The Computer Blog

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Macworld Expo 2007 Keynote - Underwhelming or Not?

I had a feeling with all the hype that Apple was spreading about the 2007 Macworld Expo Keynote that I would be underwhelmed. I'm still trying to figure out if I was or not.

There was absolutely nothing for the average Mac computer user. Instead, we were left to look forward to the next few months when Apple will quietly usher in most of the hardware and software advances we have been anticipating. Instead, Jobs introduced what Apple had called “iTV” earlier in the year renamed as “AppleTV”. This device is useful for streaming video from the Macs in your house (up to five, which matches the maximum number that can be permited to access an account under the iTunes Store). While the earlier version held no hard drive, the released version houses a 40GB hard drive as well as Ethernet, USB 2.0, Wi-fi, HDMI, component video, audio, and optical audio ports. It’s a good deal if all you want to do is stream iTunes content to your TV, but I’m personally not sure I want to limit myself to that. I’m still leaning toward hooking up a Mac Mini to our HDTV so we can not only stream content from any Mac we want (and any number of Macs we want) but so we can also surf the web, etc.; or, in other words, do on our HDTV anything that can be done with a computer. The AppleTV does have the advantage of being upgraded to draft N wi-fi specification, but there will probably be a way to take a Mac mini there, too, in the near future. The disadvantage of the mini is that it easily costs over twice as much. But then, I get greater utility (more on that later) as well as a DVD player.

The Wi-fi is “draft n” specification, which sounds like a good deal until you reconcile that with the fact that no current Mac is using draft n networking and that the N specification could change before release. The only way to step up to draft n now is to buy Apple’s newly released Airport Extreme Basestation and to own a Core 2 Duo Mac, in which case Apple will kindly you supply you with a software upgrade that will do the trick. (They damn well better supply that to us new Core 2 Duo owners anyway, even if it costs a few bucks, if they want any of my future notebook business.) Besides, you only get the speeds promised with 802.11N networking if you’re not using any 802.11b or g devices in the house (who's not doing that?); and you only need that speed if you’re streaming to or from more than one machine simultaneously. I’m still trying to figure out how and why one would do that.

AppleTV will auto-synch iTunes content with one computer, but why? If the purpose of the device is to stream from any of the five computers you own, the auto-synching with any one of them mainly introduces a data synch problem one must now manage. I could see where this feature would be handy as a backup to one machine if you have no other way to do it, but I backup all my systems individually anyway. And it is handy in the way Jobs demoed, i.e., to put an unwatched movie on the hard disk so it doesn’t have to be fetched later. I have to assume, though, that to get rid of the same you’ll have to go in and manually delete it. With only a 40GB hard drive in the thing, you won’t be able to store much.

The real advantage to AppleTV is its price. At $299, it is considerably cheaper than a Mac Mini. Yet, my wife and I may elect to buy the latter. I have already demonstrated our ability to stream video to our HDTV from our Macs using either a MacBook or MacBook Pro (In fact, we streamed the entire keynote address to our HDTV last night and watched it in a pixilated but acceptable full screen mode); a Mac mini would also handle that task. Additionally, a mini will have more storage room, be able to run DVD’s on its own (something AppleTV cannot currently do) and even has the versatility to be run as a computer on our HDTV. As I mentioned, I feel it is probably worth the extra money. As for the future, as mini’s are upgraded, we can step up to a new mini and hand down the old one as a computer for someone in the family that would like a small Mac.

Of course, the big thing Jobs was promoting was the iPhone. I have to say it looks really cool but, as of this moment, the jury is still out. The big turn off for me is the price, limited storage capacity, and the single sourcing with only one cell phone provider. The $499 version will have 4GB of memory and the $599 version will have 8GB, not much when you’re talking about downloading and running movies on the thing as well as storing e-mail, photos, and music. If current iTunes capacities are any guide, then a two hour movie will take about 1 GB of memory alone. You may be able to keep most of your music on the thing and may be able to store a movie or two, but looking at the device as an iPod replacement is a mistake, unless you’re talking about using it to replace a Nano.

I also don’t see Jobs’ claims this new device is a “breakthrough Internet communicator”. The iPhone doesn’t do much more than a smartphone does except run widgets, though it appears to do it a lot better. My wife is already enamored of the thing and we may consider it at the end of 2007 when our current Sprint contract is up. However, it would not be enough to cause us to move to Cingular in and of itself; and the thought of scrounging up $1200 for two phones is STAGGERING!

I mentioned earlier I found it more than a bit disturbing that Mac computer products were all but ignored. There have been hints that Apple’s future might lie in consumer devices and its computer base might be abandoned, and us users have good reason to worry about it. It would not be the first time the company had abandoned a segment of its customer base. Secondly, I believe Apple might be wandering into an area where innovation, which is its strong suit, counts less than price. In other words, while Apple’s advance into consumer devices is to be watched and maybe applauded, it may dilute its focus and ultimately sabotage its success if it abandons its computer user base. If the company is listening, they need to reassure those customers their continued investment is warranted. You can bet I’m going to be watching how Apple treats it computer users over the next year and will be factoring those impressions into decisions about whether or not to make another buy.

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