I’ve just finished watching “Steve Jobs’ keynote” from Macworld San Francisco 2006. I’m about to give you my personal impressions, from the perspective of this one, particular Mac user. I own a 2004 Powerbook G4 1.5ghz, 15″, and I use it for the following things:
* Writing my PhD thesis, and dabbling in fiction.
* Reading articles in PDF format.
* Heavy web-browsing (10-20 tabs in Firefox at any one time).
* Light gaming, since it’s not good for much else.
* Experimenting with Open Source software, including Linux.
I do these things at home on a small desk, and at work during my breaks, on the same laptop. Bear these use-cases in mind as I give you what I feel are the highlights and disappointments, for me, of Macworld SF 2006.
h5. Intel Processors
Two new Macs were announced today: a new iMac, and the rebranded Powerbook (now the MacBook Pro). The performance gains are going to make a big change to the user experience for OS X users, particularly Powerbook users. iMac performance is up to 3-4x what it was (so says Steve, although “Apple’s iMac page”:http://www.apple.com/imac/ says it’s only up 2x) from the previous model, and the MacBook Pro performs at 4-5x the rate of the latest Powerbooks. This is going to mean, I suspect, that Powerbook owners will finally get instant search from Spotlight.
More importantly, Apple users are going to see compatibility gains with Linux and Windows by being in the x86 world. I think we can expect a new version of Virtual PC that will run Windows XP (and soon Vista) without the need for x86 emulation. If it supports graphics acceleration (which Microsoft will want for Vista), we may just be able to do some decent gaming under Windows without leaving OS X. No word yet on whether these new machines will be able to dual-boot Windows and OS X easily, but I’m sure we’ll get there. People using Linux on Apple hardware are now going to be able to use binary drivers for their video cards, and applications like Skype. It’s about time.
h5. iLife ’06
The new version of iPhoto is reportedly much faster. It needed to be. Let’s hope we see no more library-mangling and colour-corruption of the kind we’ve had from iPhoto 4 and 5.
Apple’s commitment to making Garageband a great podcast creation tool is, I predict, going to markedly improve the average quality of podcasts.
h5. Industrial Design
The new MacBook Pro uses a “magnetically attached power cable”:http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/design.html, which will reputedly prevent the notebook being yanked off the table if one trips over the power cord. This is a common problem for me, and it’s nice to see it solved. This is an extremely small design point, but one that’ll make a big difference for users, and probably improve turnaround times for Apple notebook repairs, because there’ll be less of them to be done.
The keynote was, for me, more one of disappointments than highlights:
h5. Notebook weight
This is the big one for me. At around 2.6kg, my current Powerbook is too heavy to be considered really portable. I want a notebook that I can put in my bag and carry around without the extra weight reminding me there’s more than books in there. Full-featured pro notebooks from major manufacturers like Sony and Lenovo are now routinely coming in around or under 1.5kg. The MacBook Pro, at around 2.2kg, has shed 300-400g, but that’s not enough. At this rate, my next laptop is going to be an Intel iBook.
h5. One Button
The MacBook Pro still has only one button. Since people will be running Windows and Linux on this, it’s not good enough. OS X itself makes ample use of right-clicks, something which Apple evidently recognises, since it recently released the Mighty Mouse. Some apps, like Maya, are downright impossible to use without a right mouse button. So, Apple, it’s time to stop this one-button foolishness and admit you were wrong. Give your notebooks a second mouse button.
The new iMac and MacBook Pro come in at the same price points as their predecessors. If we’re going to see any price-cuts as a result of volume discounts from Intel, we’ll have to wait.
Since I have a web-hosting plan and a Gmail account, .Mac is of absolutely no interest to me. But Apple keeps including features in its products that are .Mac only. I can’t get or use its Backup application, and I won’t be able to do photocasting from iPhoto, and probably I won’t be able to use a bunch of functionality in the iWeb suite.
Requiring a .Mac subscription for some features is a real turn-off for internet users whose expertise is even moving in the direction of “pro.” If a feature requires it, I’m simply not going to use it. Neither, I suspect, wil the numerous pro-Mac web-designers out there (such as “Michael Heilemann”:http://binarybonsai.com/archives/2006/01/11/web-15/, who although a .Mac subscriber, “may not be one for much longer”:http://binarybonsai.com/archives/2006/01/11/web-15/#comment-28088).
What I would really like to see is for Apple to release a little app that I can upload to my webhost which will give me access to all those little .Mac-only features, without a .Mac subscription and all the pointless things, like another web-mail account, that I don’t need.
Previous Jobs keynotes I’ve watched have been a lot more varied than today’s. Today’s focused too much on software demos for software that’s been around a while (iPhoto and Garageband for instance). I had an IM session with a friend going in another window, and I didn’t mind the distraction at all.
iLife ’06 looks like a nice incremental upgrade, and I’m sure to enjoy using it. The introduction of Intel processors into Macs is going to deliver a lot of benefits for Apple and its users down the track, but not just yet. When we start seeing Intel-only software for OS X, the fun will really begin. The Powerbook upgrade is largely a disappointment, despite massive processor performance gains. Apple’s notebook line is desperately in need of a truly light-weight model, and the lack of a second trackpad button is absolute madness.
Nevertheless, I am, and will probably remain, for some time, a relatively happy Mac user.