Apple stole the show at Macworld Expo with major hardware releases, so we concentrate first on the technical and pricing details and then analyze what Apple’s announcements mean for the rest of the Mac industry. In other news, Netscape released Communicator 4.74, Apple posted a $200 million profit, TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst was named as the 2nd most influential person in the Mac industry, and IncWell released SuperCard Personal Edition.
Apple Posts $200 Million Profit & Returns to Circuit City — Apple Computer posted a $200 million profit for its third fiscal quarter of 2000 on revenues of over $1.8 billion, for an overall revenue gain of 17 percent. Apple sold more than one million machines during the quarter, including over 450,000 iMacs and 350,000 Power Mac G4 systems, for a 12 percent rise in unit sales from the year-ago quarter. Apple’s profits included $37 million from continued sales of ARM Holdings plc., without which the company’s profit would have been $163 million, an increase of 43 percent from the year-ago quarter. (A year ago, Apple posted a $203 million profit, but $89 million of it was from sales of ARM Holdings.) Apple’s margins were up to 29.8 percent, and international sales accounted for 46 percent of the quarter’s revenues.
Apple also announced that Circuit City will once again carry Apple products in nearly 600 retail stores throughout the U.S. Circuit City will feature Apple’s consumer-oriented iMac, iBook, and AirPort product lines, and will also display digital video cameras connected to iMac DV systems, highlighting Apple’s FireWire and iMovie technologies. The move marks Apple’s return to Circuit City; in 1998, Apple pulled out of most retail superstores to focus on CompUSA’s "store within a store" concept for Apple products – and because the large chains did a poor job of promoting, supporting, or even displaying Apple products. It remains to be seen whether Circuit City can do better this time around. [GD]
We’re Number Two! Congratulations to TidBITS publisher Adam Engst for his second place ranking in the MDJ Power 25, a survey ranking the 25 most influential people in the Macintosh community! Adam’s ranking was second only to Apple iCEO Steve Jobs – who claimed the top seat by a wide margin – but also well ahead of other Apple executives, influential developers and technical folks, plus industry luminaries like Adobe’s John Warnock and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. The survey, which marks the relaunch of the highly regarded MDJ, the Daily Journal for Serious Macintosh Users, compiled private responses from a large group of Macintosh insiders, development executives, programmers, journalists, and industry observers, who were each asked to name who they felt were the five most powerful and influential Macintosh people. MDJ compiled the responses, listing the top 25 vote-getters, honorable mentions, and figures mysteriously missing in action. When I spoke with Adam (who’s still in New York after Macworld Expo) about the survey results, he said that it was an honor to be recognized in this way by prominent figures of the Macintosh community. Over the last ten years, we at TidBITS have strived to make friends rather than enemies, and to focus on the person behind the personal computer rather than doggedly pursuing technology for its own sake. It’s tremendously rewarding when people in every part of the Macintosh community find that work useful and worthwhile.
Subscriptions to the relaunched MDJ are $30 per month; you can sign up for a free limited trial subscription at the MacJournals site. [GD]
SuperCard Personal Edition — IncWell DMG and Solutions Etcetera have released SuperCard Personal Edition, a version of the well-regarded multimedia authoring and scripting environment aimed at individual users and folks working with Apple’s all-but-officially abandoned HyperCard. SuperCard features full-color authoring capabilities that are well suited to demos, project prototypes, presentations, utilities, multimedia software, and more, using a structure similar to HyperCard’s card-and-stack metaphor. SuperCard Personal Edition differs from the full version of SuperCard in that it can’t encrypt scripts from prying eyes or enable users to build commercial applications, and it lacks a royalty-free license to distribute SuperCard applications (although other folks can still run projects using the free SuperCard Player). SuperCard Personal Edition includes all of SuperCard’s other capabilities (including voice recognition, sophisticated QuickTime authoring, and the capability to convert many HyperCard stacks to SuperCard projects), and price is attractive: through a special promotion with MacNN, SuperCard Personal Edition is available for $50. The full version of SuperCard costs $150.
