So is it Safe to Talk About Macs Now?

September 7th, 2010

All right, so Apple has certainly dominated the headlines in recent months with the iPhone 4, the unfortunate Antennagate scandal, a new iPod lineup and a resurrected Apple TV that hopes to shed its hobby status. That pretty much takes care of everything, except for a certain product category that doesn’t get much press these days.

Ahead of last week’s Apple event, some suggested Apple might release an iLife ’11 upgrade. There’s even a page devoted to that product over at Amazon, although I suppose it might be gone if Apple decides that such an announcement was premature.

Obviously, iLife is a suite of Mac software, so it had no place at an event focused on handheld gadgets. iTunes 10 for the Mac and PC is the hub for those gadgets, so it had to be upgraded too, although some might question the value of Ping in a crowded social networking segment.

So when iLife appears, and I would expect that’ll happen between now and early 2011, remember that it’s strictly a Mac application. There won’t be a Windows version, simply because that would make people less inclined to consider buying a Mac. That’s why you won’t see iWork for Windows either. So long as Apple wants the Mac to remain substantially different from a Windows box, cross-platform initiatives will be carefully limited.

Safari is there to expand the Web compatibility equation with Apple’s browser, iTunes for obvious commercial reasons, supporting Apple’s mobile devices. Same for QuickTime, so you get the picture.

Beyond iLife, there is the question whether Apple plans to release any further Mac hardware upgrades this year. The note-books had their day in the sun this past spring, though I suppose there might be reason to upgrade them yet again if there is any new Intel hardware to offer, or Apple opts to add AMD processors to the MacBook to deliver decent performance at an even lower price.

That leaves the MacBook Air, the computer that seems to have less and less value in light of the arrival of the iPad. It is small, cute, but underpowered. It would seem the MacBook serves the purpose of a light note-book that’s modestly affordable and powerful enough for most tasks other than heavy-duty gaming and 3D rendering. And even the gaming scores can deliver the promise of playable performance for many titles.

Of course, the standard MacBook also weighs 1.7 pounds more than the Air and isn’t quite as thin. However, it all comes down to sales. If Apple was moving the Air in sufficient quantities, there would be a reasonable incentive to deliver an upgrade, perhaps in the next few weeks. Even with mediocre sales, it wouldn’t cost much to upgrade the parts and perhaps add RAM. Maybe even make the RAM replaceable. I wonder who got the idea that it should be non-replaceable and barely sufficient.

And, of course, an AMD-based MacBook Air might permit Apple to pare the price to a more sensible level.

Come 2011, I expect the talk about Mac OS 10.7 to increase. Certainly Snow Leopard seems to have been quite successful from a retail standpoint, and it has been stable enough, although there have been several maintenance updates to fix various problems.

The big question, though, is how Apple plans to deal with the gaming explosion. Certainly the mobile platform is doing well, what with nearly 50,000 gaming titles now available for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and more developers in that industry coming on board.

The recent Snow Leopard Graphics update was designed, in large part, to deliver much better gaming scores on many Macs. Up till now, such apps haven’t done so well on the Mac platform. This is the area where Windows has traditionally been far superior. Even when a Windows game comes to the Mac, and sometimes it can take many months to happen, performance is apt to be subpar except for the most powerful Mac configurations. That doesn’t encourage people to buy the products, and so your favorite computing platform continues as a second class citizen.

But the success of games in Apple’s largest product segments is widely expected to produce a legendary “halo effect” that will encourage gaming companies to take the Mac seriously for once. That, of course, and the promise of better performance. Valve, the company that brought the Steam platform to the Mac a few months back, claims to be working with Apple, AMD and NVIDIA to boost the frame rates without preventing you from using the most advanced display features. Maybe it won’t quite match what you get on a Windows box, but few would complain about a 75% or 85% solution at an affordable price.

Of course, if Apple really wanted to break out in the gaming market, adding a gaming feature to the Apple TV would represent a tremendous threat to Sony, Nintendo and, of course, Microsoft. Some expected that to happen with the original product introduction, but that wouldn’t prevent a near-future software upgrade from Apple offering that solution.

But for now, get ready for some positive Mac discussions at long last. I hope.

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2 Responses to “So is it Safe to Talk About Macs Now?”

  1. Steve W, Indialantic FL says:

    I think that the next BIG thing in gaming will be 3D, and that 3D will be the kiss-of-death to PC gaming. OTOH, 3D could be the breath-of-llife to Apple TV – if Apple chooses to go there (compete with xbox and wii).

    It is possible that Apple could choose to make a 3D iMac, or even a 3D iPad. My crystal ball is fuzzy on that.

  2. maxMarch says:

    what about a 4×2.5ghz ARM based macbook air that runs iOS or Mac OS?

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