WWDC Roundup: New Macbook Pros, Snow Leopard, and the iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

WWDC was the big news of the previous week, and now that I’ve had a chance to let it all settle in, I think the announcements get more and more exciting the more you think about them. There was probably more subtext in this year’s WWDC keynote than I’ve heard in any keynote prior, and there was a lot of reading between the lines to be done to get a feel for not only what Apple is doing, but how the market is affecting them and what their plans for the future are.

So let’s start with the big announcement that’s stolen everyone’s heart, shall we?

iPhone 3GS

They should have called it the “iPhone Type R.” Seriously? “The S stands for speed?” The other thing this reminds me of was the Apple IIGs, although I’m not certain what the “S” stood for there. In any event, the iPhone 3Gs brings with it the iPhone OS 3.0, which brings features like copy/paste (finally, we don’t need to hear THAT complaint anymore) and push alerting and data, so while it’s not true multitasking it does allow applications to alert you that there’s something going on you might want to know about; like an incoming text message or IM.

The device itself represents a hardware and feature boost, improving the camera, built-in video recording, voice control (another feature that should have been in a while ago, but I’m glad it’s there), faster Web browsing via Safari, photo and video messaging, and overall speed and reliability improvements. The hardware hasn’t changed from the outside, but on the inside there’s been processor improvements and the maximum storage has been bumped up to 32GB.

The improvements are pretty substantial, and worth the annual hype, even though a lot of the predictions (especially the outlandish ones) didn’t come true. We didn’t see an OLED screen, we didn’t see a glowing Apple logo on the back, we didn’t see multitasking, we didn’t see a new handheld design – all of which I don’t think we were going to see anyway.

The pricing has stayed largely the same for new customers, but the big news on that front is that the iPhone 3G 8GB will share shelf space with the 3GS and come in at a riduculously affordable $99, putting it right in the same market as the Palm Pre with more memory, more apps, more features, and cheaper. At that price point, there’s absolutely no excuse NOT to buy an iPhone if you’re on AT&T, even if you’re shopping around for a lighter-weight phone – there are Motorola and Nokia non-smartphones that cost more than that.

All in all though, the upgrades are enough to pull me over to AT&T from Verizon, and they should be more than enough to make owners of the original iPhone consider upgrading. iPhone 3G users may or may not want to upgrade, depending on how badly they really want the new features. The new OS will be free for existing iPhone users, but if the new features that come only with the new hardware is enough to make you consider an upgrade, go for it – the problem here is that AT&T’s upgrade pricing for people on 2-year contracts is essentially nil, so in order for an iPhone 3G owner who’s not eligable for an upgrade to get an iPhone 3GS they’ll have to essentially pay the full retail price of the device, roughly $699.

A lot of people are really really mad about that, and I can feel that pain, but honestly, Apple is clearly on an annual upgrade path for the iPhone, and a 2-year contract locks you in to not just a pricing plan but essentially a device for 2 years. That’s the kind of thing you have to see coming.

In any event, I doubt AT&T will budge on this, especially since there was some interesting subtext in the keynote around tethering (the ability to use your mobile device as a cellular modem) and other carrier-specific features. Apple used the phrase “if your carrier supports it” several times, and while you could pass it off as a nod that different carriers in its international markets support different features, it was clearly a shot across AT&T’s bow, letting them know that they’re on notice. A number of iPhone owners have already jumped ship for T-Mobile, and even more can easily separate their disdain for AT&T from their love for Apple. It’s clear that the honeymoon between Apple and AT&T is over, and when their exclusivity agreement is up, Apple will take their device to other carriers.

New Macbook Pros, Cheaper Macbook Air

Macbook Pro Family

Finally, Apple has released a Macbook Pro that’s a worthy replacement for the venerable 12-inch powerbook. The 13-inch Macbook Pro comes with all the horsepower you would expect in a Macbook Pro, but there have been some serious changes to the whole lineup. The 13-inch Macbook has become the 13-inch Macbook Pro, and apple has dropped the price on the white Macbook to compensate. There’s essentially no excuse to not buy a Macbook Pro now; even though the Macbook got some hardware bumps as well.

