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Surprised I’m not disappointed: A keynote reaction

by Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), January 8, 2002

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Okay, so now we know.

Actually, for those of us accidentally up at 3 a.m. on Sunday, we knew then, too. The two big announcements from Monday’s keynote were iPhoto and the new iMac. There was no new digital hub device, no groundbreaking fundamental OS-level technology, no GigaWire, none of that. The fact that Apple hyped this keynote as much as it did makes the fact of all of those omissions fairly significant, but I am surprised that I am not disappointed. I think that iPhoto and the new iMac did justify the hype Apple dished out. I just think they could have dished it a bit differently.

First, the good news. iPhoto looks amazing. I haven’t tried it yet (I don’t have OS X installed), but the idea that a consumer could upload photos and get a high quality book made is pretty cool. I’m a little doubtful about a few things, though.

First off, there’s a lot of uploading that is going to have to happen. Did Apple do anything to help with this? They don’t say. But let’s say you have 20 photos. To do high-quality prints for that book, say, or to justify using Kodak paper, the files would likely have to be around 1MB each, unless Apple is using some form of compression that we don’t know about that would be much smaller. So that means 20MB to upload! Even on a cable modem, the most uploading throughput I’ve experienced is around 100K/sec, so the very best you could expect would be around two minutes to upload, which would be fine. More realistic on cable or DSL would be around 10K/sec, which is 20 minutes, and for a 56k modem, you’re looking at around 2K/sec, so that’s close to two hours! That’s pretty hefty, so one questions whether Apple has thought about this part. If it had, Jobs certainly would have addressed this issue in the presentation, right?

Nonetheless, assuming best case scenario, two minutes would be reasonable. But here’s the other issue. Jobs also showed pictures being blown up to enormous sizes. Now, I’m no expert ... wait, yes I am. The typical digital camera takes pictures that could, at most, be blown up with reasonable quality to around 8" x 10". Any larger, and either the pixels start to show, or the image gets really blurry. There are new cameras out now that take 4- or 5-megapixel images, and those could be blown up to the large size he showed without a loss in image quality, but those files are significantly larger, around 8MB each. Imagine sending 20 of those online today. Not a pretty picture (pun intended).

Still, the iPhoto concept is a good one, the image management function is great, and Apple has some time to work out any issues and add features before every computer user will have both the bandwidth and camera necessary to take advantage of all of iPhoto’s features. Overall, I think that iPhoto is a breakthrough product. If you don’t believe it, then you’ve obviously never tried to take photos from a digital camera and use them. Much of the time it will work, but there are always times when it doesn’t, and you need so many pieces of software to accomplish anything, it is truly painful.

I should briefly mention the iBook upgrades. I don’t think any of the rumors sites caught on to the iBook screen improvement, at least not in this last week, and it certainly surprised me. Now, there are basically three Apple portables available, and I think it will help Apple compete better with Sony.

Now, the iMac. For the first time I’m actually in love with a Mac desktop design. It’s true. If The Mac Junkie was still publishing, I could prove it. When the iMac came out, I thought, “That’s nice, it’s prettier and different from plain PCs, and some folks will like it, but I don’t want one.” Then the G3 and G4 systems came out, and I got a G4, not because of how it looked, but because of what was inside and how easy it was to open and service. The next iMac? Whatever, no big deal. Do I really need to see the neck of the CRT? Various colors? Then there was the Cube. I hated the Cube so much that when I saw the spy photos I said that they had to be fake, that Apple would never release something that stupid. Who wants a Kleenex box that can edit movies? Even seeing it in person didn’t make me want one, although I begrudgingly admitted that it was cooler than any PC and it was quiet, which was nice, but I did not fall in love with it.

But this iMac – this was a bit more than I expected. Is it a breakthrough technologically? No, not in my opinion. But from a design perspective, it is truly beautiful. It is the one Apple desktop product that I may have to break down and get just because of how it looks. It helps that it has a G4, available SuperDrive and is almost twice as fast as my current G4. If a company is going to make a flat panel-based system in an environment when many PC companies have already made LCD all-in-ones, this is the way to go. I think that any PC user will see that this computer is very different from anything else, and I think that Apple made the right choice in waiting and rethinking what an all-in-one flat panel system should be.

So overall, was this a successful keynote? Well, it sure would have been. Now, however, I really wish that Apple hadn’t hyped it so much. The tag lines didn’t lie. No rumor site had a bead on what the iMac would look like, so technically it was beyond what the rumor sites expected. But technicalities are annoying. It worries me a little because now it will be much tougher for Apple to hype the next thing. And if they ever have something really earth-shattering, well, there’s that old story about the boy and the wolf.

Congratulations, Apple on bringing some more cool stuff to the world. But I think Steve needs to spend some time among “mere mortals” before the next show, so that he gets a good bead on what’s really groundbreaking and what isn’t, and what Mac user expectations really are.

PS – A couple of points of interest. In the Apple store, the old iMacs are still available, with the lowest price at $799. Not a big surprise, since the new iMacs won’t be ready right away. Also worth noting is that the Pro systems will probably be upgraded soon, since the fastest new iMac is faster than the slowest G4. However, the iMac does cost $100 more, so I guess there is still a justification to buy the G4 instead of the iMac. But the gap is pretty close.

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