January 15, 2008
MacBook Air=Portable Cube
Having watched the keynote, and gone over the specs with a fine-toothed comb, I'm mostly disappointed. The MacBook Air is a very sexy form factor surrounding some very ordinary parts -- you've got an iPod hard drive, integrated video that burns 144 megs of system memory, and 2 gigs of RAM that it appears are permanently attached, and cannot be upgraded. Unlike every portable Apple has ever built, the battery isn't even user swappable.
I initially thought Apple might take this opportunity to introduce a new form factor in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro that would, in a year or 18 months, serve as the model for the next revision of the MacBook. Such a machine would skimp a little in comparison with the Pro, but likely offer a dedicated video card, standard laptop components cleverly packaged, and an LED-backlit widescreen display.
Instead, what we got strikes me as a “café computer,” one that will be fine for e-mail and weblogging, but that I don't see using for on-the-go video work (there's not even a FireWire port) and that won't even open Photoshop. To better manage heat and power consumption, Apple has designed in a 1.6-gigahertz processor, significantly slower than a standard MacBook (and at least nominally slower even than the processor in the Mac mini). Instead of the commodity hard drive, a 5400-rpm Serial ATA model, the Air gets a 4200-rpm Parallel ATA model in the iPod's 1.8-inch form factor.
Apple has provided one option that could mitigate the machine's performance handicap a bit: A solid-state hard drive, currently 64 gigabytes. Unfortunately, building that drive in is a $999 option!
It's beautiful, certainly. Apple's design aesthetic seems to be collapsing in on itself, leaving just a single word: Thin. Beveled corners, like those on the iPod touch, make the Air's edges visually sharp, while the drop-down ports, required by the crazy thin-ness of the case, are very cool.
But it's beautiful at a price. Here's a machine for travelers that won't be able to connect to the in-room ethernet. Here's a machine that can't simultaneously handle a keyboard and mouse unless the keyboard provides USB pass-through (lots don't). I find myself wondering if it's true: You can be too thin.
Sitting here 10 hours from the keynote, the Air doesn't remind me most of the late, beloved 12" PowerBook or the 2400c, still my favorite computer of all time. The Mac it reminds me of is the Cube. Like the Cube, it's beautiful, offers little expansion capability, and looks pricey when compared to its Apple stablemates.
January 25, 2007
Is there a miniBook in the pipeline?
Apple Recon is reporting on rumors that Apple has a subnotebook in process, with specs and pricing in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The rumors suggest a 3.5 pound package, with a 12" 1280 x 800 monitor, hard drive and optical drive (and possibly a new caching flash drive as well), and 6 hour battery life.
I know such a machine is possible -- I'm currently using one, even if it has a Dell logo. It's not 3.5 pounds, and I'm sure Apple will bring other innovations to theirs (Apple Recon speculates on an LED backlight and the flash drive), but my Dell XPS M1210 matches this rumor, to be announced in June, today.
The base system is 4.3 pounds, and about the same size as a PowerBook 12", but it's got a lot of features I would be surprised to see in the final Apple release, as well: S-Video out, 2 gigs of memory with support for 4 gigs, and an ExpressCard 54 slot. Mine's got an extended battery, and it's good for 4-5 hours of wireless use, enough that I haven't really noticed the battery life. The 256-meg nVidia 7400 video card drives my 20" widescreen display alongside the internal LCD, and nVidia supplies a software wizard to gracefully set up multiple displays. There's plenty I don't like, of course: Something about the keyboard feels like it's coming off on my fingers, and there are media keys along the front of the case that I keep bumping by mistake. The topcase is a black plastic that picks up oil from my hands every time I pick it up. It's got the glossy screen, which is very bright, but I've found myself in two situations where I had to move the laptop to eliminate glare. If I were using it in the field, that number would be higher.
I love the rumored specs for an Apple subnotebook, although I wish it could fit an ExpressCard, since its target market (knowledge workers and execs on the go) are likely to take advantage of high-speed cellular wireless connections. Also, I hope the rumor is wrong about a 2-gHz ceiling on clock speed. If Apple addresses this giant, yet tiny, hole in its portable line, the machine should have at least a nominal speed increase over the MacBook.
January 11, 2007
iPhone 4+ years in the making?
