Despite claiming that innovation is what will keep Apple afloat in these troubled times, chief executive Steve Jobs’ keynote speech at Macworld New York this week was disappointingly lacking in this quality. The main announcements were an update to OS X, its four-month-old operating system, and a new line of rather lacklustre PowerMacs, dubbed Quicksilver.
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While the new features OS 10.1 will add are certainly welcome, one might have expected them to ship with a finalised OS in the first place, so this new release makes what's currently available look more like a beta. Equally, 10.1 is nothing to trumpet about, as it's not due out until September.
Once it is finally available (as a free download to all OS X users) it will add support for DVD playback, CD burning and Apple’s music utility iTunes. Performance enhancements, improved support for digital cameras and printers and easier integration into mixed networks will also be there.
OS X dominated proceedings through Jobs' keynote speech, with 10 application developers joining him on stage to announce native OS X applications. These included core apps like Adobe Illustrator, GoLive and InDesign (though Photoshop was conspicuous by its absence from this line-up), Quark XPress and Microsoft Office – though developers remained coy about exactly when these tools would be available.
On the hardware front the PowerMac was the only product to undergo anything close to the kind of redesign we have come to expect from keynote announcements, with the old graphite livery replaced by a silvery white one and a slight case redesign.
The PowerMac will get improved specifications, but Apple’s top speed G4 processor remains firmly under 1GHz at 867MHz and its high-end model relies on the multiprocessing abilities of its two 800MHz processors to beef up performance.
Apple attempted to dismiss its inability to break the gigahertz barrier by bringing on hardware vice president Jon Rubinstein to explain what it calls the 'megahertz myth', who pointed out all the other features required to deliver such high-speed performance.
But this display smacked of desperation. In a later interview, Rubinstein conceded that this is a "difficult message" to get across to consumers, claiming that they should "not think about megahertz at all" and should focus instead on the applications they want to run.
The full line-up of Quicksilver PowerMacs starts with an entry-level model priced at £1,199. This features Apple’s 733MHz G4 processor (its fastest offering until the announcement of the souped-up 867MHz chip), with a poor 128MB of RAM - the bare minimum required to run OS X efficiently. It also comes with a 40GB hard drive, a 32MB GeForce2 MX graphics card and a CD-RW drive.
Compared to a similarly priced PC, Apple had better hope its followers are loyal as this is far from a ground breaking specification, particularly bearing in mind the price.
The mid-range model adds an 867MHz G4 processor, 60GB hard drive and a DVD-R/CD-RW drive for £1,799, while the high-end dual processor model comes with 256MB of RAM, 80GB hard drive and 64MB GeForce2 MX twin view graphics for £2,499. As ever, all prices exclude displays.
Many Apple watchers had speculated about the arrival of a new iMac in New York, but it looks like we'll have to wait for Apple Expo Paris in September. The iMac has received an enhanced specification, but it's unlikely that this will be enough to reinvigorate its sluggish sales. Apple will also have to get units out fast if it is to cash in on the lucrative Christmas market.
There were some hints about the shape of things to come for the iMac, with Rubinstein speculating on the eventual adoption of flat-panels at all price points, but the company remained as tight-lipped as ever on details.
Even the Apple faithful appeared disenchanted by the lack of news from New York. Given Apple's poor financial showing it looks as if it will have to work a bit harder to avoid the fate of many of its Wintel competitors, who are all shedding staff. Questions about potential job losses, however, were met with a stony "no comment".