it’s the 8GB version is even better, because that’s really all the phone I expect most users actually need. Even more interesting is how Apple has fired a large cannon into Palm’s bow with this maneuver, especially having the price reduction take effect immediately, since the Palm Pre, with the same storage capability, costs twice as much.

Now Palm is a beleaguered company, and if they were forced to cut the price of the Pre to match, they’d suffer big time financially. Sure, their lone wireless partner, Sprint, might opt to shoulder all or part of the losses. But the expected boost in iPhone sales is going to huge a huge impact on the competition. You can take that to the bank.

Now were I to consider upgrading my 16GB iPhone 3G, I would definitely want to put off the decision for a while. You see, AT&T expects existing customers to sign up to a revised two-year contract, but if you’re less than a year into the current agreement, they will require a $200 penalty regardless if which new iPhone you choose. Those who have the first-generation don’t have to fret, because the original purchase price wasn’t subsidized.

However, I gather that AT&T will let you upgrade without a penalty when you’re 18 months into a current contract, and that takes me to the middle of January 2010. Well, I can wait. Maybe it’ll even give them time to provide a tethering feature so I can use my iPhone with my MacBook Pro to get online when my Internet is down.

Now maybe Phil Schiller and the other Apple executives who participate in the WWDC keynote lack the charisma of Steve Jobs, but they surely provided enough meat and potatoes for me. What about you, gentle reader?