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  • Apple Making Waves Again

    February 25th, 2011

    After loads of speculation about what Apple might or might not be up to, it was a busy week, and I’m not just referring to the annual shareholder’s meeting, or those tabloid stories about the state of Steve Jobs’ health as he prepared to celebrate his 56th birthday.

    There were also troubling rumors that the next iPad would be delayed by two months, and that the iPhone 5 would suffer a corresponding hold up. Mind you, these two rumors were never officially confirmed by anyone in the know; they were just stories that some sites took just a little too seriously. Evidently investors did too. It wasn’t just the crisis in Libya that was hurting Apple’s price, but concerns that, in addition to having a very ill CEO, two of Apple’s most important gadgets might not ship on time.

    Now I suppose the arrival of the next iPhone remains an open question, but Apple answered concerns about the iPad simply by inviting the media to a special event in San Francisco set for March 2nd. The invitation made it quite clear that it was about the iPad, simply by rolling up a calendar window to an iPad desktop. Certainly Apple wouldn’t gut sales of the current model by announcing a revision prematurely. That’s the province of other tech companies. Instead, it seems sensible to expect the next iPad to ship within days of the official announcement. I won’t expand on the new features, but they will probably include a front-facing camera to support FaceTime, more powerful electronics and, no doubt, a somewhat thinner and lighter case. The possibility of a higher resolution display seem less certain, since there appears to be little to confirm the existence of 9.7-inch flat panel displays with four times as many pixels at a reasonable cost.

    Then again, Apple is notorious for doing the unexpected.

    Another development had also been anticipated. As the MacBook Pro lineup got long in the tooth, despite great sales, a new lineup arrived Thursday, incorporating dual-core and quad-core chips from Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processor family. It means much faster integrated graphics, and that, along with new discrete chips from AMD, delivers up to three times the graphics performance. That is, if you believe Apple’s claims.

    A new peripheral port, Thunderbolt, originally developed by Intel under the name Light Peak, arrived. It is many times faster than FireWire 800 and USB 2.0, and you can daisy chain up to six devices on as single port, including an external display. It will probably take time for peripheral makers to build audio/video interfaces and high-performance drives to take advantage of the new technology.

    Unfortunately, some tech pundits aren’t too impressed. Despite better performance, and the promise of Thunderbolt, it wasn’t enough. You see, there were other rumors about the 2011 MacBook Pros that failed to pan out. One had it that the hard drives would be hybrid devices, offering a mixture of 8-16GB of solid state storage, along with the standard mechanical assemblies. This would, the theory goes, provide much better startup performance, and perhaps better speeds from apps that depend on system resources.

    But there is no hybrid drive in evidence. Instead, you get the usual run of regular hard drives, plus three pricey SSDs. In addition, the case is the same as the previous version, despite expectations that it would be slimmer to mirror the looks of the MacBook Air. Battery life remains in the 7 hour range, which is still quite good.

    Apple did surprise us, however, with the release of the first Developer Preview of Mac OS X Lion. In fact, I had written a piece containing my hopes and dreams for Lion, not realizing that it would have a very short shelf life, although I did revise it some to recognize the updated information.

    Lion is being fleshed out considerably. You can find the latest and greatest at Apple’s Lion site, and, even though they sign confidentiality agreements, you can expect some developers will leak some juicy tidbits about Lion in the days to come. Already there are stories about Finder revisions and other fancy stuff that may, in the end, truly justify a full $129 upgrade price. Mind you, Apple hasn’t revealed a price yet, only that delivery is planned for this summer.

    One intriguing feature is Version. As you work on a document, the state is saved every hour. So if you need to revert your book manuscript, desktop publishing or video editing projects to a previous version, you’ll be able to bring up a Time Machine-style interface to choose the version you want.

    Apple also greatly expanded the description of Resume, and it has become quite a compelling feature. At first, it appeared to just be something that would let you quickly relaunch an application. But it’s more than that. Imagine a typical situation, where you have loads of documents open in several apps. For one reason or another, you need to restart your Mac, perhaps after installing a system update. With Resume, once you restart, all of your previously opened apps will relaunch, along with the documents. Basically your work environment will be as it was prior to the restart. This is similar in concept to some old Mac OS utilities, by the way.

    However, it appears that Resume, Version and Auto Save — the latter saving your documents periodically in case you forget to do so — are, according to Apple, “*Available with apps that have been developed to work with Lion.” This means that you may have the confusing situation of some apps supporting these features, and others not. Thus Resume would be less successful in restoring your working environment until all or most of your apps are updated.

    On the other hand, Lion is still several months from release, and things will probably change — for the better in these three respects, I hope.

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