Bahamut's Lair

Mark me absent in New York

By Bahamut (bahamut@dog.com), 27 July 2000

This year’s MWNY was marked by absence – multiple absences, to be precise.

First, there was the absence of the traditional Mac The Knife party. Second, there was the absence of MacWEEK and Macworld as important forces in the Mac publishing world. Third, and most importantly, there was the absence of a compelling new product – or even direction – from Apple. At the behest of many in the Mac community, this fictional creature held on to a sizeable chunk of Apple stock through the keynote, and now he’s wondering why. Although not as bad as the last MacWorld Expo, this one produced a pretty shabby performance by Li’l Steven.

First and foremost is the lack of a single additional MHz over the course of an entire year. Two processors are simply a smokescreen to mask a major crisis at Apple. It would have been better to dump AltiVec and head back to the drawing board. Apple hasn’t had a disaster of these proportions since the ’040 days. This situation really reveals the poor management of the AIM alliance. To take things to their absurd (but only somewhat) extreme, extrapolating from last year’s trend to five years from now, Apple will have 10 500 mHz microprocessors in its Macs while Intel will have one 16,000 MHz chip. And Apple will still be behind. For what it’s worth, comparing the two-chip G4 to a one-chip Pentium is specious – dual-processor Intel machines have long been available.

If the high end is hurting, the low end is too. The iMac line has largely seen a reshuffle in color. Yawn. Last year’s move to DV was significant. Perhaps moving entirely to a modular, cube-type system would’ve been cool. Higher MHz would’ve been great. True instant wake from sleep could’ve been nice. Maybe a PC compatibility board for $200? Don’t ask me, I’m not head of hardware at Apple. But you should ask them ... why was there nothing new on the iMac line? A new mouse and keyboard? That’s like having GM make a car for three years with a 4" steering wheel and then introduce a full-size one as a feature. For what it’s worth, the new mouse is still lacking ... both a scroll wheel and a second button! This is just another example of how distant Li’l Steven’s perceptions are from the needs of the contemporary Mac-using professional.

The lack of any revisions to the iBook (no DVD yet? – watch for slowing sales) and PowerBook (has the blue-tinted screen issue been resolved yet? And yes, we’ve seen these blue-tinted PowerBooks all over the place) speaks for itself.

OS X was remarkably conspicuous in its (near) absence as well. A rerun of previous events? This was a Mac forum. Introducing the classic Apple menu and then using it to launch something cool (like Quake, like a beta of Halo, like a Carbonized Word 2001 ... and please note our dear Microsoftie’s lack of the word “Carbon” in his presentation – we suspect that it’s not Microsoft that’s to blame) would’ve brought the crowd to its feet. Moreover, taking a punch in the gut and re-introducing the classic Apple menu would be acknowledging that Li’l Steven does listen to the Mac faithful. Given his propensity for nuttiness, what Mac-dependent professional doesn’t have nightmares that tomorrow Li’l Steven will announce a merger of Apple and Black & Decker to make the iToaster? Listening once wasn’t enough. As the Heretical Monks’ Manifesto proclaimed, Apple needs to do what it can to create a useable GUI for OS X.

As for the Cube...

The Cube is clearly the toaster machine that yours truly predicted way back when. But notice what’s lacking. First and foremost is an affordable price. A 450-MHz Cube goes for $1799. There is no 450-MHz desktop G4, but a 400-MHz tower goes for $1599 and gives you three extra slots. When Dell is offering a 667-MHz system (complete with monitor, scanner and printer) for $899, Apple begins to have trouble competing. And yes, I know that the Dell isn’t really as fast as even most iMacs, but as long as Windows loads Web pages faster and opens programs faster, the Mac is going to look bad. What OS X developer previews have shown doesn’t make me feel any better. Although it may just be debugging code’s fault, OS X is palpably slower than OS 9 for program launching and regular Finder operations.

It seems almost as if Steve saw a bright idea like the Cobalt Qube and ripped it off, without bothering to look under the surface. Hmm... sounds a lot like what we accuse the iMac cloners of doing. Since the Apple iCube still needs a monitor, the lowest Apple-provided entry point is $2,298 (with the 17" studio display). Now we’re in PowerBook territory. One begins to wonder just why the Cube exists.

There’s been a lot of BS laid down about the Cube by Apple propaganda men: that it’s an “audiophile’s dream,” that it’s a “perfect home theater accessory”. Those things it most definitely isn’t. You’d have to be stark raving mad to use it for those purposes. The Harman Kardon system that comes with it is still not as robust as any decent $300 Sony all-in-one (which could also play FM radio). Apple’s implementation of USB audio is notoriously flaky and certainly far from audiophile-quality. DVD is attractive, but again, you can buy a decent DVD player for $200 on the street and – unlike a PowerBook – there’s no way to hook the Cube to a TV. As for using it to play MP3s ... anybody with half an ear will tell you that MP3s are fine for playing on a machine while working but they’re about as audiophile-quality as a cassette tape that’s been put through the laundry.

Don’t get me wrong ... the Cube is a nice device. It just seems to have a confused mission. Head on over to Baha’s first article to see just what it could do, at the right price point. I’ve already heard that this Cube is just being used to sell high before dropping the price point to make a more reasonable approximation of a home theater/DV editing Cube. The problem with that train of thought is that Apple traditionally pioneers a technology only to see someone else drop the price point while they’re still riding high on the margin with it. Given Apple’s trouble with PowerPC and general inability to keep costs down, I’d suspect it will be at least a year before the introduction of a more reasonable Cube, and a year is too late.

Perhaps the single worst idea that Apple could’ve come up with is the new display connector that combines USB, VGA, and power all in one proprietary plug. Apple has single-handedly destroyed an entire market for themselves. At this point, not one shipping Apple display can connect to the (still-shipping) bronze FireWire PowerBook and not one shipping Apple display is compatible with any Mac made prior to MWNY. That leaves corporate purchasing to go to eBay, used resellers, or ugly beige boxes. That’s dumb. Moreover, even if Apple may have lost a sale to a PC owner on a box, the old Apple displays were hits with the PC crowd. To cut off that market to spite it is the height of arrogance. After all, once any Apple product was on a desk, it might have inspired another to join it.

Now there’s nothing too special about the new cable and it is theoretically possible to add adapters to make it work with existing, VGA-compatible machines. Some clever vendor will no doubt produce them. But why did this have to reach that point?

Finally, there’s QuickTime, everybody’s favorite failing Internet strategy (we won’t count iTools ... that’s already failed). Those of you who, like me, tried to tune into the event over the Internet noticed that the presentation was virtually unwatchable, with the streaming video hanging repeatedly. Even hours after the broadcast it was awful. How could any company hope to sell a streaming video system that even they can’t run efficiently? It’s a shame. QuickTime had a great deal of promise, but the lack of a reasonable streaming solution has led RealPlayer and even Windows Media Player to eclipse it completely.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Steven may hit the mark sometimes, but he can also blow it. Let’s just hope this isn’t the beginning of Apple going the way of NeXT.

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