Series: Macworld New York 2001
Article 1 of 4 in series
by Geoff Duncan
During his keynote address at last week's Macworld Expo in New York, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off a refresh of Apple's iMac and Power Mac G4 computersShow full article
During his keynote address at last week's Macworld Expo in New York, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off a refresh of Apple's iMac and Power Mac G4 computers. The new systems primarily offer faster performance and further migrate CD- and DVD-authoring capabilities throughout the desktop lines, but make these enhancements with only slight alterations to Apple's price ranges. iMacs start at $1,000 (which is $200 more than the entry-level model at last year's Expo in New York) and high-end G4s still command a minimum of $3,500 - but now buyers get much more bang for their buck.
iMacs -- Pre-Expo rumors suggested that Apple would debut a substantial iMac revision, ditching the bulky CRT display in favor of a sleek flat-panel LCD screen. Such a move would be logical since Apple proudly converted its entire line of external displays to flat panels last May, a move trumpeted by a Macworld Expo banner saying "Hasta la vista, CRT." However, the only external design change Apple made to its iMacs this summer was to eliminate the somewhat off-putting Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian patterned cases in favor of the more-staid Indigo, Snow, and Graphite. Nearly all color has been bleached out of Apple's once candy-colored iMacs.
Under the hood, Apple pumped up processor speeds 100 MHz across the line, so the three iMac configurations now sport 500, 600, and 700 MHz PowerPC G3 processors. The systems also feature 20, 40, or 60 GB internal hard drives (up from 10, 20, and 40 GB respectively), an ATI Rage 128 Ultra graphics processor with 16 MB of VRAM with its own 66 MHz bus (previously only on the most expensive iMacs), and every iMac now sports a slot-loading CD-RW drive which can read and write both data and audio CDs. However, as with Apple's most-recent iMac offerings, no DVD options are available. The $1,000 iMac ships with 128 MB of RAM, while the $1,300 and $1,500 models start at 256 MB of RAM; all have both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X pre-installed. The new iMacs have only 256K of backside Level 2 cache, but that cache runs at the same speed as the main processor - 500, 600, or 700 MHz - making it pretty effective. The bottom two models are available immediately - the 700 MHz iMac will be available in August.
Otherwise, the iMacs primary features remain largely unchanged: a 100 MHz system bus, a 56 Kbps modem, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, two USB ports, two FireWire ports, two memory expansion slots, optional AirPort wireless networking, and a 15-inch screen with a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. A VGA video output is available, but as before it only mirrors the built-in display rather than expanding the available desktop to an additional monitor.
The new systems are a conservative revision to the iMac line, improving the value-to-dollar ratio and preventing the line from looking underpowered or static in this time of flagging computer sales. Since an LCD-equipped iMac would increase manufacturing costs on a system which already provides a comparatively low profit margin, perhaps it's better for now to stick with a proven design than to replace it with something untried and more expensive. That said, it seems only a matter of time before an LCD screen debuts in the iMac line, especially given Apple's ability to price the new iBooks so aggressively.
Power Mac G4s -- Like the latest iMacs, Apple's changes to the minitower Power Mac G4s are evolutionary rather than revolutionary and don't alter the system's basic price points. The systems sport a new mostly silver case, but otherwise the changes are internal. Processor speeds begin at 733 MHz in the $1,700 model and peak at 867 MHz, with a $3,500 dual-processor 800 MHz system (available in August; the other two are available now) occupying the top pricing spot. The system bus runs at 133 MHz, and the machines have a default 256 MB of RAM (expandable to 1.5 GB). Apple bumped up hard disk sizes (40, 60, and 80 GB drives are now standard) and also made the SuperDrive (which can read and write both CDs and DVDs) available in the mid-range model instead of only in top-of-the-line systems; otherwise, the machines are available with either a CD-RW or a combined CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. Like their predecessors, the systems support both standard VGA displays and Apple's flat-panel displays (via the proprietary ADC connector, which was analyzed at length in TidBITS Talk). There are three different video systems for the Power Mac G4's 4x AGP slot: a 32 MB GeForce2 MX, the high-end 64 MB GeForce3, or (most interestingly) a 64 MB GeForce2 MX with TwinView, a feature which enables the card to support two monitors with a single combined desktop, so long as one of the monitors is VGA and the other uses Apple's ADC connector. (You can also apparently order standard ATI Radeon cards from Apple, which can be installed in any of the four PCI slots.)
