Mac Consumers Rewarded for Their Patience

by Chris Howard Aug 08, 2007

After a very lean twelve months for Mac consumers (that is, those Mac users who don’t fall into the professional user category), Apple has finally rewarded their patience with updates across the board to iMac, .Mac, iLife, iWork, and Mac mini. Phew! That’s an impressive list, although it does highlight how neglected Mac consumers have been in 2007 as Apple focused on its entry into the mobile phone market.

The Apple Special Event also gave us insight into why iLife has taken so long, and probably iWork. iLife’s iMovie is a whole new application with a very interesting history. In iWork, Numbers is a new app, and Pages has been re-jigged to finally include a word processing mode.

The new iMacs are aluminum as expected, have a glossy glass screen, and again as expected, are thinner. Interestingly, the 20” inch model has been trimmed by a couple of pounds but the 24” model has gained nearly a pound.

Visually, I’m undecided and will have to see one in the flesh. I’m not yet sure about the black back or border around the screen. But of course, who am I, I didn’t like the look of the previous iMac (G5 then Intel) until I saw it in the flesh, when I was smitten.

It turned out the spy photos of the new keyboard were indeed real as Steve joked about. Of interest, the F3 key is now the Exposé key and F4 the Dashboard key. What this means to existing keyboards we’ll have to wait and see.

A wireless version is also available and notably has a compact, laptop-like design, which Steve says will suit wireless keyboard users’ work habits.

As predicted on rumor sites, Apple has indeed cut the 17” iMac from its lineup. But many also predicted the demise of the Mac mini, which itself saw upgrades, albeit without the fanfare. So if you don’t need, or more importantly want, a 20” monitor, the Mac mini is for you.

In his keynote Steve said there are two 20” models and one 24”. On the Apple store there are in fact two 24” models. As expected, the base 20” model has been price aligned to the old 17” model.

The most interesting piece of news is the inclusion of a FireWire 800 port on all models. It had been strongly rumored last year that Apple was to drop FireWire altogether. The inclusion of FW800 testifies FireWire is here to stay and that Apple is expecting to sell a lot of iMacs to professional Mac users (who currently are the major users of FW800).

Regarding ports, it would have been nice if the iMac had four, not three, USB ports on the back. Even the Mac mini has four. You just never seem to have enough USB ports.

Apple said it would address .Mac’s shortcoming and it has, in part.

- Storage has been increased from 1GB to 10GB and the monthly data transfer limit raised to 100GB.
- Web sites can now be mapped to your own domain name, although you need to do that through iWeb.
- The new Web Gallery feature looks impressive, although I suspect it will be gobsmackingly impressive in reality. It works and feels like the new revamped iPhoto and includes slide show, mosaic view, carousel view, access restriction, and can receive photos from other people and from iPhones. But it does require the latest iPhoto to setup.

But do these changes go far enough? Is Web 2.0 eye-candy enough?  Considering you’re still forking out US$99 for services that are free elsewhere, the jury is still out.

iLife ‘08
iLife finally gets updated, and has skipped the ‘07 version.

iPhoto has been redeveloped to allow you to group your photos by events. When you upload from your camera to iPhoto, it now automatically groups your photos by date. From there you can split or join those groups to form events. This is a great idea and will make managing your photos a fair bit easier. Most importantly though, it will let you get back to using albums the way they should be used, i.e. for collections of events rather than for individual events. This will also make creating photo books easier. You will still use Smart Albums for setting up albums of people (using keywords).

The interface has seen some nice improvement, but one we’ll all rejoice in is double clicking a photo now zooms it to full window view rather than going to edit mode. Clicking it returns to thumbnail view.

Other useful features include photo hiding, improved search, some great new editing tools including a before and after view, publishing to .Mac’s new Web Gallery, and hardcover books now include a dust cover.

Probably the best new feature though, the one that will save the most time, is photo customizations can now be copied from one photo to another, rather than having to recreate them (which meant jotting down the settings and re-entering them). That is sensational.

I did notice one big annoyance of mine still exists in iPhoto—when scrolling, the month still displays in the middle of the window, thus obscuring some of the photos. Interestingly, that does not occur when scrolling the new Events view.

iMovie is all new and looks even easier to use.

Videos are now catalogued in a new video library—although there was no indication if it includes videos that are no longer on your Mac. Hopefully it does (and of course tells you to reconnect or reload them). Like iPhoto, videos can also be organized by event.

