11 January 2006

Myth or Reality: A follow-up

I wrote last week about the collective wisdom being bandied about and whether such wisdom would turn out to be myth or reality. I had categorised these under the areas of Timing, Pricing, Performance, and Functionality.

Compared with my actual rumour predictions where I did as well as the average monkey on a roulette table, I'd like to think this analysis was a bit more accurate. In fact of the predictions for myth or reality (which I'd scored 2.5 to myth, and 1.5 to reality), I'd give myself 3.5 out of 4 (you may disagree). Here goes for each:

1. Timing. I was obviously wrong about mini and iBook, but right that Intel Macs would come sooner than later. I was also right about guessing they would introduce new machines at higher capabilities overlapping (well, replacing) the current range including a possible name change. I was also right about use of Yonah chips rather than older Intel chips. So, on balance score a half here.

2. Pricing. I think I got this one pretty much right. The new MacBook Pro looks to be a great machine, and as I'll cover in a review coming shortly, is priced very reasonably (if you don't believe me, check out Core duo machines from Dell, Lenovo etc). But the pricing is no lower (and in fact is higher in some ways) than the previous models. I also predicted transparency would make it easier to compare models. I think this is happening - its much easier to see which Dell/Lenovo models compare with it (though of course, not everyone is doing this). With these releases, Apple has made their point it will NOT compete on price but on it's other strengths - as indeed it should.

3. Performance. I think I was also mostly right on this one, though from a different perspective. I had written it on the basis of minis and iBooks being released. I argued that these could NOT be powerhouses. I also argued that there would be some positive performance numbers to whet the appetite. Clearly, Steve has pushed the fact that these new machines are much faster than previous models. But they are dual core, so they should be, and he has chosen his numbers wisely. If we assume that single core machines would be used in the low end machines, then it is reasonable to suggest that these would NOT be beating the older iMacs and Powerbooks by a large factor. And even with the super performance it is notable that apps like Office and Photoshop run about as fast on the new models using Rosetta as on the old. Presumably on the single core machines this would in fact have been a potential problem area. We can't say much about Rosetta yet, but it clearly doesn't give 70-80% of performance as had been promised last year. (Any one with any experience of emulation said they'd never achieve that anyway).

What we don't yet have is some decent numbers to compare dual core Macs running against Windows dual core machines. It is perhaps interesting that Apple hasn't done this (but excusable in that there are no machines actually available today to do that). So, in performance, we've had a good leap - perhaps the biggest step up in many, many years, and a leap that will improve in the coming year with faster yonah's, 64-bit Merom etc. But we do not obviously have an order of magnitude performance leap as some had predicted. The dual core Powermac G5's for instance will still look decent machines for a while longer.

4. Functionality. Again, I predicted mostly myth here. And, I think that's largely true. In fact, perhaps its more true than even I had expected. I had thought there would be SOME announcements to demonstrate living room convergence, but there were pretty much none (I had expected these to apply to all macs as well, not favouring the low end even more). There are some incremental functionality improvements of course, but nothing radical - especially so in the design side, the highlight of which is probably the magnetic attach method for the power cord (pure Apple!). There is nothing that puts these machines in a different league than existing machines. And they probably can't run Windows TODAY due to use of EFI and lack of Windows XP for 32-bit based EFI machines.

Indeed it looks like this was a very conservative MacWorld in many ways (which I also predicted). There were no radical introductions of new designs - most changes were "under-the-hood", not much to do with Apple's media-centre-killer strategy (if they have one); and little to do with content. Even on software, expectations for iLife and iWork seemed to run ahead of what was delivered (more on that later).

However, what is clear is that Apple (with Intel) has completed a superhuman engineering effort ahead of schedule and proved that it can come up with competitive machines - competitive in price and functionality. The transition was never going to be easy and is full of risks. To focus on getting Intel inside first, then moving forward on design is absolutely the right thing to do, and in hindsight, obvious. To do this with the "bread and butter" machines too is a smart choice financially to protect their margins. A focus on design first would have been dangerous.

If the machines announced can deliver as promised and reliably, then Apple has a great foundation to begin differentiating significantly by design AND functionality going forward. I will post a comparison of these machines to others in coming days, but my earliest evidence is that the new MacBook Pro is indeed competitive and I've anecdotal evidence of switchers already jumping on them. But for new form factors and materials as well as exciting functionality, these will surely come as the confidence comes and as the transition gathers pace.

Disappointed with the announcements? Ecstatic? Agree/Disagree with anything here? Let me know!

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