All the Power Mac G4s have 256K of Level 2 cache running at the same speed as the main processor(s), but the two higher-powered systems also feature 2 MB of Level 3 cache per processor running at one-fourth the speed of the main processor. These caches enable the CPU to stash frequently used data and instructions for re-use without having to fetch them repeatedly across the main bus (which runs at a mere 133 MHz). The effectiveness of cache varies widely with the nature of the code being executed at a low level and how well the processor can predict what it's supposed to do next, but tasks like encoding and data transformation procedures - capturing audio or video, compressing a movie, rendering an image, applying a Photoshop filter, etc. - tend to benefit from large, fast caches.
Otherwise, the Power Mac G4s offer now-standard features: four PCI expansion slots, Gigabit Ethernet, two 400 Mbps FireWire ports, two USB ports, optional AirPort wireless networking, three 3.5-inch internal drive expansion bays, and an optional 56 Kbps internal modem, and they ship with both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X pre-installed.
I'm pleased to see Apple continue shipping multiprocessor systems, particularly at processor speeds which keep up with the rest of the Power Mac line. Although multiprocessor support for Macs is still in its infancy, a handful of Mac OS 9 applications support multiprocessing now, including Adobe Premiere and Photoshop, and the just-shipped Digital Performer 3.0. Mac OS X offers multiprocessing capabilities to Mac OS X-native applications, and as more mainstream programs appear for Mac OS X, I'm hoping the potential power of multiprocessor systems will be realized after years of struggle and fleeting support. (Apple's first multiprocessor system was the 9500/180MP in mid-1996, although former clone-maker DayStar had multiprocessor systems on the market earlier).
Same Price, Only Faster -- Most of Apple's hardware innovation this year has come in the portable space, with the stunning PowerBook G4 Titanium and iBook (Dual USB). So although Apple's latest desktop offerings don't surprise the eye or satisfy rumor-mongers, they ought to be pleasing on the pocketbook: Apple has packed significantly better performance into the same price ranges the company has been charging for new computers so far in 2001. That's fine for now, but the company has made its recent fortunes on design innovation, and the iMac is seeming a little long in the tooth, especially for a machine that redefined the industry when it appeared in 1998. Apple's challenge is to figure out how to redesign the iMac with features such as an LCD screen without losing the tremendous recognition enjoyed by the bulbous iMacs.
Article 2 of 4 in series
It was the best of expos, it was the worst of expos. With apologies to Charles Dickens, this year's Macworld Expo in New York City was a truly odd showShow full article
It was the best of expos, it was the worst of expos.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, this year's Macworld Expo in New York City was a truly odd show. Expectations of new Macs ran high based both on rumors and on analysis of Apple's current products and release cycles. Equally anticipated was a significant feature update to Mac OS X. But the much-awaited Steve Jobs keynote on the first morning felt cobbled together at the last moment and showed more forward momentum than shipping products. Moving from the keynote to the show floor quickly revealed to me that the show floor was smaller than last year. Put these two facts together and you have what would seem to be the start of a dismal Macworld Expo.
As with all journalists, I was already writing bits of this article in my head, tying a mediocre show to the industry downturn, to Apple's inability to ship Mac OS X 10.1, to the error-marred keynote. Then I noticed that walking through the aisles was proving difficult due to the throngs of Mac users. And then, as with the Scrooge-like Grinch who hears the singing of all the Whos down in Whoville even after he's stolen all their Christmas fixings, I gradually realized that this crowd was not only large, it was happy. Clearly it was too early to call the show, so I put my musings aside and wandered the floor.
By the end of the second morning, I'd determined that not only were there fewer square feet of exhibitors, there weren't any breakthrough products for the mainstream Macintosh audience. Grinch-like phrasings started to rattle around in my head again, but then I started to ask all the exhibitors I knew how the show was going. It's a standard question that I ask of everyone I meet after the first day, but I was utterly astonished to hear the enthusiastic responses. The exhibitors with whom I spoke were, without exception, happy, and some of them were wildly happy. Those selling products said sales were good or even great, and Neil Ticktin of DevDepot said they sold a t-shirt every 22 seconds during the first day. Attendance dropped off the second and third days (due in part to the drab keynote, which would otherwise have drawn in more New Yorkers), but in the end, it seems that slightly more people came to this Macworld Expo than last year's show.
