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Apple debuts Intel-powered Macs

Apple today announced the first Intel based Mac computers. Below is a link to a BBC article describing the announcement.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Apple debuts Intel-powered Macs

The keynote by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Steve showed himself to be a master of suspense, since the keynote had been running for an hour, without any mention of Intel based Macs what-so-ever.

The keynote, as it has become standard with keynotes from Steve Jobs, started with talk about music, ending with the announcement of a small, but really cool, new accessory to the iPod, a combined remote and FM tuner called the iPod Radio Remote. The accessory will work with the 5th generation iPod and the iPod nano, and it integrates nicely with the iPod user interface, adding a menu item and displaying a FM tuner display.

There had been a lot of rumours concerning a replacement for the iPod shuffle. I don’t really see the need for that, and if it replaced I hope that the “philosophy” of the shuffle survives.

Since I got my iPod nano, my shuffle had been gathering dust, but on New Years Eve I decided to Auto-Fill the shuffle for the first time since may, and the shuffle really is a great way to re-discover your record collection, I actually have a lot of good music that I never listen to.

After ending the iPod+iTunes section with a preview of new iPod ad, the keynote primarily focused on a new version of the iLife software suite, where a new application, iWeb, for maintaining web-sites was introduced. I must admit that iWeb looks quite nice, iWeb is the web publishing tool for the rest of the world, focusing on making it very easy to publish personal web-sites, and it fits very well into the iLife suite, taking the homepage feature from iPhoto to a new level. iWeb does, no big surprise, work best if you publish it to a .mac account, but I expect it to be possible to copy the raw files to other websites after a site has been published. This might not hold true since iWeb also supports RSS feeds.

Otherwise a few mentionable updates to the iLife are “Photocasting” where you can use RSS feeds to subscribe to photo albums, and have them automatically synced with iPhoto, I predict that this feature will find widespread usage, finding it’s way to other applications. The photo editing tools in iPhoto has also been given a serious update. The ability to produce wide-screen DVDs has been added to iDVD and iMovie has had some really beautiful animated themes added. The best new feature added to the existing applications, in my opinion, is the inclusion of really nice Podcast authoring tools into GarageBand, along with royalty-free music and jingles that can be used in Podcasts. Steve demoed this by producing a Podcast called “Secret Apple Rumors” citing that he had good “connections”, and the he had heard that the next iPod would be “huge” weighing in at 8 pounds with a 10″ screen. This, a little “too rehearsed” part of the keynote, marked the “comedic” high-point of the keynote :-). Funny, but a little disappointing considering the usual “tongue-in-cheek” coolness of Steve’s keynotes.

With the increasing integration and .mac and Mac OS, what I’d really like is a huge storage boost to .mac, so that I can store ALL my media on my .mac account.

To end the software part of the keynote, the head of Microsoft development for the Apple platform joined Steve on stage to ensure that Microsoft was committed to develop Office for the Apple platform. There were no real specifics, except that Office runs great on the Intel based systems in emulation (Rosetta) mode – this was demoed and it looked good – and that a universal binary (optimised for Intel) will be available. No direct mention of a possible version of Office 12 for Mac OS was made, until today I’d sworn that it would never happen, but now I do believe that it could.

Back to the new Macs…An Intel based iMac is shipping now! Since the iMac can be considered a home computer it makes sense to replace it first, because it is likely that it is will be used to run the bundled applications, and ALL of these applications are now available in versions that has been optimised for Intel processors. That these applications actually all are running great on the Intel hardware was made apparent for all, since the demos that were made during the keynote, were run off an Intel based iMac.

Of course the main reason for the shift to Intel is that it should give the Apple platform a serious performance boost. This remains to be confirmed by the reviewers, but the raw integer and floating point performance looks impressive, with a processor performance that is 2-3 times faster than the PowerPC based iMac G5. This is amazing performance boost is due to the fact that the new iMacs are powered by the Intel Core Duo CPU, which actually means that there are two CPUs in the new iMacs.

“One more thing…” Is becoming a standard element of a Steve Jobs keynote, and this keynote was no exception. The roadmap for the replacement of the PowerBook was laid down with the introduction of the MacBook Pro, I don’t like the name as much as the PowerBook, but I understand the incentive to put emphasis on the fact that it is a Mac, especially now that the new Intel based hardware platform will allow the MacBook Pro to run most standard Operating Systems on the market natively.

The MacBook Pro will ship in February, the first model to be released is an updated PowerBook 15″, with all the iMac hardware and software bundled, that means that iSight, the Apple Remote, FrontRow and PhotoBooth is bundled. Other noteworthy changes, compared to the PowerBook is that the analog modem has been removed, in my opinion this is a little premature, and that a new power cord with a magnetic lock has been added. The idea behind the design, patent pending, is that it will loose it’s grip in case someone trips over the wire, instead of resulting in the computer being dragged to the floor.

It does make sense to focus on the high-end notebook market, since this the REAL reason Apple is making the transition to Intel, the PowerPC simply wasn’t able to deliver the performance per watt that is required by a modern notebook. It sounded like Apple really tried – Steve even joked that Apple had tried to get help from the Pope – to shoehorn a PowerPC G5 processor into a PowerBook. It turned out that it would have resulted in a lower performance per watt with a G5 than with a G4. The MacBook Pro will have a performance per watt that is 4-5 times better than the PowerBook G4, and it will, like the new iMac, also be powered by the Intel Core Duo chip, meaning that there will actually be two CPUs in the MacBook Pro.

It has been planed that the entire Mac product line will be replaced by Intel based hardware by the end of the year, but it seems that Apple is actually a little ahead of schedule.

Generally I think the the hardware announcements makes sense. For “insiders” it has been clear that the new products would be coming real soon, but I think that the timing could be questioned. I think I’d be just a little upset to learn that my brand new iMac G5 is obsolete, especially considering that the iMac G5 is such a recent announcement.

What would have made more sense, would have been a replacement of the Mac mini and the entire line of notebooks, since these are the systems in most dire need of replacement.

I didn’t really care too much for the TV-ad, featuring high-tech Intel employees working with wafers in a clean room, that Apple will be airing, to announce the shift to the Intel processor, the punch-line being: “Starting today the Intel chip will be set “free” and get to live life inside a Mac…”. I had hoped for something much more along the line of the 1984 Super-Bowl ad.

So what’s next? My guess is that we’ll see MacBook Pro 12″ and 17″ soon. I’m guessing that the iBook replacement will be called MacBook, I’m looking forward to a feature list for that. I’m sure that the iBook replacement also will be Core Duo, and that the iSight camera will be included, since it’s becoming standard. It will be interesting to see the feature list, and especially the pricing. I’m also really looking forward to the replacement for the Mac mini, if FrontRow, the Apple Remote, Wireless and Bluetooth is added, the Mac mini will not be far from becoming a credible media centre, as well as a great PC, right out of the box.

Steve Jobs ended the keynote by showing a picture of him and Woz from 1976, drawing our attention the the fact that Apple turns 30 on April-fools day this year. He also said that we probably wouldn’t be seeing “each other” until then, perhaps hinting that no more announcements will be made before April 1st.

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