Sooo, what have we got?
Replacing the 15 inch PowerBooks, this Intel-powered machine outwardly resembles its predecessor but for one or two little extras. The iSight camera in the lid (which has a little status lamp next to it), an IR port in the front, next to the latch, for use with Front Row; and the ingenious magnetic power connector.
But in almost every respect it’s just another PowerBook. There’s even still a Firewire port (which a lot of people were predicting would go).
I had some hands-on time the MacBook right after the keynote. The one thing I found most interesting about the case was that there was no sign of any kind of Intel branding, not even a little engraving on the base. Admittedly, I was looking at it in a dark and crowded room with a zillion other people squashing me from behind to get a look, so others might find signs of Intel branding that I didn’t spot. But no “Intel Inside”, no badge by the keyboard, nothing that shouts the Intel name. I think Steve, or perhaps Jonathan Ive, had his way on this one.
The 15.4 inch LCD screen is very nice; sharp and noticeably brighter than before. I didn’t get a chance to try the keyboard. The trackpad is larger than before.
The $2499 model finally includes 1GB of RAM (that’s what I’d consider a ‘pro’ kind of RAM allocation) and a decent hard disk.
There’s only one thing that I think is disappointing about this machine: it still weighs 5.6lbs, much heavier than many Windows-based competitors. I’m keen to find out what the real-world battery life is like; let’s hope it has been improved.
Some people were expecting radical, but this is not radical change, it’s evolutionary. As such, I can’t help feeling the new name is not the machine’s best feature. It sounds ungainly in comparison with “PowerBook”.
That said, it suggests to me the chance of some other new models coming later this year: MacBook Nano to replace the iBook, perhaps?
As of today, all new iMacs are Intel-powered, with Core Duo 1.83GHz processors. Again, I had a brief look at one and there’s very little to tell it apart from a G5 iMac, except perhaps that the screen looked to me a little brighter and sharper.
Steve says it’s 2-3 times faster than before. He demonstrated it with Photoshop running under Rosetta, iPhoto, and a bunch of other apps. It was decent of him to be honest and say that the Rosetta-dependent version of Photoshop was not going to be fast enough for professionals, “but it runs just fine for the rest of us.”
When Steve Jobs revealed this was the first Intel Mac, there was a slight, but noticeable, surge of disappointment across the crowd. No-one spoke, but it was as if they’d collectively said: “Oh.”
Why? Because no-one had predicted, nor expected, the iMac to be the first Intel machine. Everyone (myself included) was thinking: “Dammit Steve, what about the PowerBooks?” Of course, the Intel laptop was Steve’s “One more thing” moment, so he had the last laugh. But he teased us all along, like he always does.
Widely predicted and unfortunately partially leaked by Apple’s webmasters, iWeb made its debut as the new addition to iLife. It certainly looks like a powerful application, deeply embedded with the rest of the suite to make personal media sharing easy.
But what’s that, Steve? You can only publish to .Mac?
That’s, uh, a bit restrictive. Personally, I think the guys at Karelia who were worried that iWeb would stomp all over their brand-new Sandvox app can relax. Sandvox and iWeb are different creatures, but if you have to spend money on a .Mac account just make use of all the coolness in iWeb, a lot of people will be using Sandvox instead.
Sandvox and iWeb are similar in one important respect: they both use the Pages philosophy, where the user is presented with a mocked-up finished product right from the start, and simply replaces text and photos with their own content.
The new iPhoto has a maximum library size of 250,000 pictures, which is great. And Steve said that it was incredibly fast now - “It just flies. It scrolls like butter.” Remember, though, that he was demonstrating it on an Intel iMac, already 2-3 times faster than G5 machines. Quite how well it will run on older machines is another question entirely. The full-screen edit features look fantastic.
The concept of “photocasting” in iPhoto is an inspired one, and was popular with the audience. Quite simply it allows you to create a photo-filled RSS feed. You have to have a .Mac account to publish it, but the output is standard RSS; anyone can subscribe. This also means that iPhoto is now an RSS reader of sorts. How long before someone hacks something weird with that?
The podcasting demo in GarageBand was another popular section. Nice touches, like automatically lowering the volume of background music during speech (known in the trade as “ducking”), really made it seem like the developers had put a lot of thought into it.
- New iPod Remote with built-in FM tuner. Very nice. Yet another “little extra” for people to spend 50 bucks on.
- OS X 10.4.4 is out now. All Steve said about it was: “There are more widgets.”
- iWork now allows you to include tables “with calculations”; mini spreadsheets, I guess.
- The software is integrated like never before. Everything meshes with everything else. Apple customers are being urged to spend money on extras (.Mac, iWork) more than ever. It’s all about cross-selling; enticing anyone who buys a Mac or an iPod to just spend 100 dollare here, 50 dollars there, on add-ons.
- Apple has drunk from the blogging fountain, and likes the taste. I lost count of the number of times Jobs referred to blogs, podcasts and RSS.
- I’d like to get my hands on the World Music JamPack for GarageBand.
- iMovie’s new animated themes are well done; let’s hope more of them appear soon. Oh, and now you can open more than one project at once.
- Steve’s sense of humor remains one of the best things about his keynotes. A little dig at Adobe (”Yeah, Photoshop always takes a second to start up”); another dig at the Apple rumor bloggers with his entire podcasting demo; and a picture of the Pope when he said “We consulted a lot of people about this”; I think his jokes are getting better.
- Microsoft promised to keep updating Office for five more years. There will be Office universal binaries, including new sync services and Spotlight support for Entourage (hooray!) in March.
- New cards, calendars and book designs in iPhoto.
Stuff that didn’t appear
- Any Intel branding whatsoever on the new MacBook Pro.
- Any kind of home media center.
- Any new iPod nano-inspired black products (when I saw that black iBook rumor, I so wanted one).
So in the end
This was a pretty conservative set of announcements, nothing like as radical as many people were expecting. The expectations were high because of the switch to Intel, and people (rightly, I think) assumed that with new processors inside, any new Macs would look very different to their predecessors.
There was also much speculation about slimming down the laptops, ditching things like optical drives and Firewire ports in order to make the machines lighter and cooler. These theories were no more solid than any other, but there was a greater likelihood of dramatic change simply because the change of processor gave Apple potential for a fresh start. They’ve not followed that path, not yet; but there’s still plenty of scope for more radical change during the year. Jobs promised that the entire Mac range would be Intel-powered by 2007.
But that name: “MacBook Pro”. It’s going to take me a long time to start liking that one.