So, despite the disappointing keynote, paucity of exhibitors, and lack of any must-have products, people attended in droves, and the exhibitors were pleased with the results. Weird, truly weird. Let's look at each of these in more depth.
A Keynote to Forget -- Macworld keynote addresses since Steve Jobs returned to Apple have been extravaganzas. We've seen Phil Schiller jump from a 30-foot platform to demonstrate AirPort networking on the just-introduced iBook, and we've seen Apple Pro mice stuck to the bottom of all the chairs in the main hall of the keynote. We've seen products like the Power Mac G4 Cube and the PowerBook G4 Titanium released to huge fanfare. Jobs has become famous for his "And one more thing..." phrase that introduces the surprise product for the keynote. Compared to that stellar past, this keynote was lame, though still far better than the average trade show keynote.
Jobs led off with video footage from the opening of the Apple stores in McLean, Virginia and Los Angeles, California and then said Apple plans to open 4 more stores in August (in Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston), and follow that with more openings to bring the total to 25 by year-end. Although Apple believes the stores will break even by the end of this year, the president of a retail consulting firm was quoted in the New York Times as saying that Apple's approach was completely flawed and that the stores would shut down after two years of huge losses. Although initial traffic at the Apple stores was incredibly high, Jobs didn't provide any sales numbers for the stores in their first eight weeks.
Next up was Apple's industry dog-and-pony show "10 on X" that Apple hoped would make clear the level to which Macintosh developers are creating Mac OS X-based software. It was an important show of support, featuring Microsoft (Office and Internet Explorer), Adobe (Illustrator, GoLive, and InDesign), Quark, FileMaker, Connectix (Virtual PC), IBM (ViaVoice), World Book (2002 World Book Encyclopedia), Blizzard Entertainment (WarCraft III), Aspyr (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2), and Alias|Wavefront (Maya) showcasing their products. There's no arguing with Apple's choices of who to show, since these ten companies covered much of the overall Macintosh market. But only two of the products shown were actually shipping: the 2002 World Book Encyclopedia and Aspyr's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, neither of which seem to use Mac OS X in an interesting fashion. All the others are slated for later this year.
Although it too isn't scheduled to ship for a few more months, the first program shown, Microsoft Office 10, will be the key to Mac OS X's success. Without the popular suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage running native on Mac OS X, most business users would face a significant barrier to adoption. Microsoft is even giving Apple a boost by putting Office 2001 into maintenance mode and concentrating all future development on the Mac OS X-only Office 10. I'll look at the changes in Office 10 more closely in a future issue.
After the demonstrations, Jobs enthusiastically launched into showing the new features in Mac OS X 10.1, and from first glance, it appears that it addresses many of the glaring holes and problems in the current version of Mac OS X. We'll write more about Mac OS X 10.1 in next week's issue, but suffice to say, the changes, if not the September ship date, were well received.
The new hardware announcements that followed the Mac OS X 10.1 demo didn't rate the same enthusiasm (although the announcement that the new iBook (Dual USB) had sold a record 182,000 units in only two months garnered huge applause). The speed-bumped iMacs rated just a few minutes from Jobs, and they deserved no more. More solid were the new Power Mac G4s, which offered a minor front panel redesign and significantly improved performance at the same price points. Although these upgrades aren't inherently interesting, they offer a fabulous price for performance ratio.
What would an announcement of fast Macs be without a comparison with the top-of-the-line Pentium-based computer running Windows? Refreshing, since the canned comparisons are dull and wasted time in an already long keynote. People don't buy the Mac based on performance, and although it's fine to show that the fastest PowerPC chips are no slouches, it's time to let these comparisons die. If the comparisons were predictable (Jobs trots out Phil Schiller, they banter about how they had trouble even buying the Pentium, they run the Photoshop filters, the Mac finishes first), this year's lesson in chip architecture from Apple hardware chief Jon Rubinstein was inexplicable. In an attempt to show that clock speed isn't the only thing that makes a processor fast, he talked the audience through an animation of how more pipeline stages (the PowerPC G4 has 7, the Pentium 4 has 20) can significantly reduce performance. He's right of course, and his demonstration was well done, short of the fact that the longer pipeline representing the Pentium 4 wasn't running twice as fast to show the faster clock speed. But who cares? Chip performance is a highly complex issue, and no one who believes that clock speed is all that matters will be convinced otherwise by such a demonstration from Apple.