I'm not usually one to self-link, but I'm getting some Google hits on the short post linked above from August 2002. It references a John Markoff story, now lost to the New York Times TimesSelect product, but the abstract is pretty prescient.
Remember, this is from August 19, 2002:
Apple Computer reportedly weighs introduction of hand-held device that would combine elements of cellphone and Palm-like personal digital assistant; forthcoming Macintosh OS X, Version 10.2, is being marketed as improvement for desktop computer users, but it has features that make more sense in hand-held device than desktop; move would play into Apple's so-called digital hub strategy, in which Macintosh desktop computer is center of web of peripheral devices of Steven P Jobs, Apple chief executive...
By the way, my very next post, later that day, was on a cool new RSS aggregator, called NetNewsWire, then in version 1.0b13.
January 07, 2007
Biggest Macworld and switching to the PC
So the biggest Macworld in years starts tomorrow (Tuesday for Macworld Expo). Nobody seems to have a real handle on what Apple's going to do this year, so predictions are all over the place. Apple has pushed the hype by promising that “The first 30 years were just the beginning,” suggesting major things afoot.
Over at HiveLogic, Dan Benjamin offers a fairly safe list: Whatever Apple's iTV becomes, updates to the iMac, iPod, iLife and iWork, and a preview of Leopard, with Windows virtualization built in. All good stuff, with the virtualization probably the only controversial choice.
Benjamin doubts we'll see the iPhone/iPod phone, new iSights, or a Mac Pro update, widely expected because Intel will be announcing its new Kentsfield processors tomorrow. He rates as “possibilities” high-def iTunes (to support TV and movie content in HD), an update to the iPod Hifi, a MacBook Pro speedbump, and BlueRay support, and is holding his breath for a “true” video iPod, a nanoBook (an ultraportable laptop), and a Beatles iPod, heralding the arrival of the Beatles catalog on iTunes.
Over at O'Reilly's MacDevCenter, a survey of writers turns up a surprisingly common wish for a Core 2 Duo update of Apple's longstanding desktop form factor, last seen in, what, the 7600? For years, this was the most popular corporate Mac, in its IIcx/IIci/Quadra 650/Power Mac 7100/PowerMac 7500/7600 iteration, which usually shared a motherboard with Apple's top tower, albeit generally with a slower processor, and generally offered 3 slots. The iMac line is inherently wasteful in a corporate environment, because most companies are ready to upgrade the CPU long before the LCD has died, but the Mac mini is generally a little underpowered for corporate use. So I'll add this to my wish list (fat lot of good it will do).
Also looking back to the future are a couple of writers who want a replacement for the 12" PowerBook. That would be terrific. The Mac world significantly lags the PC world when it comes to sub-notebooks, and it seems like I'm seeing more and more of the smaller, lighter machines in airports. If you spend a lot of time on the road, and use your machine for office functions, a 12" (or smaller) machine you can hook to an external monitor in the office, with a decent keyboard and battery life, makes a lot of sense.
Also, three of their writers want changes to .Mac. One wants it eliminated (I don't see that happening), while another wants to see it significantly enhanced. I still would like to see .Mac become an extension of a home server product (like the HP MediaSmart server, but software or Mac mini-based and therefore cheaper), with two-way synchronization of selected files and folders between .Mac and the home server; automatic backup of purchased iTunes and other user content to the home server; domain, weblog, calendar and photo sharing support over the internet.
Meanwhile, I'm starting a new job tomorrow, and I hear they've got a sub-notebook Dell waiting for me. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. It's been 5 years since I spent more than 30-45 minutes at a Windows desktop.
March 09, 2005
Apple developing PocketBook?
Geez, I hope this rumor is true. PowerPage is reporting that Apple is working on a new "pocketop" machine, that would use Inkwell and a stripped-down Mac OS X.
Target hardware: Sony's UX-50, which offered Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, video record, and low-res camera in something that fit in a shirt pocket, and the OQO, a full Wintel machine (not PocketPC) that's 3.5 x 5 x 1 inch, partly thanks to the hard drive used in the iPod.
