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  • At Last! Apple Revitalizes the Mac

    July 28th, 2010

    Now that the notorious Antennagate scandal has apparently died down, the tech media can return to talking about Apple’s “other” product lineup — the Mac. Yes, there’s finally news that disproves the unfounded rumor that Macs are playing second fiddle these days, which is why they allegedly don’t receive regular upgrades.

    After ongoing rumors of reduced availability of the iMac and Mac Pro, Apple finally met expectations and revised both Tuesday. Although the basic form factors remain essentially identical to the previous versions, there’s more horsepower under the hood and, typical for Apple, the prices are essentially unchanged.

    The key here is that, despite claims that Apple is ignoring the latest chips from Intel, it does appear that they are embracing many of them for these speed bumps. The aging Core 2 Duo is gone from the low-end iMacs at long last, replaced by Intel’s Core i3, accompanied by discrete graphics from ATI. That decision is a response to the fact that Apple cannot use NVIDIA’S powerful integrated graphics with Intel’s current processors due to an ongoing contract dispute.

    One other notable change is the ability to add a second internal drive, a solid state device, which now brings the iMac ever closer in capability to the Mac Pro.

    As far as the Mac Pro is concerned, that update still incorporates Intel’s older Nehalem chips in the less expensive configurations, and relies on the new Westmere six-core processors for the super-expensive customized versions, beginning at a price just shy of $5,000. But don’t expect one on your doorstep quite yet. The new Mac Pros will ship in August.

    While there’s little to offer in these products beyond enhanced number crunching capability, Apple did introduce two other products that have long been anticipated. Come September, the aging Apple display lineup will be updated with a $999 27-inch LED model, offering the pretty much the same image quality as the larger iMac for those who already have, say, a Mac mini or a Mac Pro. The 24-inch and 30-inch models will be history as soon as stocks are depleted.

    There are a few extras in the new display, such as an ambient light sensor that behaves in a similar fashion to the one on an Apple note-book, adjusting brightness based on available lighting, and even a MagSafe connector to function as a convenient recharging station and somewhat reduce your cable clutter.

    In addition, a recent patent filing from Apple has paid off in a real shipping product, the Magic Trackpad, which is, at $69, basically an 80% larger version of the one you find on a Mac Pro, but tilted to match Apple’s current lineup of aluminum keyboards.

    This product may be the most intriguing, since it further integrates the feel of input devices on both desktop and portable Macs. As most of you have come to realize moving from Apple’s keyboard to the ones on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, they already act very much the same in most keyboard entry situations.

    Indeed, this may be one of Apple’s most significant, if unheralded, innovations, because it smoothes the transition from one Mac to another; that is, assuming you aren’t using a third-party input device with either. I know that I’ve always had to spend a few moments adapting from desktop to portable and back again, and some of you never succeed.

    Compare that to the widely different keyboard actions on various Windows-based desktops and note-books, because, frankly, this is not an issue those manufacturers ever consider. Unless you opt for a special keyboard, the ones you get on most desktop PCs are junk, and note-book keyboards and trackpads are seldom crafted for comfort and speed. That’s particularly true with the compressed keyboard on a netbook.

    Sure, the touch keyboard on an Apple mobile device is decidedly different and clearly less suited for extended typing sessions, but an external keyboard can remedy at least some of the known shortcomings if you are willing to give up portability and travel convenience. Or just confine your text entry to more limited functions and consider a dictation program for everything else. That way, you don’t have to fret about keyboard feel.

    There is yet one more new product, a $29 “eco-friendly” battery charger that can handle up to six AA cells and keep them fully charged for your battery-powered Apple input devices. Six long-life rechargeable batteries are included, and Apple boasts you can, with regular recharging, use them for up to ten years. Of course that will be long after your Macs have been replaced by something far more advanced in terms of power management. But the promise is at least intriguing.

    All told, this would appear to be pretty much the end of the anticipated Mac upgrades for the year, except for one thing. The fate of the MacBook Air remains uncertain. It is the only product in Apple’s personal computer lineup that has been left untouched so far this year. But it’s also not a large seller, and some feel that people who want a really thin and light portable computer might opt for the iPad instead.

    As far as software is concerned, there are still unproven reports about a forthcoming iLife ’11 upgrade with some mysterious added app, and you have to wonder when we might see the first glimmers of a substantial rumor about Snow Leopard’s successor, Mac OS X 10.7.



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    12 Responses to “At Last! Apple Revitalizes the Mac”

    1. dfs says:

      The new Macs all sound great, and I agree that sales are likely to perk up. I’m not so sure about that 27-in monitor. I can’t help wondering if that $999 price is as outrageously high as the traditional price-points of Apple monitors. By now LED monitors aren’t nearly as exotic as they used to be. A user might or might not have use for all the extras (ambient light detection, no doubt a built-in camera etc. etc.) and anyway, as the manufacturing costs go down, as they inevitably will in due time, it’s easy to guess that Apple will be as chintzy about passing on the resulting cost savings to the customer as it has been in the past. I wouln’t mind picking up a second LED monitor, my old LCD Cinema Display is getting a bad case of the dims, but before I dug this deep into my pocket I’d look long and hard at the competition.