Last, but not least, was a preview of iDVD 2, which adds motion menus, new themes (some of which featured background animations), a soundtrack option for still image slideshows, background encoding, support for 90 minute DVDs (up from 60 minutes currently), and support for Mac OS X. Like so much else, it's due in September, and will be a free upgrade.
At the very end, there was even tacit admission of Apple's desire to have more to present. To show that Apple hasn't exactly been goofing off, Jobs flipped through slides of all the software and hardware releases Apple has had this year. He then asked the audience to give a round of applause for the hard-working Apple employees, and then another for the families of those employees. Though it's unlikely that many family members were watching the keynote to appreciate the gesture, it was still welcome recognition for the effect 80-hour work weeks have on families.
Missing Exhibitors -- There was no question that the show floor sported less booth space than in past years. A number of mainstays of the Macintosh industry weren't in attendance at all, most notably Adobe and Casady & Greene, and others had smaller booths than in previous years. Then there was Smith Micro, the makers of FAXstf. They had a fair amount of space, but it was occupied only by a banner hanging from the cavernous Javits ceiling, a wire snaking down from the rafters, and a couple of plain tables. The whole thing just screamed "cost-cutting!"
Companies chose to stay away for two basic reasons. The most important is the industry downturn. New York is expensive and my guess is that for a company like Adobe, the cost of a large space; the booth and related equipment; and the airfare, hotel, food, and salaries for the necessary staff could easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most companies are tightening the purse strings these days and even though Adobe in particular has fared relatively well, that kind of money might be better spent elsewhere, such as on traditional advertising that's both cheaper and more effective with the loss of many Internet advertisers.
The second reason - the transition to Mac OS X - is related to the first. It's one thing to spend marketing money on a trade show in hard economic times, but it's another to spend that money when you don't have much Mac OS X-specific software to demo. Other than a few games, Casady & Greene doesn't have any Mac OS X software, and given the expectation that this would be the big Mac OS X show, it's easy to understand their decision to stay home. By that reasoning, Macworld Expo in San Francisco this coming January should be huge, since Mac OS X 10.1 will be out and many more companies will have their Mac OS X versions done.
No Killer Products -- I was depressed to go the entire show without seeing anything that I found truly impressive. There were a few welcome Mac OS X versions, such as QuicKeys for Mac OS X from CE Software and Virtual PC for Mac OS X from Connectix. But as useful and necessary as those programs are, they don't introduce particularly new functionality to the Mac world. On the hardware side, the usual crop of high-quality printers and cameras and camcorders may not have been surprising, but they at least made for good browsing. I remain particularly impressed with Canon's PowerShot S110 and S300 Digital Elph cameras for snapshots (the S300 has a 3x optical zoom and a larger body). The most interesting devices were Griffin Technology's sleek PowerMate USB volume controller and PowerWave USB audio adapter, which provides high-quality audio recording and playback through a built-in amplifier so you can connect normal stereo speakers to your Mac. They weren't shipping at the show, but almost everyone with whom I talked mentioned them, along with the P5 glove controller from Essential Reality.
There were a few companies with products that were present only because Mac OS X provides a Unix core on top of which they can run, such as Memora for the Mac, a home server for email, digital photos, and music that runs on top of Mac OS X. But on the whole, Mac OS X has caused a pause in the level of innovation on the Mac. To be fair, innovation has fallen off a good bit over the past few years anyway, so my hope is that after programmers come up to speed on what Mac OS X makes possible and move their existing software over, we'll see functionality from our Macs that wasn't possible before Mac OS X.
Droves of Attendees -- Attendance at Macworld Expo was at the same levels or above those of last year, when Apple and the entire Macintosh industry was still doing extremely well. That's surprising enough in its own right, but a number of exhibitors commented that last month's PC Expo (also at the Javits Convention Center) was nowhere nearly as heavily attended. So not only did people come to Macworld, they did so in the face of industry conditions that caused a similar trade show in the same location to suffer significant attendance loss.
As I've noted before, Apple's fortunes aren't completely related to the rest of the computer industry because Macintosh purchases are more individual than corporate decisions. My current theory is that attendance at Macworld Expo is a roughly similar decision, and lots of people were curious to see Mac OS X and software that would run on it. Although Mac OS X 10.1 didn't make it out for Macworld Expo, almost none of the attendees with whom I spoke were running Mac OS X as their primary operating system, and as such they didn't seem concerned about the additional wait.