For more background on SuperCard, see Matt Neuburg’s review of SuperCard 3.0 in TidBITS-369, and TidBITS technical editor Geoff Duncan’s review of SuperCard 3.5.2 for Macworld’s May 1999 issue. SuperCard’s current version is 3.6. For details of HyperCard’s current status, see "Alas, HyperCard!" and "The Business Case for HyperCard" in TidBITS-453 and TidBITS-454. HyperCard’s situation remains essentially unchanged, but it’s now over a year and a half more moribund than when those articles were published. [GD]
Poll Results: Buy and Buy — Last week’s poll asked where readers prefer to purchase Macintosh-related hardware, and (a sign of the times) online retailers were the clear favorite, cited by more than 60 percent of the poll’s respondents. Also faring well were the more traditional sources of mail order catalogs (41 percent) and local Apple dealers (32 percent), while nearly 20 percent of respondents said they prefer to purchase directly from manufacturers, and 15 percent liked office and computer superstores. In retrospect, we should have called out campus dealers and other education-only channels separately, but it doesn’t seem to have confused many respondents, with the "Other" category getting only three percent of the votes. [GD]
Poll Preview: Mac Attack! Last week at Macworld Expo, Apple completely revised its desktop computer offerings (see the article below), so the new systems are the subject of this week’s poll. If you were going to purchase one of Apple’s just announced Macs today, which one would you buy? Are your decisions driven primarily by price (the $799 iMac), design (the G4 Cube), sheer horsepower (500 MHz dual-processor systems), or other factors? Cast your vote on our home page! [GD]
In his keynote address at Macworld Expo in New York, Apple iCEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off a complete revision of Apple’s desktop computer offerings – plus unveiled new displays, a new keyboard, and an optical mouse.
Mouse & Keyboard — The oft-reviled "hockey puck" USB mouse introduced with the original iMac never made Apple many friends, and Apple’s abbreviated USB keyboard ruffled plenty of feathers when it became standard issue with Apple’s professional computers. To rectify the situation, Apple has introduced the optical Apple Pro Mouse and Apple Pro Keyboard. The Pro Mouse sports a soap bar shape and uses optical sensors instead of moving parts to track movement, so it should operate accurately on a variety of surfaces. Also, its entire top surface serves as the mouse button, levering down in front to perform a click. The force required to click the mouse is adjustable, so the mouse should work for a wide range of Macintosh users – and no moving parts means no cleaning (although the clear plastic surface will probably be permanently smudged). The 108-key Pro Keyboard features 15 full-size programmable function keys, a standard configuration of navigation keys (arrows, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, etc.) plus a key to eject a CD or DVD disk, although it lacks a Power key. Pressing any key on the keyboard will turn on or wake up the Mac systems Apple just released, but people who use it with earlier USB-equipped Macs will have to use front-mounted power buttons instead. (The new Eject key reportedly takes the place of the Power key for use with Apple’s MacsBug debugger.) The new mouse and keyboard will ship standard on Apple’s desktop systems (see below), and can be purchased separately from the Apple store for $60 each.
New iMacs — Apple’s latest iMacs introduce new colors – Indigo, Ruby, Sage, and the all-white Snow – but also sport aggressive pricing and performance enhancements while retaining the standard iMac form factor, 15-inch display, and convection cooling that eliminates the need for a noisy fan. The low-end model Indigo has an appealing $799 price, and features a 350 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 64 MB RAM, a 7.5 GB hard disk, a 56 Kbps modem, two USB ports, 10/100Base-T Ethernet and a slot-loading CD-ROM drive, although it lacks FireWire and AirPort capabilities. Next, the AirPort-ready $999 iMac DV is available in Indigo or Ruby and adds a 400 MHz G3 processor, a 10 GB hard disk, VGA video mirroring, two FireWire ports, and iMovie, but carries a 24x CD-ROM drive rather than a DVD-ROM drive. Moving on up, the $1,299 iMac DV+ is available in Indigo, Ruby, and Sage, and offers a 450 MHz G3 processor, a DVD-ROM drive, and a 20 GB hard disk, and the high-end iMac DV Special Edition (available now in Snow as well as a slightly modified Graphite) sports a 500 MHz G3 processor, 128 MB RAM, and a 30 GB hard disk. The $799 Indigo model is due in September, but the other new iMac models are available immediately.
