Mac Consumers Rewarded for Their Patience

by Chris Howard Aug 08, 2007

After a very lean twelve months for Mac consumers (that is, those Mac users who don’t fall into the professional user category), Apple has finally rewarded their patience with updates across the board to iMac, .Mac, iLife, iWork, and Mac mini. Phew! That’s an impressive list, although it does highlight how neglected Mac consumers have been in 2007 as Apple focused on its entry into the mobile phone market.

The Apple Special Event also gave us insight into why iLife has taken so long, and probably iWork. iLife’s iMovie is a whole new application with a very interesting history. In iWork, Numbers is a new app, and Pages has been re-jigged to finally include a word processing mode.

The new iMacs are aluminum as expected, have a glossy glass screen, and again as expected, are thinner. Interestingly, the 20” inch model has been trimmed by a couple of pounds but the 24” model has gained nearly a pound.

Visually, I’m undecided and will have to see one in the flesh. I’m not yet sure about the black back or border around the screen. But of course, who am I, I didn’t like the look of the previous iMac (G5 then Intel) until I saw it in the flesh, when I was smitten.

It turned out the spy photos of the new keyboard were indeed real as Steve joked about. Of interest, the F3 key is now the Exposé key and F4 the Dashboard key. What this means to existing keyboards we’ll have to wait and see.

A wireless version is also available and notably has a compact, laptop-like design, which Steve says will suit wireless keyboard users’ work habits.

As predicted on rumor sites, Apple has indeed cut the 17” iMac from its lineup. But many also predicted the demise of the Mac mini, which itself saw upgrades, albeit without the fanfare. So if you don’t need, or more importantly want, a 20” monitor, the Mac mini is for you.

In his keynote Steve said there are two 20” models and one 24”. On the Apple store there are in fact two 24” models. As expected, the base 20” model has been price aligned to the old 17” model.

The most interesting piece of news is the inclusion of a FireWire 800 port on all models. It had been strongly rumored last year that Apple was to drop FireWire altogether. The inclusion of FW800 testifies FireWire is here to stay and that Apple is expecting to sell a lot of iMacs to professional Mac users (who currently are the major users of FW800).

Regarding ports, it would have been nice if the iMac had four, not three, USB ports on the back. Even the Mac mini has four. You just never seem to have enough USB ports.

Apple said it would address .Mac’s shortcoming and it has, in part.

- Storage has been increased from 1GB to 10GB and the monthly data transfer limit raised to 100GB.
- Web sites can now be mapped to your own domain name, although you need to do that through iWeb.
- The new Web Gallery feature looks impressive, although I suspect it will be gobsmackingly impressive in reality. It works and feels like the new revamped iPhoto and includes slide show, mosaic view, carousel view, access restriction, and can receive photos from other people and from iPhones. But it does require the latest iPhoto to setup.

But do these changes go far enough? Is Web 2.0 eye-candy enough?  Considering you’re still forking out US$99 for services that are free elsewhere, the jury is still out.

iLife ‘08
iLife finally gets updated, and has skipped the ‘07 version.

iPhoto has been redeveloped to allow you to group your photos by events. When you upload from your camera to iPhoto, it now automatically groups your photos by date. From there you can split or join those groups to form events. This is a great idea and will make managing your photos a fair bit easier. Most importantly though, it will let you get back to using albums the way they should be used, i.e. for collections of events rather than for individual events. This will also make creating photo books easier. You will still use Smart Albums for setting up albums of people (using keywords).

The interface has seen some nice improvement, but one we’ll all rejoice in is double clicking a photo now zooms it to full window view rather than going to edit mode. Clicking it returns to thumbnail view.

Other useful features include photo hiding, improved search, some great new editing tools including a before and after view, publishing to .Mac’s new Web Gallery, and hardcover books now include a dust cover.

Probably the best new feature though, the one that will save the most time, is photo customizations can now be copied from one photo to another, rather than having to recreate them (which meant jotting down the settings and re-entering them). That is sensational.

I did notice one big annoyance of mine still exists in iPhoto—when scrolling, the month still displays in the middle of the window, thus obscuring some of the photos. Interestingly, that does not occur when scrolling the new Events view.

iMovie is all new and looks even easier to use.

Videos are now catalogued in a new video library—although there was no indication if it includes videos that are no longer on your Mac. Hopefully it does (and of course tells you to reconnect or reload them). Like iPhoto, videos can also be organized by event.