Even more important was that everyone seemed upbeat, and even when they'd seen the keynote, they didn't seem perturbed by the unspectacular present or unknown future. Perhaps it's just that Macworld Expo is the semi-annual gathering of what is essentially the Macintosh fan club, and the clear forward momentum on Apple's part made up for the lack of major announcements.
Happy Exhibitors -- The fact that all of the exhibitors I spoke with ranged from happy to ecstatic about the response from attendees was what surprised me the most. It costs a lot to exhibit in New York, and exhibitors are sensitive to the value of presence versus the hard costs of showing up.
The sheer number of attendees helped a great deal, since there's nothing like a crowd of people taking promotional materials to make an exhibitor smile. The folks at CE Software said they ran out of CDs on the first morning and had to rush another batch in for the next day. But these weren't just any attendees, these were the Macintosh faithful. Rich Brown of Dartware (the company spun out of Dartmouth to develop the network utilities InterMapper, MacPing, and SNMP Watcher) said he'd been mobbed by InterMapper fans on the first day, not necessarily a common experience for someone making fairly technical networking utilities.
But what really warms an exhibitor's heart is sales, and from what I can tell, sales went extremely well. Peachpit was selling lots of books despite a slowdown in overall book sales, and the cashiers at DevDepot were mobbed whenever I walked by. There's undoubtedly an aspect of being able to see and touch Macintosh products in person, something that's relatively difficult in most places (hence Apple's rationale behind the new Apple stores). But that's been true for years, and I simply don't know why people were more willing to spend money this year than in previous years. Perhaps it was the pricing: I know I was sorely tempted by a 100 GB FireWire hard disk and a 256 MB Compact Flash card, neither of which I really need, but both of which seemed cheap. RAM in particular was amazingly inexpensive, with one company advertising a 512 MB DIMM for $140, which I thought was low until I checked a couple of Internet price comparison sites such as the new and well-designed dealram. (I'm hearing that RAM is at a low right now due to a glut on the market, but because some production lines have been shut down to reduce supply and because the release of Windows XP in a few months will likely increase demand, prices will likely go up again soon.)
In the end, even if I don't really know why this particular Macworld Expo was so upbeat, I'm not going to complain about it. Perception is powerful, as we've seen so many times with human interfaces, and if the perception of the state of the Macintosh is positive, that goes a long way toward creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves us all well.
Article 3 of 4 in series
by Jeff Carlson
More than any other event, Macworld Expo stirs up the excitement of Mac users looking for Apple's newest take on thinking different. Ironically, the show also tends to temper that excitement with an equal dose of patienceShow full article
More than any other event, Macworld Expo stirs up the excitement of Mac users looking for Apple's newest take on thinking different. Ironically, the show also tends to temper that excitement with an equal dose of patience. At Macworld Expo San Francisco 2001, Steve Jobs incited outbreaks of mass techno-lust with the introduction of the PowerBook G4 Titanium, but even those who ordered their machines wirelessly from the floor of the keynote didn't receive them for several weeks. At this year's show in New York, Jobs introduced Mac OS X 10.1, Apple's first major update to its new operating system - but you won't be able to get your hands on it until September. Here's some of what you have to look forward to.
The Bouncer at the Door -- Translucent menus and preemptive multitasking quickly lose their luster if essentials like selecting menu items or resizing Finder windows don't respond quickly. The main improvement in Mac OS X 10.1 is a performance boost across the board, with an emphasis on improving application launch time, as measured in bounces. Under Mac OS X, a program's icon bounces like a caffeinated child in its place on the Dock to indicate that the application is loading. Under Mac OS X 10.1, Internet Explorer launched in one bounce, and Mac OS X's Mail program barely bounced at all. Of course, Jobs was undoubtedly running on the fastest possible hardware, but we've heard that launch performance is two to three times better even on slower Macs.
"Performance, performance, performance," Jobs chanted, but it's not just brute-force processing power that's improved. Under 10.1, you'll be able to choose a method of minimizing windows. The current scheme, called Genie because of the way windows get sucked into the Dock, will be joined by Scale, which resizes the window proportionally as it moves to the Dock. The effect is cleaner and faster than Genie, and Jobs suggested that Scale will be the default behavior when 10.1 is released. (Personally, I'd vote for a balloon behavior, where the window splutters around the screen, deflates, and drops limply to the Dock.)