      And as the owner of a first-gen. i7 iMac, I’m of course curious about the possibility of retrofitting my model with one of those solid state storage devices. I’ll be very curious to see what the performance stats look like.

    2. Richard says:

      The 27″ monitor seems odd. It will not please those who are used to a 30″ monitor…if there is a larger one in the works, Apple should let them know something will be coming. Price is another matter. While Apple have traditionally charged a premium price for monitors, they have lost many sales because of the policy.

      It is surprising that there is no USB 3, advanced Firewire or other rumored updates.

      The CPU upgrades were certainly due, if not overdue.

      All in all, these appear to be more of a “refresh” than new models.

      @dfs,

      Take a look at this site for information about SSD performance in the Mac: http://macperformanceguide.com/

      You will find a wide variety of other tests of SSDs. It is just a matter of finding the correct mounting system to retrofit one…and dipping into your wallet. In the iMac, the available space limits your options for internal storage though. I am not aware if there is a kit for the iMac to pull the optical drive and make space for a second drive as there is for laptops.

      • @Richard, Speaking as someone who has used a 30-inch display, I found that downgrading to the 27-inch one on my late 2009 iMac wasn’t such a big deal. I lost a little vertical screen real estate, in terms of pixel count, and was able to move the computer closer to compensate for the impact of a smaller width. It may also be that Apple sold very few 30-inch models.

        Peace,
        Gene

    3. David says:

      The old Apple tried to be all things to all people, but the Steve Jobs’ Apple has a history of abandoning entire product lines because they don’t leverage key Apple advantages. They got out of a profitable printer business because simply slapping an Apple logo on someone else’s technology didn’t fit Jobs’ style and because he believed the future was electronic documents. It meant Apple completely missed the boom in printing in the early days of PDFs and digital cameras, but in the long run he was right. After a short lived love affair with printing snapshots at home most people have stopped buying printers. At the corporate level I’ve gone from having my print jobs sitting in a queue to being shocked when one of our office printers is doing anything but sleep.

      I suspect Steve views the display business in a similar light. Apple displays are someone else’s technology in a pretty box, but unlike printers end users spend thousands of hours looking at their displays. It’s a market where style matters for an important and affluent minority. That justifies continuing to make Apple branded displays. By using the same panels as the high volume iMac the Cinema Display can also be a strong profit contributor even at a relatively low sales volume and these days profit margin appears to be just as important to Steve Jobs as elegance.

      If Apple believes the pro market is big enough to justify a unique display then we’ll see a replacement for the 30″ model. If not pros will have to rely on third parties to supply colour accurate displays.

    4. Hairy Goomer says:

      Have had a 30″ Apple display for two years now and absolutely love it – the extra real estate helps me work faster and easier.

    5. jase says:

      Apple is still way too stingy when it comes to equipping their Macs with CPUs and GPUs. And they take way too long to update models. For example, the ATI 5770 with 1gb of DDR5 memory costs a few bucks more than the 5750, the new top-of-the-line option for the iMac. The 5770 1gb retails for $140 online right now. I mean, come on Apple, why can’t this graphics card be standard for all iMacs? How much money is Apple really saving by purchasing an inferior graphics card with 256mb or 512mb ram? $50?

      Better graphics cards and CPUs expand the usable lifespan of your Mac and give customers real benefits in graphics and CPU-intensive appplications. In the current PC market, PCs that are being sold in the $1200-$2000 price range deserve good components such as the core i5-750 and the ATI 5770 1gb.

    6. javaholic says:

      We’re now in the process of refreshing several Cinema displays in the design studio, which have all been great. Eizo’s ColorEdge or HP’s new ZR30w look particularly good (30”). Apples new LEDs seem nice, but if you require or prefer an antiglare option, it’s clear Apple aren’t interested in tailoring their displays any more than they have to. Gee – and I thought Steve loved all his customers?

      For anyone in the creative field, interesting review here from the previous model LED:
      http://www.macworld.co.uk/mac/reviews/index.cfm?reviewid=2937&pn=5

    7. dfs says:

      Hey Camino: what do you mean by “refreshing” a Cinema display? I have one that sure could use it.

      • javaholic says:

        @dfs,

        Sorry – probably should’ve said ‘upgrading’. We have 6 original ACD (aluminium) 20” and 23” models but they’re losing their luster a bit now so will find new homes for them. Still, they’ve been abused, worked alot of long hours and hung in there well. If there was an Apple ‘refresh’ option, I’d be there 😉

        I’d prefer to give the money to Apple, but it seems they’re not interested.

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