It interesting that the iMovie demo on the iLife web page demonstrates illegal use of copyrighted music. The demonstrator attaches U2’s “Beautiful Day” to his video and then says you can upload it to .Mac’s Web Gallery (which he does) or YouTube. Ouch! Bono won’t like that.

On .Mac Web Gallery, you can put videos in multiple resolutions, like Apple does on its videos, which is really cool and professional.

I suspect this new iMovie is going to kick off a whole new round of home movie editing.

iWeb is starting to mature. For instance, it now has web widgets which allow easy addition of Google AdSense and HTML snippets for things like YouTube. I might finally give iWeb another look.

GarageBand has a new “Magic“ feature, which lets you jam along to different music styles which have customizable bands. What’s super cool is that if you set up a record loop, each time the loop restarts, a new take is recorded and at the end you can choose which take to keep.

iLife ‘08 is not an essential upgrade, but is certainly a tempting one. I’ve already ordered mine.

iWork ‘08
The new iWork is here and as rumored, it includes a spreadsheet. But don’t go tossing out your MS Office just yet.

iWork is neither an MS Office killer nor a replacement. It is for those who don’t need MS Office and its bloat of features and who don’t need an Office work-alike.

When Steve said that Numbers is “the spreadsheet for the rest of us” it consequently means iWork is not here to replace Office where it belongs, just where it doesn’t need to be. If that’s you, you might have clicked your last Office icon.

Pages’ biggest shortcoming had been that it didn’t work like a word processor. It was a page layout application, and a very good one at that. Unfortunately, for many people who bought iWork as an affordable alternative to MS Office, Pages often ended up gathering dust because simply writing a letter or an essay was, well, not simple enough.

Rejoice now, because Pages has a word processing mode.

This feature alone will go a long way to helping establish iWork as an alternative to MS Office (again, where it’s not needed).

Pages has borrowed a couple of features from Office though: contextual format bar and change tracking. Not to say Office invented them, but both are very welcome. Hopefully the change tracking will be Word compatible.

Finally, after what seems like years of rumors, Apple has included a spreadsheet application in iWork. And as long rumored, it is called Numbers. And as hoped, revolutionary.

Apple has realized the “rest of us” usually use spreadsheets for smaller works that we include in reports and so forth, rather than massive multi-sheet accounting behemoths.

Numbers is “just a spreadsheet,” but what sets it apart from Excel and the rest is that it is spreadsheeting for publishing. It is WYSIWYG and uses a page layout approach to creating spreadsheet documents. We all knew Apple would revolutionize spreadsheets, and now we’ve seen how.

Keynote has a few new features; the most notable for me was the “Instant Alpha,” which lets you select only the area you want to show in your images.

iWork could become Apple’s software jewel, even above iLife. If I was Apple, I wouldn’t be adverse to porting iLife, or at least some more of its apps, to Windows. However, there’s no way I’d send iWork to the dark side. With Numbers’ revolutionary approach to spreadsheeting and Pages finally being a word processor, it is a killer app in its market space.

Also, importantly, iWork already reads the new MS Office file formats.

In Australia, and possibly other countries, there’s a pleasant surprise with iWork—and iLife. Incredibly, despite the inclusion of Numbers, iWork ‘08 is AU$20 cheaper than iWork ’06. The U.S. price, though, remains the same, at US$79. Ditto iLife.

iWork is finally a must-have for many of us, and is a superb value. Mine will be here tomorrow! I think I’ll have to “play hookey,” as they say in some parts of the world.

Mac mini
The great thing about the cutting of the 17” iMac is it helps keep the Mac mini alive. It has for a while been rumored to be following the Cube into history.

You could almost feel the collective sigh of relief across the Mac community when it was discovered the mini was still a wanted member of the Mac family.

And to top it off, the mini also saw some useful upgrades.

It’s been a long time since Apple delivered so many useful updates to so many of its customers at one event. Thank you, Apple. smile


  • (sigh) Huge disappointment on the hardward front. The software additions are nice, but frankly, I’ve been waiting to buy a new Mac based on the refreshed laptops a couple months ago and the iMacs this week.

    And I’m disappointed… They nerfed the video in the new iMacs. 

    The ATI 2400/2600 can’t keep up with the previous generation’s nVidea 7600 GT… and actually struggles against the X1600 at times. WTF? Hell, I’d rather have the nVidea 8600 from the laptops instead, even though those also don’t perform quite as well as the 7600 GTs.

    ATI’s mid-range offerings basically suck these days. Short of buying their highest high end, nVidea wipes the floor with ATI in their mid-range and mobility offerings.

