By now you’ve probably been bombarded with news coverage of the Macworld Expo keynote starring Steve Jobs, with a special appearance by Intel CEO Paul Otellini. CNET News.com offers a moment-by-moment report of the event. Two sites dedicated to gadget tech, Engadget and Gizmodo, blogged the keynote in real time. Engadget’s coverage appeared faster as I sat monitoring the sites using my wireless PowerBook from inside the keynote; Gizmodo’s coverage, on the other hand, took longer to appear but was more analytical and detailed.
However, for a thorough examination of Apple’s new offerings, check out Henry Norr’s Day 1 report for MacInTouch.
Jobs started his show by pointing out that over 48 million iPods have been sold, and that more than 8 million videos have been sold through the iTunes online store since October, along with 850 million songs. He added that iTunes is on track to pass the 1 billion songs mark in the next few months, selling about 3 million songs a day. He spent a few minutes touting the new $49 iPod Radio Remote, which combines an FM tuner with a wired remote control, but this device is similar to third party offerings from last year. The audience hoped for more announcements in this vein, and perhaps a mini Mac with home media capabilities, but Jobs did not go there.
Instead, Jobs went directly to Intel. Apple didn’t surprise many with its hardware offerings. The rumor stew has been cooking for months that Apple was ahead of schedule and would introduce Intel-based iMacs and notebooks. The new Macs look the same and are priced the same as current Macs, but the Intel chips make it two to three times faster, according to Jobs. The lineup includes a 17-inch, 1.83GHz model for $1,299, and a 20-inch, 2GHz model for $1,699.
The Intel-based Macs do not run Windows, although Apple will not block the use of Windows on the machines. The rumored dual-boot capability does not yet exist (to boot either OS X or Windows), because Apple used the extensible firmware interface (EFI), an updated BIOS specification developed by Intel but not yet supported by Microsoft. According to XP Won’t Run on Intel MacBook, iMac by Nate Mook of BetaNews, EFI is a better interface than the BIOS used by Windows XP:
Advanced features include the ability to boot into an EFI shell and run diagnostics and power up the CPU into a fully functional state immediately. EFI also separates the control of devices from the operating system, meaning it can initialize hardware before loading the OS. This feature would allow for a system to connect to the Internet and download updated drivers before booting up.
While Microsoft plans to add EFI support in 32-bit versions of Windows Vista, those versions won’t be available until the end of this year. Microsoft’s 64-bit versions of Windows will also not work (despite supporting EFI). I expect that some vendor will find a way to make it possible through a utility to boot Windows on the Apple Intel Macs. For example, VMware might be working (hint, hint) on a way to boot and run Windows within a window in OS X, like Virtual PC but without the need for CPU emulation. (Microsoft stated that the current version of Virtual PC for Mac will not run in Rosetta — the translation environment — on the Intel Macs, but that the company is committed to porting the emulator to the platform.) Business software that requires Windows might run on such emulators in the short term. But the problem with any emulation approach is that graphics display would most likely be slow, making it an unattractive solution for PC gaming — the only reason many consumers have for sticking with Windows PCs.
Meanwhile, the price points of the Intel-based MacBook Pro notebook line are drawing fire from critics. Michael Kanellos of CNET News.com points out in the News.com Personal Computers blog:
Apple’s products still carry a sizable premium, at least according to an early comparison with Gateway machines. The low-end MacBook Pro, for instance, sells for $1,999. It comes with a 1.67GHz dual core [Intel] processor, a high-resolution 15.4-inch screen, an ATI graphics chip, an 80GB drive, a DVD/CD burner and 512MB of memory. If you configure a Gateway S-7510 to nearly the same specs, the price comes to $1,524.
However, one comment points out that the comparison isn’t fair — “nearly the same specs” is not anywhere near enough. The Gateway would also have to include (at the very least) Bluetooth, a DVD burner, and a comparable graphics display card, bringing the Gateway total up to $1,735. And that still would not include a remote control, a built-in camera similar to iSight, and an extensive software bundle similar to iLife. Of course, it would also not include Mac OS X, which is a safer environment with regard to viruses, adware, and spyware. In fairness, Kanellos points out that hardware vendors have not yet priced their Intel Core Duo notebooks yet, so full comparisons have yet to be made.
So the price difference of a MacBook Pro over a comparable PC notebook is about the same as before — about the same as one or two nights in a swank hotel. It seems a small price to pay for a better notebook.