Finder windows will also enjoy resizable columns in the column view (hopefully the widths will be remembered, unlike Mac OS X 10.0.4), and long filenames will run onto multiple lines if needed instead of truncating the text. Like Windows, Mac OS X 10.1 will offer the capability for users to hide or show filename extensions. This feature is disastrously confusing in Windows; let's hope Apple somehow avoids similar problems.
Another improvement to the system's Aqua interface is the capability to position the Dock on the left, right, or bottom edges of the screen. This is possible in the current version of Mac OS X, although the position isn't remembered through restarts. To move your Dock now, Control-click the dividing line between applications and documents in the Dock to choose an alignment, though the new system won't support putting the Dock at the top edge of the screen.
Apple is also addressing Dock overload by pulling some functions currently available as Dock extras out of the Dock and into the top menu bar. These "system menus," as Jobs called them, will display status for battery life and AirPort signal strength, and offer controls for changing sound volume, display settings, and a modem connection. The concern here is that this area will itself immediately be overloaded, much as happens with the Windows system tray. The existing Control Strip isn't perfect, but at least it can be tucked away off-screen when not needed.
Finally, applications in the Dock can now have menus, just like folders do, though it was unclear from the keynote just what menu items would appear there.
Hub Caps -- Mac OS X 10.1 catches up on Apple's digital hub strategy, adding DVD playback and CD burning (for saving data, not just music via iTunes) directly in the Finder, courtesy of a new Burn button that can be placed in the toolbar in Finder windows. Perhaps the most entertaining moment in the keynote came from Jobs when he tried to connect a digital camera via USB; when it didn't work, he just tossed (er, threw) it to an Apple employee offstage and moved on. Later, he came back to the camera and showed the system automatically copying its images to a special folder that can also use the photos as the basis for one of Apple's screensaver modules.
Of course, Mac OS X 10.1 couldn't be a digital hub if it weren't at the center of things, so Apple has boosted its networking capabilities. You will finally be able to configure AirPort base stations from within the AirPort Admin Utility under Mac OS X 10.1. Apple is also adding support for connecting to the machine using AFP over AppleTalk, plus SMB networking support to enable the Mac to interoperate better on a Windows-dominated network. Mac OS X 10.1 will not only support an emerging technology called WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning; it's a set of extensions to the Web's HTTP protocol to enable users to edit and manage remote files collaboratively - you can think of it as FTP on steroids), it will use WebDAV as the underlying technology behind your iDisk. Since WebDAV uses the stateless HTTP to transfer data, it can be left on your desktop for long stretches of time without having to always check in with Apple's servers.
The Future Is Still Here, Still Coming Soon, For $20 -- When it becomes available in September, Mac OS X 10.1 will be available as a "free" upgrade for current users. However, because so much data has changed between this release and previous ones, owners of Mac OS 10.0.4 and earlier will find themselves spending $20 (for shipping and handling) to order the update on CD. Apple's certainly allowed to charge whatever they want, but it's a bit annoying to be forced to pay more for an update which feels like a fix to make the operating system basically functional for mainstream users. Even if a online update was huge, why not give users the option of a very long download to head off any complaints?
