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 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.
January 10, 2006
Bye, bye, PowerBook; hello, (gulp) MacBook Pro
So Apple managed to completely shroud much of what would be introduced today, and delivered higher-performance versions of the incredible iMac (formerly “iMac G5”) and PowerBook.
For some reason, Apple has chosen to set aside the “PowerBook”label, certainly one of the great brand names of all time, and has rechristened the Intel-driven portable line “MacBook Pro.” Steve Jobs said something about wanting the Mac name in their computer products, so it seems likely the consumer-level laptops, when introduced, will just be the “MacBook.” Somebody is bound to be manufacturing “PowerBook” stickers to cover the horrible name.
The MacBook Pro is an interesting hybrid. The sheet metal is very similar to the previous 15" PowerBook, but with a few notable changes. Most obviously, Apple has added a built-in iSight camera atop the display. The PC Card slot has been abandoned, replaced by the newer, smaller ExpressCard slot, for which I have seen exactly zero products. (Actually, there are 10.)
I'm also a little concerned that there was NO mention whatsoever of battery life. Intel's Centrinos have a good reputation on that, but this is a new processor. Presumably, if it was significantly better than the PowerBook, Steve would have mentioned it.
Strangest to me is the inclusion of a single FireWire port, limited to FireWire 400. One thing I was looking forward to in my next PowerBook was faster backups thanks to FireWire 800, but it's not to be, at least on the 15" model.
And why only a single form factor? If the existing 15" case could be re-engineered to take the new motherboard, and the iMac case could be re-engineered to take the new motherboard, why couldn't the 17" PowerBook case, or the 12" PowerBook, or the iBook? It looks like they're dipping a toe, to gauge how quickly people are going to migrate.
The iMac and the 15" PowerBook have been the meat-and-taters of Apple sales for years. The existing G4 and G5 models of each continue to be available -- no sudden influx of thousands of “refurbished” machines, no banishment from the Apple Store's front page. It looks to be, as with the first Power Macs and with OS X, another example of Apple soft-pedaling a transition, and taking it easy on its users.
January 09, 2006
Uncle Steve's medicine show
Not long to wait for the latest Apple keynote, and I'm as interested in what's coming down the pike as I've been since the 12" PowerBook intro.
(By the way, my PowerBook is off for repair with what appears to be a bad hard drive, so I'm going to be at least even on my AppleCare investment.)
The consensus rumor seems to be that the Mac mini and the iBook will be the first machines to get Intel chips, and that both will be introduced tomorrow. I can see an upgrade to the mini: they're not really sold primarily on their performance, and other rumors suggest the update will include new TV and streaming media features to justify more processing power.
The iBook, on the other hand, confuses me. Based on what we're hearing from developers, it seems like any current-model Centrino will offer battery life and performance meeting or exceeding the current PowerBooks. The favorite rumor seems to be a pairing of a dual-core Yonah processor and a 13.3" wide-screen LCD. Why not just put that chip in the PowerBook? O'Grady and others suggest Apple won't migrate that quickly because some of their professional applications, but I really liked a comment someone made in reply to one of the rumors. Remembering how the iPod rumors had suggested a "color iPod mini" which turned out to be the iPod nano, the commenter suggested that perhaps the 13.3" iBook might actually be the first new Intel-driven PowerBook, a “PowerBook nano.”
Creating a 13.3" PowerBook serves a number of purposes: miniature laptops are extremely popular among road warriors today, and the 12" PowerBook, world-beating when it was introduced, is now comparatively portly for a micro-laptop. Users of this sort of machine are less likely to use it for high-end pro applications; it's more like a messaging center and portable data archive. Also, they're less price-sensitive, which would let Apple maintain its margins a little more. And it maintains the natural order of things, with the PowerBook outperforming the iBook.
As a shareholder, I hope the rumors of an iBook at a significantly lower price ($599?) come true.
And Jason O'Grady's Apple plasma screen rumors? They seem way out there to me. If they come true, I think it's time to consider a future where Apple no longer sells computers, refocusing on consumer electronics, media, and software.
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.
February 08, 2004
Funky OS X screensaver problem
I’ve periodically seen a strange error on awakening the PowerBook from sleep. The screensaver’s login box appears, I enter my information, submit it, and the screen goes black. It’s not entirely black, however — the cursor is still visible.
If I put the machine back to sleep with the power button and ‘s’, I can repeat it ad infinitum. If there’s a second user on the machine, I can log in as them when the login window appears, and they get a full, graphical session, but switching back to the original user lands me in the black hole again.
I’ve finally discovered a workaround: login to the machine from a second box, and kill "/System/Library/CoreServices/loginwindow.app/Contents/MacOS/loginwindow console....". Doing so logs out the current user and generates a new login window, so it’s only slightly better than my previous solution, shutdown -r now.
Next goal: find a way to get just the window manager to restart, so I don't lose the user session.
October 15, 2003
Yes, you will notice the missing 333 mhz
I had this happen to me. I thought it was odd that I was maxing the processor so frequently, and that the 500-megahertz TiBook seemed almost as fast as the miniBook.
The page above suggests that a PRAM reset (Command-Option-P-R on startup) will straighten everything out, but that wasn't enough on my PowerBook. I had to also reset the Power Management Unit: With the machine off, press and release Shift-Control-Option-Power On at the same time. Nothing will happen, but wait at least 5 seconds. Power up, and check that you're back to normal.
You can verify that you're fixed with Xbench, or with the shell command 'sysctl hw.cpufrequency'.
August 29, 2003
miniBooks now support 1152 megs of RAM
The good news is that you can now buy a 1-gigabyte DIMM for the PowerBook 12-inch. The bad news is that it's $499. That should be coming down over the coming months.
Seen at MacMinute.
Also on the miniBook: I was floored to read on one of the rumor sites that the 12" would be revised with a thinner form factor! I want to know what customer told their market research people, "I just wish it was only a half-inch thick." It's hard enough finding laptop bags that fit it now, as small as it is.
I would love for Apple to give the 12" parity with the bigger machines, and sell them based on mobility and screen size (and possibly expandibility, since the 12" doesn't have a PC Card slot or, for now at least, DVI out). I'm hopeful that the tremendous sales of the miniBook (which has been Apple's best-selling PowerBook) might make it happen.
April 14, 2003
No longer perfect
My 12" PowerBook is no longer perfect. I spent most of the night working on a proposal, and noticed when I got to work this morning that the miniBook wouldn't sit flat.
When I turned it over to check, one of the feet was missing (rear left). Getting these to stay mounted must be one of the great engineering challenges we face today -- a quick survey of the laptop menagerie suggests no one has it nailed, and my trackball has also lost two of its feet.
I checked with the Apple Store, and they're back-ordered, so mine may not be an isolated case.