    It sucks that the new iMacs don’t give you a choice between them.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 243
  • Although an occassional buff on the hw and sw offerings is surely needed now and then to keep the “poster-on-the-wall” psychological effect on consumers. The last crop of Mac hw was so spit-shined that they didn’t need boffo buffin’ for almost a year. Credit goes to Apple’s hw and sw wizards. The ones that keeps making it right - the first time - all the time.

    So, go on, if you need one of these babies go out and buy one of these Al/glass-coated candies and be at peace knowing you won’t be upgrading for many a years from now…like my workhorse - G5 Quad.

    Take that PC! raspberry

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 846
  • I think the new iMac is a brilliant consumer machine.  I appreciate how the engineers focused on Cradle-to-Cradle design creating it with highly recyclable components. 

    Further, although it might not have the performance of an hardcore gamer machine, it can nicely do the majority of what consumers want it to. 

    Consider that an nVidea 7600 GT eats 213 Watts under load while the maximum power consumption of the entire 20” iMac is only 200 Watts. 

    I would be interested to know what the average idle power consumption of one of these guys is but I am guessing it is far below even 100 Watts and well below 3 watts in sleep.

    Ray Fix had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 21
  • I can just confirm that in the flesh the black border is *gorgeous*.

    Not so sure about the keyboards. Would have to use one protractedly to judge.

    Benji had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 927
  • The black border around the display is to add ambience and depth to the HD panels. It should also keep the glossy screen from glare? Black does absorb light according to my grade school science teacher. wink

    Whatever the reasons, the black trim should match the new iLife and iWork apps much better than the old white trim don’t ya think? Well then…

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Heheh. A bit of RDF in training there, Robo. wink

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Hmmm, I may have attended the same RDF classes with then young Stevie Jobs? I’ll check up on those old yearbooks in a jiffy.

    If I may ask courteously, and I have been on and off the grid in the past several months, what happened to our old pal Ben? Ummm… Benji? Bwa-Ha-Ha-Ha! Sorry. Can’t help that one. raspberry

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 08, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Isn’t it refreshing to know that Apple is not abandoning the very interface technology it invented and giveth the most satisfying of all engineering codenames: FireWire?

    Now into its third incarnation as FW800, Firewire can finally fulfill its destiny on a mainstream desktop - the iMac. I already have two 1TB LaCie Big Disk drives awaiting exactly this implementation.

    Now, it’s just a matter of time until the Mac mini and perhaps a merged AppleTV and Mac mini utilizing FW800 drives as external storage. Hmmm, that possibility alone is enough to keep me awake with ideas.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Sorry but I began to dislike having my real name up there.

    Would you really get significantly more throughput on those disks with FW800 than 400 at this point?

    Benji had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 927
  • @ Ben

    I haven’t benchmarked FW800 per se - quantified metrics - but comparing it to an existing FW400 streaming HD 1080 movie to my G5 Quad I can notice a big difference in access speed/latency and throughput improvements overall.

    The only drawback that I can see now is that this huge improvement in pumping that much bits is what baseband engineers call ISI or inter-symbol interference, or noise, when the cable is longer than 1m. That is perhaps long enough for 80% of applications out there.

    That is why I am clamoring for an AppleTV + Mac mini combo and include FW800 so everything is smack near the HD panel on any room.

    Then FW800 is a very neat solution. Mind you, isochronous timing bests asynchronous USB 480 any time, any day. I have benchmarked a USB 480 and can only give you “best effort” of ~120Mbps period!

    BTW, If I can speak for the others, we enjoyed talking with your “real” self. I wish I can do the same feat one day. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Further, although it might not have the performance of an hardcore gamer machine

    I think the problem is that it doesn’t even have the performance of a “soft core” gamer machine. It completely stinks at 3D… And they launch these just after a number of game development shops are renewing their support for the Mac platform (id, Blizzard, Epic, etc).

    Consider that an nVidea 7600 GT eats 213 Watts under load

    That’s fine… but at least give us a choice... Hell, why not give the option of the nVidea 8600m? That’s so low power, Apple uses it in the laptops. I’m guessing even the 8600 will beat the Radeons in 3D framerates.  I’m anxiously awaiting the Barefeats analysis, but I’m pretty sure how the rankings will go.

    iMac/7600 GT -> MacBook Pro/8600m -> iMac/7300 -> iMac 2600 HD -> iMac X1600 -> iMac 2400 HD…

    The 2600 HD Pro may beat the nVidea 7300, but I have my doubts. At best, it will be a close race.