It interesting that the iMovie demo on the iLife web page demonstrates illegal use of copyrighted music. The demonstrator attaches U2’s “Beautiful Day” to his video and then says you can upload it to .Mac’s Web Gallery (which he does) or YouTube. Ouch! Bono won’t like that.

On .Mac Web Gallery, you can put videos in multiple resolutions, like Apple does on its videos, which is really cool and professional.

I suspect this new iMovie is going to kick off a whole new round of home movie editing.

iWeb is starting to mature. For instance, it now has web widgets which allow easy addition of Google AdSense and HTML snippets for things like YouTube. I might finally give iWeb another look.

GarageBand has a new “Magic“ feature, which lets you jam along to different music styles which have customizable bands. What’s super cool is that if you set up a record loop, each time the loop restarts, a new take is recorded and at the end you can choose which take to keep.

iLife ‘08 is not an essential upgrade, but is certainly a tempting one. I’ve already ordered mine.

iWork ‘08
The new iWork is here and as rumored, it includes a spreadsheet. But don’t go tossing out your MS Office just yet.

iWork is neither an MS Office killer nor a replacement. It is for those who don’t need MS Office and its bloat of features and who don’t need an Office work-alike.

When Steve said that Numbers is “the spreadsheet for the rest of us” it consequently means iWork is not here to replace Office where it belongs, just where it doesn’t need to be. If that’s you, you might have clicked your last Office icon.

Pages’ biggest shortcoming had been that it didn’t work like a word processor. It was a page layout application, and a very good one at that. Unfortunately, for many people who bought iWork as an affordable alternative to MS Office, Pages often ended up gathering dust because simply writing a letter or an essay was, well, not simple enough.

Rejoice now, because Pages has a word processing mode.

This feature alone will go a long way to helping establish iWork as an alternative to MS Office (again, where it’s not needed).

Pages has borrowed a couple of features from Office though: contextual format bar and change tracking. Not to say Office invented them, but both are very welcome. Hopefully the change tracking will be Word compatible.

Finally, after what seems like years of rumors, Apple has included a spreadsheet application in iWork. And as long rumored, it is called Numbers. And as hoped, revolutionary.

Apple has realized the “rest of us” usually use spreadsheets for smaller works that we include in reports and so forth, rather than massive multi-sheet accounting behemoths.

Numbers is “just a spreadsheet,” but what sets it apart from Excel and the rest is that it is spreadsheeting for publishing. It is WYSIWYG and uses a page layout approach to creating spreadsheet documents. We all knew Apple would revolutionize spreadsheets, and now we’ve seen how.

Keynote has a few new features; the most notable for me was the “Instant Alpha,” which lets you select only the area you want to show in your images.

iWork could become Apple’s software jewel, even above iLife. If I was Apple, I wouldn’t be adverse to porting iLife, or at least some more of its apps, to Windows. However, there’s no way I’d send iWork to the dark side. With Numbers’ revolutionary approach to spreadsheeting and Pages finally being a word processor, it is a killer app in its market space.

Also, importantly, iWork already reads the new MS Office file formats.

In Australia, and possibly other countries, there’s a pleasant surprise with iWork—and iLife. Incredibly, despite the inclusion of Numbers, iWork ‘08 is AU$20 cheaper than iWork ’06. The U.S. price, though, remains the same, at US$79. Ditto iLife.

iWork is finally a must-have for many of us, and is a superb value. Mine will be here tomorrow! I think I’ll have to “play hookey,” as they say in some parts of the world.

Mac mini
The great thing about the cutting of the 17” iMac is it helps keep the Mac mini alive. It has for a while been rumored to be following the Cube into history.

You could almost feel the collective sigh of relief across the Mac community when it was discovered the mini was still a wanted member of the Mac family.

And to top it off, the mini also saw some useful upgrades.

It’s been a long time since Apple delivered so many useful updates to so many of its customers at one event. Thank you, Apple. smile


  • For the single sentence of seven words that simply states that VB is right, you respond with Thanks for lip-smacking VB’s “rear ports”? That is immature and uncalled for.

    Quite frankly, I say it is insane to suggest that gaming is such a tiny niche (despite all evidence to the contrary) that being forced to buy the highest end workstation is a reasonable suggestion. Apple could have moved just as many iMacs with a reasonable video card. Anyway, you should know that it has been the portables that have been driving Mac sales growth. Desktops sales (including iMacs) have been stagnant. Maybe making a machine that someone could game on could move more machines.

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Aug 15, 2007 Posts: 121
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