Article 4 of 4 in series
by Jeff Carlson
This year's Macworld Expo in New York City may have been an odd show with no spectacular announcements, but that doesn't mean nothing caught our eyes while wandering the show floorShow full article
This year's Macworld Expo in New York City may have been an odd show with no spectacular announcements, but that doesn't mean nothing caught our eyes while wandering the show floor. The main liability this year? As with so many other announcements at the show, a number of these products simply aren't shipping yet. I'm looking for the last few months of 2001 to boast a flurry of releases, and I'm sure you'll be able to see many of these products at January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
Shake Hands With Your Mac -- The first thing I saw upon walking into the Macworld Expo show floor was Essential Reality's P5 glove-like controller. It's a USB device that fits over your hand and enables you to use hand and finger motions to control 3-D graphics programs, games, and more. It definitely wins the futuristic interface award, though it's not entirely clear to me how well it will work for many types of applications, and it looked as though your arm would get tired if you were using the P5 for a long time. Still, the P5 will be cheap (as in $130) when it ships in a few months - let's hope Essential Reality comes up with a better name between then and now. [ACE]
Tantalizing Test Drive -- One of the handful of reasons I don't use Mac OS X full-time on my laptop is that Virtual PC doesn't yet work in Mac OS X. Connectix has improved that situation by introducing the Virtual PC Test Drive for Mac OS X, a free download for owners of Virtual PC 4. Due largely to limitations in Mac OS X itself, the test drive doesn't support USB devices, can't use a unique IP address within Windows, and can't display the virtual PC full screen, but the software is otherwise quite functional. We were delighted to hear that Virtual PC can share drive image files and saved states between the Mac OS 9 and X versions of the software. Connectix can't say when a final version of Virtual PC for Mac OS X will be available, but promises that a final version (or another test drive version) will appear before this test drive expires on 31-Jan-02. [MHA]
Don't Forget Your Wallet -- You're going on vacation with your digital camera, but you don't want to bring a laptop to store photos after your camera's Compact Flash card fills up. Minds@Work has the solution, with the palm-sized Digital Wallet, a 12 ounce battery-powered hard disk with a PC Card slot that operates independently of a computer. The Digital Wallet supports Compact Flash, SmartMedia, Sony MemoryStick, Panasonic SD Memory Card, IBM Microdrive, Intel StrataFlash, and MultiMedia Cards; simply put your camera's memory card into a PC Card adapter, plug it into the Digital Wallet, and transfer the files from the memory card onto the Digital Wallet's 2.5-inch hard disk, which is available in 3 GB ($350), 10 GB ($450), and 20 GB ($550) sizes. The NiMH battery lasts for up to 120 minutes of use, and can be recharged about 500 times. When you get home, plug the Digital Wallet into your Mac (or PC, or Linux box) via USB and transfer the files to your computer. The Digital Wallet also features a small monochrome LCD screen, not for previewing pictures, but for seeing directory listings, file transfer status, and so on. The main downside is price, given that you can get a 256 MB Compact Flash card for between $150 and $250, it might be possible to get by on vacation with a couple minuscule memory cards. [ACE]
Smallest Media -- While we're on the subject of tiny media, look for the new DataPlay digital media to appear before the end of the year. Manufactured by Imation, DataPlay's long-lived optical disks store 500 MB in a package about the size of a U.S. quarter and will be available in five colors. Joining the DataPlay media will be Imation's DiscGO, a device similar to the Digital Wallet that lets you copy the contents of memory cards to and from DataPlay disks, which you can then copy back to your computer via USB. A number of devices are using DataPlay media, most notably portable music players but also PDAs, an electrocardiogram recorder, and digital cameras. I'll be curious to see real-world impressions of how well DataPlay media works, since it seems to combine a great form factor with decent capacity (twice the size of large Compact Flash cards) and the promise of archival storage. [ACE]
Best Traveler Gizmo -- We already knew Battery Technology, Inc. (BTI) was great for laptop and cell phone batteries and power adapters, but a new product at the BTI booth combined these two areas nicely. An inexpensive USB cell phone charger provides power to charge your wireless phone via the USB port on your laptop or desktop computer. (A full phone charge drains around a fifth of your laptop's battery charge, a reasonable trade-off if you need your cell phone charged!) I've kept mine in my laptop bag since I bought it several days ago, and have used it at the office while my laptop's plugged in, as well as while traveling. [MHA]
Smallest Hard Disk -- If you're in the market for small media that holds more than the 500 MB DataPlay disks, check out SmartDisk's sleek new FireLite 5 GB hard disk. It measures a mere 2.4" x .5" x 4", weighs 5 ounces, and is powered from the FireWire bus so no additional power adapters are necessary. The magic behind this minuscule drive comes from a new 1.8-inch mechanism from Toshiba, and once Toshiba provides mechanisms in other capacities, SmartDisk will introduce more options. The FireLite will be priced at $400 when it ships (SmartDisk is saying only "Available soon") so the size does command a premium price, but if size is of paramount importance, you won't find a single 5 GB package any smaller than the FireLite. [ACE]