First of all, the entry of the 13-inch Macbook Pro marks the change of the entire lineup to non-user replaceable batteries. Frankly, a number of sites have already done dissections and show that the battery is extremely easy to replace if you have a screwdriver and the will to open up your precious Macbook Pro. The new batteries are larger and offer incredible battery life; far more than you’d anticipate in a laptop battery – up to 8 hours in real-world tests. There’s been some rumbling about the non-replaceable battery thing; the same as when the 17-inch went in that direction, but the battery longevity, like it did in that case, will wind up quelling people’s fears.

In addition to the battery technology, the new Macbook Pros bring the return of Firewire to all models and the removal of the ExpressCard slot in favor of an SD slot – you know, the kind you put into your digital camera? Additionally, with the introduction of the SD slot, Apple has modified the Macbook Pros to allow you to boot from SD card, which will be a huge boon for IT professionals and techs who currently boot to CD to repair drives or boot to external hard drives with OS X installed to retrieve data and do troubleshooting.

All of the Macbook Pros got speed and capacity bumps, and can come with standard hard drives or a 128GB or 256GB solid state drive. Along with the new hardware comes the ability to support up to 8GB of RAM. With all of the feature improvements you would expect that the Macbook Pros would stay at the same price point – but Apple’s actually lowered the price across the board.

As a side-note, Apple also lowered the price on the Macbook Air and upped its specs as well. There’s some reading between the lines to be done here too – Apple has said a number of times that they have no intention of getting into the netbook market, but in all honesty, Apple already has a netbook – they had one before netbooks were called netbooks, and it’s called the Macbook Air. The problem is that it’s the most expensive netbook on the market; and Apple dropping the price isn’t really designed to woo netbook lovers to buy a Macbook Air, but it’s also a play to make people realize that Apple is indeed serious about the Air, and they have every intention of pushing it as a fashionable ultra-portable for a very specific market.

Snow Leopard – shipping in September

snow leopard

Apple spent a good bit of time bashing Microsoft for Windows 7, claiming it’s essentially “Vista re-done” or “Vista done right,” which is regrettable considering the fact that Windows 7 has generated a whole world of anticipation. Apple needs to realize the OS X competes with Windows in a certain way, but not the one-to-one way that they used to compete with Windows – their machines run Windows now, and a lot of people enjoy running both, if not Windows exclusively, on their Mac hardware.

That being said, it’s even more regrettable considering the great things coming in Snow Leopard – Apple’s focus with Snow Leopard is optimization and streamlining, making your operating system run better, faster, and take up less space and resources. For example, the moment you complete a Snow Leopard installation, you’ll get several GB of disk back from the OS.

Among some of the most exciting things coming in Snow Leopard are true 64-bit compatibility so the OS can address all of the RAM coming in those Macbook Pros I just mentioned, and can really take advantage of the hardware under the hood of just about every Mac that’s shipped in the past 5 years. Exchange support is native in Apple applications, including iCal, Mail, and Address Book now, and will be native on the new iPhones as well.

Most of the changes in Snow Leopard are under the hood and not specific to the UI, which explains why Apple’s done something shocking with their new OS: they’re pricing it as a $30 upgrade, meaning Leopard users will be able to drop $30 and pick up their new operating system. (Maybe this is why it’s “Snow Leopard” and not another cat? Some people have predicted this was Apple’s strategy for Snow Leopard all along.)

This is huge news; part of it is a response to the complaints that Apple’s new OSes are $129 each and you have to buy them essentially every year, part of it is a response to the fact that most of the work on Snow Leopard is under the hood and not revolutionary on the face of the operating system, and some of it – as some analysts have suggested – it reflects a change of attitude at Apple to the iPhone-esque “app” mentality, where you get your OS and pay for incremental improvements and upgrades.

