The Personal Computing Paradigm
Macworld Expo New York 1999
This year’s east-cost Macworld Expo began with more pent-up excitement than any other I can recollect. More than a year had passed since iCEO Steve Jobs had announced Apple’s new four-product grid, yet one square was still conspicuously empty. Led on by rumors sites such as AppleInsider, people had been expecting the new consumer portable “any day now” since January. At the keynote on Wednesday pretty much everyone expected the waiting would soon be over.
Without the usual introduction by Colin Crawford of Mac Publishing LLC, Steve Jobs came right onto the stage, quickly said hello, then emphatically stated that Apple had some insanely great products to announce. But wait. This wasn’t the real Steve Jobs, but Noah Wyle, the actor who played him in TNT’s original movie Pirates of Silicon Valley . After Mr. Wyle’s less than flattering portrayal of the iCEO, I was a bit surprised that Jobs was on speaking terms with him, let alone willing to invite him to his most important speech of the year. Jobs even commented that Wyle was a “better geek than me,” although I’m not sure that anyone would consider Jobs a geek to begin with, especially not someone who has seen Pirates .
This playful side of Jobs was on display throughout the keynote. Demos ranged from the “too bad I have a 56K” demo of QuickTime TV and the “it’s about time” demo of IBM’s ViaVoice continuous voice recognition software, to the breathtaking demonstration of Bungie software’s Halo. Then Jobs finally reached the moment everyone was waiting for. As soon as he put up a slide containing the 2x2 grid representing Apple’s product strategy, the crowd erupted in applause. Most people seemed happy with iBook—Apple’s new consumer portable—but few seemed surprised, probably because so many people now follow the rumors Web sites, which touted nearly everything under the sun as a possible feature for “P1.” Personally, I was relieved more than anything else—relieved that Apple seemed to have lived up to the rumors people expected to be the truth.
Jobs says that the iBook was meant to be an “iMac to go.” It looks like an iMac, uses the same processor as an iMac (tuned down to 300 MHz to conserve battery), and provides virtually the same expansion/connectivity as an iMac. Like the iMac, it is designed for consumers.
All in all, the keynote audience was very pleased with the iBook except for two points: pricing and availability. At $1599, $400 more than the iMac, I think the iBook is reasonably priced for a consumer portable, but more than people had hoped for. TFT displays and six-hour batteries don’t come cheap, after all. I’m sure Apple is just as disappointed as we are that the iBook won’t be available to start the school year, but if they coulda done it, they woulda.
Although netbooting via AirPort is not yet supported (and would be slow even if it were), AirPort is still excellent for homes and schools. I’m not sure whether you’ll be allowed to use wireless networking on airplanes, but I would love to see a reprisal of Apple’s PowerBook 100 series commercial where two business travellers set up the first network at 30,000 feet. I can see it now: “Don’t leave the airport without AirPort.” :-)
Finally, the iBook has two other features that are so useful I wonder why no one included them before. First, the iBook has no latch to keep it closed; instead, its display is snapped into position using springs, like a cellular phone. Like ordinary PowerBooks, it automatically goes to sleep when you close it. Like cell phones, it automatically wakes up when you open it. Second, the iBook features a new type of “sleep” that saves the contents of RAM to the hard disk, then shuts the computer off completely. In this way, hibernation (my name for it) uses less power than sleep, while still providing for fast wakeup times. It’s very much like what Virtual PC does.
The Makings of Revolutionary Products
The best way to make a revolutionary product is to come up with something insanely great that the marketplace as never seen before. The original Macintosh fits this bill. There’s nothing in the iBook that has not been available before, but I don’t think that precludes it from being revolutionary. Apple’s AirPort wireless networking is based on an industry standard, but Apple has started a revolution by including it as a reasonably priced option on their consumer portable. Without the large research and development budget of the 80s Apple, today’s Apple is managing to create revolutionary products by taking industry-standards that few people use and making them standard-equipment. They’ve done this with USB, FireWire, and now AirPort, just as the “old Apple” did with the CD-ROM drive.
Yeah, Sure, Apple
Although the iBook demo went flawlessly, Apple’s software demos did not. Vice President Phil Schiller started off his QuickTime demo by gushing over how well-received the new QuickTime Player was. Apparently, he did not read the criticisms of its horrendous interface in this column or the iArchitect Web site. Or maybe he lives in a reality distortion field. In any case, there’s no denying that Schiller was having trouble with the QuickTime Player’s interface. He always wanted to maximize the window size for playing a movie. Then, he needed to open the favorites drawer to select the next movie, however this required resizing and moving the window so that there would be room to open the drawer. What a great example of user interface chunkiness. When Mac OS 9 arrives in October, we’ll find the QuickTime interface plastered onto Sherlock II, which despite his saying so, apparently does not support natural language queries to Web sites. Other than that, however, it looks pretty darned cool.
Another interface gaffe happened when Jobs was doing a demo with Internet Explorer. He closed the browser window and then could not figure out how to make a new one. Like most beginning Mac users, he seemed to think that he had quit Internet Explorer, so he went to the Finder and reopened it. Since IE 4.5 does not support the reopen AppleEvent, this just switched back to IE without opening a new window. Some members of the audience shouted helpful suggestions, but Jobs apparently wasn’t listening. Sure, many people get confused by this behavior, but I never expected the iCEO to be one of them.
Microsoft remains “committed to the Mac,” but months after it was released on Windows, Internet Explorer 5 still isn’t done. Microsoft Office remains a Windows-like, ported behemoth, although iMac and iBook owners can now buy Word 98 for 75% off the standard price, or $99. Gee, I wonder what the margins on that product are. Hopefully, Apple will continue to bundle AppleWorks with these products.
On the bright side, Outlook Express 5 features a number of great usability enhancements. The updated version, due sometime in the fall, adds a much better addressing pane to new messages, a mailing list manager, and other assorted enhancements. Despite the fact that the toolbars now feature flat, Windows-style buttons and the address book interface seems to be lifted from the weird-but-cool Claris Organizer, Microsoft claims that Outlook Express 5 is fully themes savvy. To top it all off, Microsoft provides exclusive integration with its Hotmail free e-mail service. I wonder what the DOJ thinks of this. Overall, this upgrade must really irk small Mac-only companies like Bare Bones software and CTM Development that are actually trying to sell e-mail clients.
Corel demoed the exciting new CorelDraw 9 and Print Office 2000, but announced that it would no longer develop its WordPerfect codebase for Macintosh. Later this month, the company is making WordPerfect 3.5e available for free, however.
GoLive Systems, one of the stars of the first New York Macworld, was present only as a section of Adobe’s booth. There were quite a few new hardware products being shown, but nothing that struck me as groundbreaking. And it seems like everything from stereo speakers to solid-ink Tektronix printers is now coming in iMac and blue-and-white colors. What’s up with that?
With the exception of the keynote, this was one of the more boring Macworld Expos I have attended. I guess the iBook is a hard act to top.
Also in This Series
- How Cool Is Your Mac? · May 2012
- Mac OS X’s Increasing Stability · August 2006
- Coping With Mac OS X’s Font Rendering · January 2006
- E-Mail Archiving with Eudora and Mail.app · January 2003
- Grab Bag · October 2002
- Mac OS X 10.2—First Impressions · September 2002
- Mac OS X 10.1—First Impressions · October 2001
- Mac OS X Tips · June 2001
- Mac OS X—Finally · May 2001
- Complete Archive