Spider's Eye View -- As Web sites have grown, it's become ever more difficult for site authors to see just what pages they have, how they link to one another, and how coherently they follow site guidelines. There are a variety of utilities that will give you a list of files with broken links, or let you search across a set of HTML files. But the Java-based (so it runs on Mac OS X, but not Mac OS 9) Funnel Web Profiler from Quest Software goes well beyond that by letting you look at your entire Web site at once in a graphical map view that you can customize to reveal different bits of information about each page. Funnel Web Profiler can apply different colors to pages to indicate how well they match your desired level of HTML quality, change the size of the page dot to indicate how linked that page is, and so on. The $600 Funnel Web Profiler also works with the flexible Funnel Web Analyzer log analysis tool. If you're responsible for serious Web sites, take a look when Funnel Web Profiler ships later this quarter. [ACE]
Input Device Stars -- Apple somewhat dried up the market for third-party keyboards and other input devices with last July's introduction of the Apple Pro Keyboard and Apple Pro Mouse, but some vendors are still successfully offering alternatives. Adesso's multimedia ergonomic keyboard, tiny portable USB numeric keypad, and Lilliputian two-button optical mouse with scroll wheel are great examples. [MHA]
Two Half Keyboards Equals? At last January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, we wrote about the Matias Half Keyboard, which was literally a QWERTY keyboard sawed in half (well, it's more elegant looking than that). By pressing the space bar with your thumb, you can type the characters from the other half of the keyboard. Although some will want it for desktop use, it's most compelling in the $300 Wearable Half Keyboard bundle from Matias, which includes a Half Keyboard with five-foot cable, wrist straps, and screen rotation software for the Palm OS so you can strap it and the Palm to your wrists. Portable data entry becomes a reality, and an inexpensive one at that. Anyway, you can imagine my initial confusion at Macworld Expo when Edgar Matias proudly showed me his new Half Keyboard x2, which looks exactly like a normal keyboard. For a moment I thought he was just having some fun with me, but then he explained that the Half Keyboard x2 is a normal keyboard, but by holding down the space bar, you can use either side of the keyboard to type the full range of characters. Without the space bar down, it acts like a normal keyboard. Thus, you're not forced to use the slower Half Keyboard typing most of the time, but when you really need a hand on the mouse for text editing, desktop publishing, CAD, or even gaming, you can do so. It's slated for release in October for $100. [ACE]
RTMac Update -- Matrox, whose RTMac real-time video editing card for Final Cut Pro I reviewed in TidBITS-587, was showing a new version of their software, due to ship in September, that will extend the RTMac card's real-time editing capabilities to users of Adobe Premiere 6. [MHA]
Best Consumer Audio Devices -- Griffin Technology easily takes this award with a pair of devices. The USB-based $45 PowerMate is a elegant knob on a glowing base that you can rotate and press to activate a user-defined action. It's most obviously useful for controlling audio volume, since it's far easier to turn a physical knob than to fiddle with a tiny virtual slider. But it's also totally programmable, so you could press it to have it act as a power key, mute the sound, or do other things. Then there's the $100 PowerWave, which is a USB audio amplifier and interface. It provides two RCA line level input connectors, two line RCA line level output connectors, a 1/8-inch microphone input jack, a 1/8-inch headphone output jack, a USB hub, and an Apple Pro Speaker connector. Internally it features a 24-bit DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip for high quality sound, though of course it was difficult to determine audio quality amidst the cacophony of the show floor. Both are set to ship in September. [ACE]
Closest Zoom -- I'm one of those people who's never been able to use a microscope comfortably, thanks to a fairly thin face and glasses. If only Bodelin's The Scope had been available back when I was dissecting worms and counting protists! It's a handheld USB digital microscope that can display 640 by 480 images on a computer screen at up to 200 times magnification. It can even show live video, record movies, or do time-lapse photography at those magnifications. The $200 package includes a 50x lens, the necessary software, backlighting, and standard tripod mount (also for use with The Scope's optional $125 stand). Also available are an $85 1x lens that turns The Scope into a standard digital camera and $100 100x and $129 200x lenses for increased magnification. Plus, a $20 C-Ring lens adapter enables the use of any standard C-mount lens. The Scope sounds ideal for schools, since a teacher could display magnified images or live video for the entire class to see. [ACE]
Server Software Chutzpah -- 4D's WebSTAR V Server Suite takes this award for putting a ton of effort into moving the leading suite of Mac OS server to Mac OS X despite the preponderance of Unix server programs. But WebSTAR V aims to distinguish itself based on easier setup and administration, better performance (thanks to advanced caching and a multi-threaded architecture), and integrated WebDAV and FTP servers. The software is in public beta now, so if you've found configuring Mac OS X's Apache difficult, give WebSTAR a try. It's slated for release by the end of this quarter, with the price to be announced at ship date. [ACE]