    Just like with the early Minis, consumer choice was downgraded once again because all Apple cares about now is selling video/movies (ie - 2D).

    vb_baysider had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 243
  • Raw pixel pushing and shading moxy is not mandatory to the iMac. Hey, if you really want one get a brute-force Double-Quad MacPro and load it with whatever suits your corneal taste buds, VB.

    Don’t whine on these glass-coated, Al-framed goodies ‘coz for the rest of US that don’t really care about frame-rates, shader-power, and all that 3D cr*p, the iMac and Mac mini are freakin’ good enuff.

    People who will trek to their local Apple store and chug a iMac “mini box” will be going home happier than if they bought a Dell box, period.

    It all comes down in the experience, expectations, and above all: it is a Mac. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Robotech,
    That feeds directly into the arguments PC users have been using all along—Macs are more expensive. You’re basically saying, “Want a better video card? Tough crap… Go spend $3000+ on a Mac Pro.” 

    A decent video card adds NOTHING to the cost of the iMac. They’ve already HAD the nVideo 7600 in their iMacs and they currently HAVE the 8600m in their MacBook Pros.

    I’m not asking for a freakin’ X1900 in the iMac… but it isn’t too much to ask for a better video card than the previous generation’s iMac, rather than a worse one.

    or the rest of US that don’t really care about frame-rates

    Are you the entire iMac market?  Clearly, a lot of people do care about frame-rates or the PC game industry wouldn’t be a multi-BILLION dollar business. For chrissakes, I’m not asking for an Xbox 360 here… just a video card that can do more than 20 fps on a modern game. The Radeon HDs fail in that department.

    It all comes down in the experience, expectations, and above all: it is a Mac.

    Right… And with the new iMacs, Apple continues create the expecation that Macs will always suck for games and be more expensive than PCs for consumer entertainment.

    And your advice doesn’t help at all. Why should I be forced to pay over $3000 just because I want to play a little Battlefield or Gears of War once in a while? PC gamers can get a decent gaming machine for $1500. Why can’t the high end iMac offer the same value?

    It should… and for you to dismiss all potential customers who do want to play something more demading than Bejeweled as “whiners” is bad for the platform… It just brings us back to those shitty year where Macs were much more expensive than PCs.

    And now we have to live through it all over just when we had achieved a bit of price parity.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 243
  • just a video card that can do more than 20 fps on a modern game. The Radeon HDs fail in that department. VB

    Really? And who are you to tell me the Radeon HDs can’t achieve 30fps with a decent pixel rate for a Sims game or Photoshop or the Net? Are these apps needing >30fps for goofsake? Or are you just an elitist that wants to have your cake and it all? Give me a break!

    You are a perfect example of those marketing gimmick believers and all you have to look is the side of the retail box to convince your wallet.

    But that is all OK with me. My point being that the iMac or the Mac mini will not satisfy 100% of the market. Avid gamers do not make a majority of PC consumers VB. You just think they are but reality is a small minority.

    Like Steve said recently, Apple will not make crappy products to fill all the product segment “holes”. Apple will concentrate to offer US the best mix of technology for an affordable price. No need to bottom-feed when the product is a stinkin’ PC that merely perform its intended functions “adequately”.

    No, most people would prefer to pay for something they can be proud of owning or wearing, like a LV hand bag, a BMW roadster, or a 24KT necklace for their lady.

    The new iMac just falls in that category nicely VB.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 846
  • It just brings us back to those shitty year where Macs were much more expensive than PCs. VB

    How can a 20” iMac for $1,199 with all those great applications packed-in (not mere demos or time-limited editions) be considered super-expensive compared to gutted, generic components that makes up those brand-name PCs such as Dells, Gateways, and HPs? A 20” Cinema display already costs $600! A 24” Cinema HD is $900!

    Yeah, Dell have better value for the same thing or is it? I haven’t seen a Dell with the same quality as the closest Apple product. Disclaimer: I use a Dell Latitude D820 laptop at work (company issued) and a MacBook Pro for leisure work. I speak from comparative viewpoints.

    As for supporting the avid gamers to the Mac platform it is near impossibility. Having Id and EA producing Mac games is very nice and we are very grateful for those acts of kindness. But attracting those Alienware-huggin’, liquid nitrogen-coolin’, CPU over-clockin’, DirectX droolin’ PC gamers will need a miracle much more than an iMac with NVDIA GT-whatever GPU preinstalled.

    As for what they’re worth, I think Steve made a good middle-ground choices in the new iMac yet it will attract a record Mac buyers in the coming year. More than Apple had ever sold in any year since 1984.

    Watch out for the Mac!

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 09, 2007 Posts: 846
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