Dual-processor Power Mac G4s — Apple also revised the high end of the professional line to include dual-processor Power Macintosh G4 systems running at 450 and 500 MHz. During Jobs’s keynote, he and Apple Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller demonstrated that a single 500 MHz G4 system easily outmatched a 1 GHz Pentium system at rendering a real-world Photoshop file; they then went on to show a 500 MHz dual-processor Power Mac G4 system deliver Photoshop performance roughly equivalent to a theoretical 2 GHz Pentium chip – it would have been nice to see them compare the dual processor G4 with a dual processor Pentium. Although software currently must be designed specifically to take advantage of multiprocessor systems, Apple’s forthcoming Mac OS X will offer symmetric multiprocessing capabilities for all Mac OS X applications as well as "carbonized" applications developed for the current Mac OS, so the performance benefits of multiprocessor systems will increase over time. Dual-processor G4s are now standard at the high end of Apple’s Power Mac G4 line: 450 MHz systems start at $2,500 and 500 MHz systems at $3,500, while a single-processor 400 MHz G4 system still starts at $1,600. All Power Mac G4s now sport gigabit (1000Base-T) Ethernet.
And Next… the G4 Cube — The real eye-opener of Jobs’s keynote address was the introduction of the Power Macintosh G4 Cube, a surprisingly tiny 8-inch cube on a transparent plastic base that sports a 450 or 500 MHz G4 processor, 64 MB or 128 MB of RAM, a 20 GB or 30 GB hard disk, FireWire, USB, 56 Kbps modem, and Ethernet, plus support for up to 1.5 GB of RAM and 40 GB of storage. The small box might be confused for an air filter or perhaps an odd-looking speaker on your desk, but it’s AirPort-ready, features a slot-loading DVD drive on top, offers easy access to internal components (just turn it over, pop up a handle, and pull), and – even better – the system is cooled by convection, so it has no fan and is virtually silent. (If all that silence gets you down, Apple includes special 20-watt Harman/Kardon stereo speakers.) Essentially, the G4 Cube features everything a mid-range professional G4 system would offer (except PCI expansion) in a 14-pound form factor that’s one quarter the size of a standard G4 minitower. Prices start at $1,800 ($2,300 for the 500 MHz version) and G4 Cubes should be available in early August. For a display, you can use any VGA monitor, or choose among Apple’s three new offerings, below.
New Displays — Apple also rolled out three new displays, each of which combine power, video, and USB into a single cable. The $500 17-inch Apple Studio Display features a transparent chassis with a flat Diamondtron CRT display and an ultra-bright Theater Mode. The all-digital $1,000 15-inch flat-panel Apple Studio Display LCD display offers a 1024 by 768 resolution. Apple also updated its $4,000 high-end 1600 by 1024 LCD Cinema Display to use the all-in-one cable for USB, power, and video.
In last week’s Macworld Expo keynote, Steve Jobs walked on stage and, wasting no time on reviewing Apple’s corporate position, launched into a long keynote address that was almost entirely full of new hardware announcements. The releases started with the new Apple Pro Mouse and Apple Pro Keyboard, continued with new iMacs and multi-processor Power Mac G4s, and finished with the elegantly designed Power Mac G4 Cube and a trio of new monitors. Sprinkled in the middle were a quick address by Adobe’s president, a demo from Microsoft’s Kevin Browne of Office 2001’s Macintosh-only features (due in October), confirmation from Alex Seropian that Microsoft’s recently acquired Bungie Division will release Halo for the Macintosh, and a brief announcement that Apple and Microsoft are working together to bring all of Microsoft’s games to the Mac. Jobs also lingered over his demo of iMovie 2, showing proficiency with the software, and breezed through some minor updates to the HomePage part of iTools (though he passed over the much improved and expanded iReview, which now includes a review of TidBITS – if you have a moment, we’d appreciate additional reader reviews).
