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MWSF 2002 keynote wrap-up

by Porruka, porruka@macedition.com, January 8, 2002

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And so the first Stevenote of 2002 comes to a close. We are left with several tidbits of information, some new hardware and software, unspoken promises of future upgrades and more than a few questions.

The teasers, the tease

Apple hyped this show unlike many others. With phrases like, “This is big, even for us,” and “Lust Factor Ten,” Apple promised something big. Was the hype warranted? Well, one has to wonder if something was pulled at the last minute from the show, but it seems not. The biggest hype of all, though, may be what the new iMac specs mean for the yet-unannounced, rumored-to-exist upgrades to the pro line of Macintoshes.

Droning, droning, droning, keep that keynote droning...

One feature of this keynote that was not particularly appealing was the guest appearances by featured speakers. The info they gave, in showing products like Photoshop on OS X (something predicted by our own Gay Blade, even over the heckling of a vocal reader – “third-tier Mac fan site” indeed!) or Palm Desktop on OS X (which was released to public beta last week) was useful, but please, someone edit these people’s presentations! Most of the demonstrations seemed to be only to get from one point to another rather than provide something useful in their own right. Take a lesson from Emeril, and have some of the results already prepared so we don’t have to watch yet-another-software-demo bake at 350 degrees for a half-hour.

A second feature that was particularly annoying only affected those who watched the keynote over TechTV. I suppose this is the price to pay for getting it broadcast at all, but if “tape-delaying” the keynote (during the show!) for commercials was bad enough, adding in inane commentary and “analysis” during the show was just a bit much. And, wondering aloud, how much did TiVo pay TechTV to say that TTV was “TiVo-ing the keynote back in the control room” every commercial break? C’mon.

Ok, enough grousing, what was good?

The new iMac

Having only seen the new iMac for hours (and not in person yet), it’s difficult to judge personal opinion on the machine. But learning from the lessons of the original iMac and various other consumer machines, it seems this machine does have the lust factor. At $1299 for the low end, though, it still seems pricey for an entry point. Ironically enough, it seems once the current iMacs sell through, that may indeed be the membership fee for “Club Macintosh.” Offsetting the costs are the features. Are they good enough? Maybe. Going with the 15" flat panel rather than the cheaper 13" is a good move, effectively upgrading the display to compete with the 17" CRT models from other vendors.

Finally, making the SuperDrive available in a consumer machine is excellent. And, in what seems to be the crowning achievement of Apple’s product forecasting unit (at least the best in quite a while), Apple will be making the high-end iMac available first. Bravo. Hopefully the production numbers for the low-end model will be adjusted according to the demand for the high-end model.

iPhoto

It’s hard to imagine that this is a hard problem to solve, but giving consumers the ability to easily manage their digital pictures is a huge undertaking. Microsoft realizes this; that’s why there are digital imaging tools hiding somewhere in the morass that is Windows XP Home Edition. Kodak realizes this (and it should, given how much it ought to know about consumer photography habits); that’s why it bought Ofoto. AOL knows this; look at the most recent version of “You’ve Got Pictures.” However, none of these solutions has made it yet. They all treat pictures as data, as one more reason to use the computer, as a way to add fancy features (which may not be bad in their own right) to computer software. None come at the problem from the proper perspective; that is, the whole “problem space” should be focused on the user and the user’s pictures. Everything should be centered around removing the layers of complexity that creep in between the user and her pictures. iPhoto seems to do just that.

It will take use and experimentation to see if iPhoto lives up to the promise that the keynote glimpse gives, but what a glimpse it was. The most common operations are finally being given attention. Getting pictures off the camera and into a known location? Check. Organizing the pictures? Check, sort of (this will take more investigation to see how well iPhoto really does it for large numbers of pictures). Sharing? Check, sort of (it’s easy, definitely; is it compelling to upload to your iTools homepage?).

One feature that is particularly compelling about the sharing options is the ability to put human readable names into the “address book” and let that be used when ordering prints or shipping pictures off. It is much more friendly to be able to select “Cousin Bob” from a list than it is to choose "bob4356@aol.com” – no matter how easy selecting the e-mail address is made to be.

From the first glance, it seems that the online photo services now have a new contender, at least for Mac users. And Apple may have another winning app to convert users to Mac OS X, since iPhoto is X-only.

The other stuff

There were plenty of other announcements today. By lumping them in here, we’re not denigrating them, but they didn’t have the same general purpose fire that the iMac and iPhoto had. There will be a slew of new games coming from Aspyr including Harry Potter and Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds. It’s always good to see the number of games on the Mac increase. Mathematica for any platform is a good thing, for X is even better; not to mention, Apple could use Theodore Gray more as a speaker. The general feeling among some MacEdition conspirators was that he was a highlight of the show, being the exception to the rule that you had to drone just to get onstage. “It’s just math,” indeed! Palm Desktop was shown and in case you haven’t heard, the beta is public and can be downloaded from Palm. GoLive, LiveMotion, and After Effects can all be gotten in X-native forms now. Photoshop at least runs well enough to display to the keynote crowd.

The other stuff, part 2

Now, there are some announcements that need to be singled out, but are of undetermined benefit. The biggest of these is that all new Macs will ship with Mac OS X as the default OS. This seems a bit premature, but at the same time, Apple has to do something to show off the cool X-only apps. If a user has to boot into X, the chances are much slimmer that iPhoto would ever get run, negating the advantage of shipping the app in the first place. There is now a big brother to the iBook, with a 14" screen. This is good for those visually challenged folks who want consumer laptops. iPod sales were announced at 125,000 for the first, shortened quarter. Not a bad number; let’s see what Q2 looks like for these devices. 40 percent of the CPUs sold in the Apple Stores are supposedly going to non-Mac owners, though no numbers about actual CPUs sold by the stores was given. Is this just turnover in the Mac user base? If not, Apple should see an increase in the market share numbers reported, assuming the numbers aren’t flawed.

And finally...

There were some housekeeping items that Apple tossed out to the crowd at the beginning of the show. The impact of these won’t be easily determined until the financials start coming out, but here is the information. Some of it sounds impressive.

All in all, it was a decent Stevenote, even though the demo gods threw a lightning bolt at Jobs’ digital camera. The amount of hype that led up to it from Apple itself is curious (the hype from other sites, including this one, is a given for events like this). Perhaps, on reflection, the new iMac will show itself to be more than it first appears, and really will warrant the countdown and other attendant promotion. But even if it doesn’t, that shouldn’t take away from Apple the fact that the announcements made at the Stevenote deserve attention and consideration. The consumer side of the aisle is prepped for the next round, leaving all the anticipation for the pro line. Let the speculation begin!

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