Target market: Anybody who has ever thought it would be a good idea to carry their laptop with them all the time. It could quickly become the blogger's equivalent of the Radio Shack Model 100, long beloved by journalists, who could carry it anywhere, and file (through acoustic couplers and the built-in 300 baud modem) anywhere they could find a phone. If Apple is truly working toward an online movie store, this machine could also be the portable player.
Target feature set: There are two key factors to creating a world-beating palmtop: battery life, and bandwidth. Users should never have to worry about either one. Bandwidth is a really interesting concern: out here in flyover country, Wi-Fi still doesn't have penetration to give dependable connections from an arbitrary location. Verizon's high-speed wireless would be awesome, and including support for it in hardware might let Apple offer a branded connection (annual iLife, .Mac, frequent OS updates: Apple is really working to drive recurring revenue). Bluetooth to your phone would be nice, but might impact battery life.
The battery has to last a full day; I would guess that's something like 8 hours of usage.
What makes this idea work is running standard OS X software. If I have to learn a whole other set of programs, I'll stick with the laptop. Resolution should be at least 640 x 480: Apple's Displays preference panel mentions that some applications won't display correctly at less than 800 x 600. The OQO is 800 x 480.
Target price: The OQO costs nearly $2,000. The UX-50 was around $600. It's going to be a tough sell if the machine is much more than an iBook, which officially starts at $999.
February 08, 2005
$70 million in iBooks?
Looks like my old school system has eliminated both Dell and IBM from consideration for a very large laptop program, in favor of about 63,000 iBooks from Apple.
Cobb County's public schools expected to pay about $275 each for the machines (and that's one healthy volume discount), but also will be buying support, training and maintenance, that make up the bulk of the deal. If the Journal-Constitution's numbers are right, 63,000 students times $275 per iBook runs only about $17.25 million, so the majority of the costs (as we all know) come after acquisition.
The system intends to roll the program out in three phases, first to teachers, then high schoolers, and finally to middle school students.
The linked article includes dates and times for 4 meetings the superintendent is holding for parents during the next 3 weeks.
January 13, 2005
Pundits on parade, take 2
It's pretty clear reading the linked article that the author is working from Kahney's book (which I got for Christmas. I wasn't going to buy it, since I follow the website, but it's worth it for all the photos, which Wired's website doesn't handle well).
January 11, 2005
Dawn of a new Apple
So Steve Jobs has finished the big keynote at Macworld '05, and the Apple website has been updated with the new products he announced. If you haven't been following along, feel free to go take a look.
Wow. This is the beginning of a whole new era for Apple. No longer do I have to grit my teeth and say, "Well, you could buy a white-box PC," when somebody says they only want to spend $500 on their new computer.
This is beginning to smell like a no-excuses Apple. We only have five percent of the market? What the hell are we going to do about it? Asked and answered. We're dominating the hard drive music player market, but people are still buying smaller and cheaper flash players? What the hell are we going to do about it? Asked and answered.
It's great to see Apple leveraging their superior product design skills to bring out some low-end products. As of today, you can actually take home a useful piece of Apple hardware for $99. The iPod shuffle looks like exactly what I was talking about in December, the iPod cheapy tiny sport. My only problem is that it doesn't have FireWire support, so it would/will be very slow with Sophie's TiBook (which is still USB 1.1, of course).
As for the Mac mini, that's every bit as nice as the G4 iMac I'm writing this on, for $599. The $499 model will probably do very nicely as the replacement for my home web server, and somebody on my tech team pointed out almost immediately that the new mini is essentially the same size as the mini PC we're planning to deploy to field locations where space is tight.
I expect both of these new products to sell like crazy.
November 24, 2004
World's cheapest G5 upgrade
My G5 fans have been running a little loudly, and almost all the time, lately. I hadn't noticed an effect on the machine's speed, but in checking the load average, it was always above 1.00. At first, I thought maybe this was an effect of the dual processor setup, but I checked the dually at work, and the load average was about .50.
I installed a fresh copy of Panther on an external FireWire drive, booted up, and my fans spun down. Load average was suddenly in the .25 range. I rebooted off the internal drive, and the fans came back. Looking at 'top', I discovered the Finder was hovering within a few percent of 100 percent. Hmmmm. In poking around, I noticed my 'Finder Preferences' file (com.apple.finder.plist) was about 2 MEGABYTES. I deleted it, fired back up, and my machine was instantly 5 times faster, with the load average down in the .20 range.