Apple Continues to Execute — Apple’s barrage of new product announcements set the tone for the rest of Macworld Expo, which can be best summed up with a single word: businesslike. Since Jobs took the helm at Apple, he has led the company through a recovery spearheaded by the release of the iMac and a solidification marked by the completion of the four-box product matrix plus 11 consecutive quarterly profits. It’s clear that Apple is once again healthy, but when you’re Apple Computer, corporate health means continuing to push the envelope at all times. Although Apple’s product announcements weren’t revolutionary on a superficial level, some of them stack up better when viewed in more depth. For instance, the inclusion of the new optical mouse with all Mac models, putting gigabit Ethernet onto the motherboard of the Power Mac G4s by default, and dropping a second PowerPC G4 processor onto the motherboards of the top two Power Mac G4 models (without increasing prices) all raise the bar as to what is generally considered standard equipment. Apple isn’t interested in entering a futile price war with PC manufacturers, but by beefing up the standard Macintosh, Apple can significantly close the gap with comparably outfitted PCs.
Innovate with Elegance — Also worth a closer look are the Power Mac G4 Cube and, to a lesser extent, the new monitors. The monitors are interesting mainly for their new cable, which reduces desktop clutter by combining video, USB, and power. It’s easy to dismiss this cable as yet another of Apple’s wacky custom cables, but I think we’ll see this cable remain standardized across all desktop Macs that connect to monitors for one simple reason: elegance. Cable nests are one of the most inelegant physical aspects of computers, and under Jobs Apple has pushed to reduce and eliminate cabling with the AirPort wireless networking, by switching to flexible technologies like USB and FireWire that support daisy chaining of different device types, and now with this combination monitor cable. If you’re trying to set new industrial design standards with your hardware, it only makes sense to address cabling at the same time.
Viewed in terms of specs and price, the Power Mac G4 Cube is by no means revolutionary and isn’t even all that interesting, since it costs more than comparable Power Mac G4s and lacks expansion slots (those who want multiple monitors may have to try to justify buying a $4,000 22-inch Cinema Display to compensate). But Jobs’s stroke of genius two years ago was to rephrase the computer buying decision in terms of design and color in favor of specs and price. The G4 Cube takes this design aesthetic to new levels, reducing the size of the computer to the point where it can easily fit on a desk, eliminating the fan to reduce noise. It also builds in slick features: for instance, according to an Apple rep on the show floor, the top-mounted power switch is a proximity sensor that replaces the physical relay generally used to turn on the computer.
Apple didn’t sacrifice functionality for form either, making it easy to access the parts of the G4 Cube that are expandable merely by removing it from its convection tower. And though Apple clearly meant the unit to sit in full view, Chris Kilbourn of Mac-centric Web hosting provider digital.forest (a TidBITS sponsor) said that he wanted to see how the G4 Cubes would fit into a server rack mount, since they pack such power into a small space. I could imagine a fan-cooled "pegboard" into which you could place multiple G4 Cubes, with the pegboard providing USB and monitor switching to a shared keyboard, mouse, and display.
When Jobs showed the new product matrix, the G4 Cube took its place between the iMac and the Power Mac G4. The position is accurate in multiple ways, since there are numerous iMac buyers who would have wanted a larger screen or smaller unit, and some people who went for the full Power Mac G4 dislike its size and consider the PCI slots a waste of space. The G4 Cube may be more expensive now because of all the work necessary to reduce its size, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple readjust pricing over time to slot the G4 Cube more squarely between the iMac and Power Mac G4 lines. I expect the G4 Cube to be a success.
