Last week Apple made some new product announcements at an oddly-timed shutdown of the Apple store. The blogosphere and news outlets noticed early in the morning that the Apple Store had gone down for “updates,” and speculation ran rampant why the store was down as long as it was. There were no conferences, no special press events, just a vanishing store that was down for hours – Apple had something up its sleeve, but what?
When the store came back up, the flurry of news rushed out to show off the myriad of new products that Apple had unveiled, most of which were available immediately. Let’s take a look behind the jump:
The Magic Mouse
Among them were a new wireless mouse with a touch-sensitive and multi-touch capable surface called the Magic Mouse, one that didn’t have buttons or scroll wheels. Simply put your finger down on it in the center and pull back as if you’re scrolling and the mouse will send that signal to your Mac. The same applies with clicking – just press the mouse where you would expect the buttons to be and your Mac will respond as though you’re clicking the mouse.
The Magic Mouse is actually a pretty slick piece of technology, but I’m concerned it fills a market need that isn’t quite there yet. Now Apple is more than well known for being ahead of the curve with technologies like this, but there’s another far more worrysome thing Apple is known for: making absolutely terrible mice. The Mighty Mouse was pretty terrible, let’s all be honest with ourselves, and the trackpea idea works great on smartphones but isn’t well suited for mousing. Their legacy goes all the way back to the infamous hockey puck mouse bundled with the original iMacs. When I was at Apple, I and all of my colleagues piled up our Apple-issue mice in the corner and brought in our own Logitech anf Microsoft mice. That’s how much of a ridiculous pain they were to use.
In any event, the Magic Mouse may be better, and as soon as the announcement came out I saw a flurry of tweets from Mac users on Twitter who were eagerly anticipating getting their hands on one. I…think I’ll reserve judgement until I have the opportunity to actually use one. Maybe I’ll review it and give you guys a hands-on.
New Macs: New iMacs, unibody Macbook, and a beefier Mac Mini
Also on the docket were new super-wide screen iMacs with more powerful hardware under the hood – one of which sporting one of Intel’s new Core i5 processors. The standard white Macbook was reborn with a sleek new unibody design and – as expected – a non-removable battery. (although some teardowns have proven that the battery is indeed removable, you just have to take the damn thing apart to disconnect it) The Mac Mini saw some hardware boosts as well and comes in a beefier variety with a better processor under the hood, and can now be bundled with Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server – which is an interesting move for Apple.
Starting off with the new iMacs, Apple has stretched the display size out to widescreen 21.5-inch and 27-inch models, which make for higher-than-1080p-resolutions available fronted with stunning LED-backlit displays. The guts are more powerful too, sporting Intel’s new Core i5 and i7 processors in speeds up to 3.05GHz. Whether you want a dual-core or quad-core power in your iMac, it’s available. That makes the iMac pretty damned powerful for the “consumer” computer of Apple’s lineup, so expect those upgrades to come to the Mac Pro line very shortly. The price point has held about the same, which means they’re certainly not cheap, but they’re not terribly expensive when you’re looking at other i5 and i7 systems on the market.
The new unibody Macbook brings some of the upgrades that the Macbook Pro line has seen down to the classy white laptop that’s well known and loved by college students and budget-concious laptop owners everywhere. The rounded unibody design is probably one of the most notable features, but the new lithium-polymer battery (non-removable, mind you) sports a 7-hour battery life (according to Apple – of course real world usage will result in less) and also powers an energy concious LED-backlit display. Also notable is the glass multi-touch touchpad that Macbook Pro users love: now you can have the feature without spending the money on a Macbook Pro.
The Mac Mini saw some upgrades as well, and now can come with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor up to 2.66GHz, up to 4GB of RAM, and instead of the Intel on-board graphics we’ve come to expect from the Mac Mini, Apple has tossed in some Nvidia goodness. Curious, eh? Now’s the big shocker: you can get the Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server. That’s right – that tiny Mac Mini can be a server. Why would you want such a low-end server with a single dual-core and only 4GB of RAM?
Home Theatre PC. Apple’s all but bundling a HTPC for you. Since you can cram a 160GB, 320GB, or 500GB hard drive in the thing, Apple’s looking to help you buy your next set-top box right out of the package. Another interesting thing? This all but spells doom for the much-neglected AppleTV – the product still available but that hasn’t been upgraded in well over a year by Apple. Expect it to die a quiet, painless death in the night sometime in the coming months if it doesn’t see an upgrade soon.
A Note about Non-Replaceable Batteries
A quick note about Apple’s trend to non-removable batteries: some people are convinced this is a great move, some people are convinced this is a terrible move. Personally I think the jury is still out. The difficulty that the “horrible” camp has is that the non-removable lithium-polymer batteries actually have better durability and longer life than traditional lithium ion ones. They’re served better by the user leaving them alone and them not being servicable, and they – on paper anyway – have more charge cycles in their useful life than a lithium ion battery could ever hope to have. So if they’re better and last long enough that the user shouldn’t care they’re not serviceable, why should we be outraged?
Well, there are the people who need to use their laptop for long periods of time or put them under battery draining strain for longer periods than their life allows – for example, that transatlantic trip with your unibody Macbook might be a bit more difficult if the battery lasts 7 hours in ideal situations and you’d like to watch a couple of DVDs on the trip over – you’ll get probably 3-4 hours maximum, and I’m probably being optimistic, while playing DVDs and taxing your battery. You’ll simply have to spring for an airplane charger, because you won’t be able to pop out the battery and replace it with a freshly charged one. See the problem?
The real indicator here will be whether or not other laptop manufacturers with large market segments like Dell, IBM, and HP adopt lithium-polymer battery technology. They may be waiting to see how Apple’s bid plays out before slamming them in their own devices. If a major PC manufacturer unveils a laptop using the same battery technology and allows the user to replace batteries at will, I expect we’ll see Apple backtrack on this sometime that’s convenient for them, like a hardware revision that’s already due or something – it’ll just be a quiet new “feature.” If other manufacturers get on the non-replacable bandwagon however, that’s the end of user-serviceable batteries.
Wrapping it All Up
It’s clear that Apple wanted to get some of these product announcements out to cause some buzz around the launch of Windows 7. They’ll never admit it, and their latest commercials hilariously take aim directly at Microsoft’s new OS, even if they’re a misguided at worst and entertainment at best, but there’s no reason Apple would pull something like this if they didn’t want people to continue talking about them through the release of Windows 7 – but don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely sure Windows 7 will run swimmingly on all of this new hardware.
The new hardware is pretty compelling, but if you’re looking at any of this to define any major strategic direction for Apple’s consumer line of products, don’t. Apple also quietly unveiled a new Cinema Display featuring LED backlighting and a larger screen (with the now-expected black bezel and glossy screen), so if there’s anything expect Apple to continue to push greener products in an attempt to bolster its environmentally friendly reputation and, by the same token, do the right thing that even us geeks with our power-swilling extra PCs can’t bring ourselves to adopt. That being said, all of these revisions were well times, are well placed, and well designed. It’s notthing earth-shattering, but if you’re thinking of picking up a Mac, now is a great time.