MacBooks

What about Intel?

I think, when everything is said and done, that Apple’s decision to turn to Intel to supply the processors that power its hardware will go down as one of the watershed events in the company’s history. It’s a move that will not just ensure Apple’s survival—it’s going to give the recent resurgence that Apple has enjoyed an extra little kick, so that a few years down the line, when you mention the Dark Times when it looked like Apple didn’t have much of a future ahead of it, the kids will look at you like you’re prattling on about phonograph records and horseless carriages and the talkies. And we’re going to look back on January 10, 2006, as the day it all got started with the release of iMacs powered by the Intel Core Duo chip.

So how come, during Tuesday’s keynote, the unveiling of both the iMac and its Intel-powered counterpart, MacBook Pro felt like such an afterthought?

It’s certainly not because news of the latest additions to Apple’s hardware offerings came at the tail end of Steve Jobs’ keynote. By now, Mac users are conditioned to know that the biggest product announcements are usually saved for last. Heck, Apple has even gotten to the point where it sends invitations labeled “One more thing…” —Steve Jobs’ signature line for the Big Reveal at Expo keynotes—when it holds press events. I think we’ve all come to accept the notion that Jobs keeps his mitts on the really important goodies until the very end.

No, the Intel-based hardware announcements felt like warm-up acts instead of headliners because they did play second-fiddle to other product news—at least in terms of the amount of time Jobs devoted to the assorted segments of his keynote. By my watch, the Apple CEO spoke for about a little less than an hour and 45 minutes. Roughly 45 minutes of that speech was spent detailing the finer points of iLife ’06 in painstaking detail.

See Steve Jobs use iPhoto 6 to build a calendar using images from his Photo Library! Thrill as the Apple CEO assembles a podcast using nothing more than GarageBand 3! Ooh and aah as he uses iPhoto’s new photocasting feature to show how it’s easier to send digital photos to relatives! And oh yes—there’s also this laptop with an iSight camera built in and certain measurements have it performing four times as fast as a PowerBook G4. But look— animated iMovie themes !

I am not, for one minute, arguing that the changes in iLife were somehow not worthy of our attention or not made considerably easier to grasp thanks to a detailed demo. This is a very significant upgrade for iLife. And it is hard to understand just how cleverly GarageBand’s podcast studio feature is put together or how easy iWeb makes it to assemble a fairly pleasant-looking Web page until you see those features in action.

But Intel-based Mac hardware is kind of important, too. And it also happens to be a subject Mac users have a lot of burning questions about. Is my software going to run on the new machine? Just how well do these things perform, anyhow? Apple answered some of those questions Tuesday, but probably not nearly in the detail that some Mac users would have preferred. Integer and floating point test ratings may be the most important benchmarks as Jobs argued during his keynote, but it’s not the sort of thing that whips the faithful into a frenzy—and certainly not the results are displayed on a table that disappears from the keynote projection screen faster than a one-hit wonder from the Top 40 charts.

So if iLife was the biggest winner from Tuesday’s keynote on volume alone, Mac users looking for more clarity on the finer points of the Intel transition came away with the short end of the stick. As for the rest of the keynote tradition you probably didn’t realize existed, other winners and losers include:

Winner: .Mac subscribers That $100-a-year membership just got a lot more valuable after the keynote. The photocasting feature in iPhoto 6—in which you can publish photos to your .Mac account and family and friends can subscribe to the RSS feed (whether they’re .Mac members or not) to receive updates automatically—would be a nice addition on its own. But iWeb, the latest program to join the iLife suite, is tailor-made for .Mac, with one-click publishing for the Web hosting service built directly into the application.

The bottom-line: with each successive product release, .Mac is becoming less and less a way to have a @mac.com e-mail domain and increasingly integrated into Apple’s consumer applications.

Loser: iWork If you thought the Intel-based iMac and MacBook Pro were dispensed with quickly during the keynote, consider the case of poor iWork ’06, whose moment in the sun was reduced to a single slide outlining its new features. (I suppose, technically speaking, that Keynote 3 arguably received the most lengthy showcase during the keynote since that’s the software Jobs used to run his presentation. But, go ahead—name a single feature or enhancement in Keynote 3, without peeking, based on your memory of the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t slide listing the changes. I rest my case, your honor.)

You would think that, given this sort of treatment, there really wasn’t much to be excited about in iWork ’06. That would be a false impression, according to one colleague who uses the productivity suite extensively. “Based on what I saw of Keynote on the show floor, the changes are impressive,” he said. “And worth more attention than Steve gave them in the keynote.”

Winner: Intel Only two non-Apple executives shared any stage time with Steve Jobs this year—Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Microsoft Mac Business Unit General Manager Roz Ho. Of the two, Otellini made the more last impression, but that may have had something to do with his willingness to walk out on stage in a white bunny suit, cradling a silicon wafer.

And even if you thought that, one day, the head of Intel would be invited on stage for a Macworld Expo keynote, you probably never imagined a scenario where Steve Jobs would effusively praise the chip-maker, did you? We live in unusual times, ladies and gentlemen.

Loser: Adobe Photoshop was part of Jobs’ demo on how Rosetta can run PowerPC-based applications on Intel machines without hiccups—but it was a pretty half-hearted demo at best. Add to that a Jobs comment about how long it takes for Photoshop to load, and you get the sense that Adobe isn’t exactly one of his favorite developers at this particular moment.

Advice to other third-party developers: maybe wait until after Jobs’ next keynote before releasing that Aperture competitor.

Winner: Podcasting Two distinct views about podcasting seem to have emerged in the past year—either it’s an important new technology or it’s a whole lot of white noise whose appeal has prove elusive. If there was any question as to which side of the fence Apple finds itself on—and keep in mind, this is the company that made podcasting support a major feature of last year’s iTunes 4.9 update —it was settled during Tuesday’s keynote.

The Podcast Recording Studio is the centerpiece addition to GarageBand 3. One of iWeb’s specific features is its ability to easily include podcasts on published Web pages. Even the photocasting feature in iPhoto is a riff on podcasts. Clearly, this is a technology that someone in Cupertino has completely embraced.

Loser: iPod news “This is Mac -world,” Jobs said in emphasizing that Tuesday would be about Mac hardware and software and not at all about the music player that’s had such a vital role in bolstering Apple’s fortunes. And so it was that the iPod, usually at the center of any Apple news event, went through the day without a single update or new release.

Ah well—it was a good run. At least, there’s all those iPod accessories on the Expo show floor to take the sting away. Oh, and the 14 million iPods Apple sold during the last three months of 2005 probably makes up for the virtual absence from the keynote as well.

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