Right now, running NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Entourage, SpamSieve, iPulse, QuickSilver, and iTunes, I'm showing "0.20 0.12 0.13" in 'w' or 'uptime'.
It's been about 36 hours since I fixed it, and the office is even noticeably cooler.
September 01, 2004
Nothing left to take away: the iMac G5
Almost everybody reading this already knows, but Apple introduced the new G5 iMac today (actually yesterday, as I check the clock). Single processor, 1.6 or 1.8 gigahertz, hooked to Apple's great 17" or 20" LCD display. A little skimpy on memory with 256 megabytes stock on each model.
The big news is the minimalist design. It's a 2-inch deep rectangle, with an aluminum stand keeping the whole thing from floating off your desk.
Many of the stories talk about the debt the new design owes the iPod. I wonder if they considered putting a clickwheel under the display, to be used as a hardware equivalent of Synergy, and to allow scrubbing in other media apps.
If the monitor-spanning hack works with it, you could build an amazing system by hooking a new 20" display into a 20" iMac, all for around the price of a 17" G4 PowerBook.
Update: The monitor spanning hack works; here are pictures to prove it.
Speaking of, when will we see a G5 PowerBook? Checking out the innards, it looks like Apple could build a 17" G5 PowerBook right now, if people would buy a 3-inch-thick PowerBook. In other words, if they could design it like a Dell.
Taking the shorter list first, here's what I don't like about the new iMac:
The monitor is still locked into the CPU, so you're forced to upgrade them together.
No FireWire 800?
Things I love:
The pricing: the systems are $400-$500 less than the G4 systems they replace.
They're VESA-compliant, so you can hang the whole thing from a desk or wall mount.
Find myself agreeing with Chuck Toporek that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth should be standard to further cement Apple's place as the PC maker who includes what costs extra with the leading brand. I wonder if they're doing it to push build-to-order sales, since the integrated wireless options are only available through the online Apple Store.
Find myself disagreeing with Paul Jackson of Forrester Research that this machine should have been a media center PC competitor. Jackson obviously likes his, but I don't know a single Media Center PC owner, and I haven't seen any evidence from ads and store displays that they're setting the world on fire.
I continue to hold out hope that Apple will legitimize this space, as they did with MP3 players when they introduced the iPod, by introducing an iServe that, among other things, can interface with your cable or satellite provider and stream video to any computer in the house (and the TV, naturally). There have been a couple of rumors about iPod-related products in 2005, and if the iPod eventually supports video, the iServe is right there.
Side note: Jackson says, "Better still would have been a software option to turn this machine into a full Wi-Fi access point: Intel's Grantsdale chipset already promises this functionality for PC owners." It does this, Paul. So will any Mac with an ethernet port and an AirPort card since 1999. Simple matter of checking "Share my Internet connection through...."
Like Adam Engst's suggestion that a new iMac plus Open Door's Envision would be a dandy living room installation, that would double as a digital picture frame.
Adam repeats the conventional wisdom that Apple has to disable monitor spanning to differentiate Pro and Consumer machines, and Glenn Fleishman suggests monitor spanning would add $75 to $100 to retail price. I doubt it. The monitor-spanning hack above proves the hardware support has been included on almost every recent consumer Mac. It's entirely a marketing decision, and I think it's one that doesn't make much sense in 2004.
Now that the G5 Pro line is all dual, it's differentiated by 1) having twice the CPUs, 2) faster frontside bus, 3) more maximum memory, 4) PCI-X expansion, 5) FireWire 800, 6) digital audio both in and out, 7) gigabit ethernet, and 8) much beefier video cards. Letting the iMac span monitors would be a very powerful argument for why the Mac is worth the premium over a Wintel box. It would also probably sell a lot of Apple displays.
On the PowerBook side, most of the same differences persist, although my 12" model shares some of the limitations of the iBook. Once again, only the Pro models (the "PowerBooks") are allowed to span monitors, even though the iBook features a 32 megabyte ATI Mobility Radeon 9200. Again, Apple would be better served by shipping a software upgrade that enabled spanning across the product line and really playing up what a difference the extra real estate makes.