Future Product Speculation — In adding the G4 Cube to the product matrix, Jobs cleverly opened up a slot between the iBook and PowerBook G3 in the portable arena. He glossed over it quickly in the keynote, but the fact that he didn’t just expand the desktop part of the matrix was a sneaky way to fuel speculation and anticipation for the machine to occupy that box. Although it’s hard to separate desire from logic, my bet is that we’re looking at some sort of a subnotebook for that part of the product line. Apple has clearly been emphasizing miniaturization, and both the iBook and PowerBook G3 lines are heavy and clunky in comparison with the current generation of PC subnotebooks as epitomized by the Sony Vaio. Some suggested the empty slot could be filled by a Palm OS-based PDA, but that seems less likely since it’s not clear to me how Apple could add significant value to the Palm OS.
Along with a revised PowerBook design informed by the iBook (likely powered by a PowerPC G4 chip), I strongly suspect we’ll see a subnotebook in the near future, perhaps at January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, since Apple will want to make a splashy announcement and there’s no chance Mac OS X will be shipping then, what with the public beta being pushed back to September and the release date advertised as early in 2001.
Technology Imitating Art — Steve Jobs said during his keynote, "We want Apple to stand at the intersection of art and technology." Although it’s compelling to see Jobs’s intersection as one that you encounter on a journey, it’s important to think of it not as a crossroads, but instead as the place where two roads meet at a fork and continue on together. Apple may never be the choice of the masses, but speaking for those of us for whom it’s important to integrate technology into our lives in a humanistic fashion, we should continue to look to a Steve Jobs-led Apple not to just stand at the intersection of art and technology, but to accompany us along the path of integration.
There will be missteps, such as the abbreviated keyboard and much-reviled puck mouse that put form over function, but no other technology company puts as much effort into humanizing technology through art as Apple. The day before the show, I toured the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s Triennial Design Exposition and saw (along with the iMac and iBook) an Aztec pyramid-like "Simple PC" commissioned by Intel. Apple has no monopoly on great design – this machine was visually arresting and appeared functionally complete. But did Intel have the guts to ship it? No. Sure, it might have been expensive to build or have suffered other problems that weren’t obvious, but where Intel allowed its heavily designed PC to be purely an academic exercise, Apple has pushed hard to make its designs available to anyone.
An Industry Challenged — I’ve intentionally said nothing about the rest of the show, because, despite the businesslike tone, there was no single overriding theme that stood out this year. (However, we will be publishing our traditional Macworld Expo Superlatives article, highlighting some of the noteworthy products and events at the show.) It wasn’t until the very end of the three days that I realized that the lack of a theme was in fact emblematic of what was going on – the revitalized Macintosh industry is growing and maturing. Colored plastic no longer attracts attention: it’s simply assumed (although with Apple’s change in iMac colors, I’d warn vendors against trying to match the hues and instead aim for a complementary approach). FireWire was everywhere at the show, but as cool as FireWire is, it’s just a connection technology used primarily for storage devices and camcorders, with the occasional scanner or printer thrown in. Many booths had little or nothing to do with the Macintosh specifically, focusing instead on services or technologies that would be of interest to the Macintosh user. Thanks to the increase in size and importance of the Mac, companies like Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Brother, and Canon featured vast arrays of printers, cameras, and other peripherals that are only now becoming compatible with the Mac.
In short, what I took away from the show was that many companies now believe that the Mac industry is real, worthwhile, and here to stay. That’s great, and it’s an important step, but it’s not enough. Look at how Apple has innovated in the design space while maintaining the functionality we all expect. Innovation isn’t easy, but that’s how Apple has chosen to differentiate itself from other computer manufacturers. In the past, the reasons to buy a Macintosh came as often from outside Apple as within, but Apple’s hardware has taken some emphasis away from the solutions provided by other companies in the industry.
Here then is my challenge to everyone who produces hardware or software for the Macintosh: impress me! Knock my socks off, break through my hype-hardened shell and show me something that on its own can be a reason to be a Macintosh user. Show me – and show the world – that Apple isn’t alone in offering products so compelling that we change our ways of thinking. It won’t be easy, since we’re all too immersed in our lives to acknowledge mediocre solutions to tough problems. But if you can innovate then execute, I personally promise to recognize your efforts to the extent they deserve.