That all being said, Apple shipping in September when it’s clear Microsoft is shipping Windows 7 in October is another smart move. Some people have said Apple is trying to beat Microsoft to the punch and claim the fame, but I take the opposite view – Apple wants to release in September to take and keep the headlines in the run-up to Windows 7 and then peacefully cede the headlines to Microsoft in October when Windows 7 is released on the 22nd – which is going to happen one way or the other.


All in all, the announcements are exciting. I’m definitely interested in one of the new unibody 15-inch Macbook Pros, and I’m definitely interested in the iPhone 3GS, but that’s mostly because I have a Penryn 15-inch Macbook Pro (the much-adored model right before the black trim on the screen and the unibody design) and I love it – I’m also a huge fan of having a backup laptop should one of them have to go into the shop, and getting a new one would allow me to put my beloved Macbook Pro on the bench to rest a while.

As for the iPhone 3GS? The only reason I’m particularly interested in one is because I’m nearing the end of my Verizon contract and desperately want a smartphone – I’m at the point where I want to play a game or two while I’m sitting in a boring meeting, or check my e-mail, or surf the Web, or update Twitter. My current Motorola RAZR2 really doesn’t allow me to do that easily, and neither does Verizon’s take on how to manage a mobile network. They may have great coverage, but the way they neuter their phones and their absolute lack of strong mobile devices (and yes, I’m including the Blackberry Storm in that analysis) kind of put me over the edge. I’m almost willing to pay the termination fee just to jump ship.

Apple obviously has the strongest mobile device in the United States, even though a number of competitors have made solid efforts – especially in the form of the G1 on T-Mobile running Google’s Android, and the Blackberry Storm on Verizon. Sadly, they just don’t measure up.

I’m also thrilled that Apple is still making waves on the hardware and software fronts. I think a number of people had been worried that Snow Leopard would have slipped under the radar and faded into obscurity. Apple’s commitment to their laptops is all but clear as well; I haven’t heard much about the Apple TV or the Mac Pro lately, even though they’ve been getting bumps outside of the convention circuit, but I think that follows the popularity of the devices. Apple has a massive laptop userbase, not so much a wide Apple TV base. It makes sense they’d dedicate keynote time to the products that they sell the most of.

In any event, it was a good keynote and some good, solid announcements. That being said, I’m more intrigued by the subtext of a number of those announcements; Apple is saying a lot without saying quite as much as they used to, and all of it sounds really good.

4 thoughts on “WWDC Roundup: New Macbook Pros, Snow Leopard, and the iPhone 3GS

  1. davidd aka puuikibeach

    Thanx for the info on Snow Leopard. I’ll definitely be taking advantage of that upgrade for my MacBook Pro.

    You mention “just about every Mac that’s shipped in the last five years.” I wonder, will Snow Leopard work on PowerPC-based PowerBooks? I’ll have to check the requirements carefully once it’s released.

  2. davidd aka puuikibeach

    Your article just saved me twenty bucks! I navigated via Blackberry to the Apple site to check out Snow Leopard. As it turns out — and I was NOT informed of this by the Apple Store (Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii) staff at the time of my recent purchase — customers who purchase a qualifying Apple computer (which is, most of their current or recently replaced models) between 9 June 2009 and the release of Snow Leopard in September may purchase the Snow Leopard upgrade for $9.95. I stumbled across this info by accident while trying to navigate the Apple site on my Blackberry. The offer is kind of hidden — took me a bit to find it again by computer. It’s a simple matter of entering your new device serial number (and, of course, your credit card information) to pre-order Snow Leopard.

    Oh, and: it’s only compatible with Intel-based Macs. I guess my PowerPC-based PowerBook will be genuinely obsolete this coming September.

  3. Pingback: Gears and Widgets :: A Heaping Helping of Tech » Apple Sets Snow Leopard Release: August 28!

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