A new crop of Apples for geeks to bite into
The slick MacBook Air, billed as the world’s thinnest notebook computer, is among the Macworld trade show’s cool unveilings.
You may not have noticed, but there’s a “friendly” rivalry in the world of personal computers. This good-natured competition is reflected in the two major consumer trade shows that take place at the start of each year. Microsoft is the big daddy of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but Apple CEO Steve Jobs likes his company to be the centre of attention, one of the reasons Apple eschews CES in favour of its own event, the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.
Yet while Microsoft may anchor—and its keynote address typically opens—CES, the Vegas extravaganza is also about other types of consumer electronics such as televisions, music players, and mobile devices. Although other gadget companies exhibit during Macworld, the San Francisco show is really an excuse to geek out over what Apple has decided to unveil.
Last year, the two events were scheduled for the same week, and the iPhone’s debut won Apple much of the media coverage. This year, Macworld took place the week after CES, but in what appeared to be an attempt to steal CES’s thunder, Apple made the announcement about its new Mac Pro desktop computers on January 8, the day the rival trade show began.
The new Mac Pro configuration is an example of the sweetness of excess. While most desktop computers have two to four processing chips, the Mac Pro sports eight of them on two quad-core processors. It can support up to eight 30-inch monitors, four one-terabyte hard drives, and 32 megabytes of RAM. Maxed out like this, though, the system would cost over $16,000, but it would be a sweet setup.
A week later, when Macworld officially began, the showstopper was the new MacBook Air. Billed as the world’s thinnest notebook computer, it’s Apple’s entry into the subportable category of laptop computers. The design is as slick as it is thin. Just three-quarters of an inch at its thickest point, the Air tapers out to an edge that’s a mere 0.16 inch. The Air, which has a full-sized keyboard and a 13.3-inch screen, weighs a mere three pounds. When Jobs revealed it during his presentation, he made a big show of sliding it out of a manila envelope and holding it up on his fingertips. Air indeed.
The Air is available in two configurations: 1.6GHz with two gigabytes of RAM and an 80-gigabyte hard drive ($1,900) or 1.8GHz with two gigabytes of RAM and a 64-gigabyte solid-state hard drive ($3,250). It’s a big price jump to get the solid-state drive, but these drives are faster, quieter, and more reliable since they have no moving parts.
Slimming down the MacBook meant the Apple hardware engineers had to remove some things. Chief among them was the optical drive, so you can’t slip a DVD into the Air for on-the-road movie viewing. How does one install software, you ask? The Air has a new feature that enables it to use the optical drive of any computer in its network. Insert the software-install DVD in your desktop computer, and the Air will borrow the drive for a while. For those who want a dedicated optical drive, an external USB SuperDrive is available for $100.
The Air’s main drawback is that you can’t change the battery yourself, so if you’re going to run it off the battery for longer than the stated five-hour life, you’d better plan on having access to a power outlet. Practically speaking, this means you can’t use the computer for your entire flight between Vancouver and Tokyo or Toronto and London, England. It also means that when the battery’s ability to hold its charge diminishes, the Air will need servicing by a Mac technician.
Let’s end this conversation about the Air on a positive note. The track pad has the same functionality as the iPhone and iPod Touch, so not only can it respond to multiple digits at one time, you can zoom in and out with your fingertips, pan with a swipe, and rotate images with a twist.
Speaking of the Touch, an update for the device was released during Macworld. A $20 software upgrade—performed in iTunes—gives the iPod Touch extra functionality. Using the Wi-Fi connection, you can access your e-mail and stock portfolio, check the weather forecast, get directions using a map feature, and make notes. But you’re right—it’s still not an iPhone.
Another product announced during Macworld that warrants some attention is Time Capsule, which combines a wireless router built to the latest speed standard with a hard drive (500-gigabyte or one-terabyte). The cleverer among you will have noticed that the device’s name is related to Time Machine, the new automatic backup feature that’s part of Leopard, the latest revision of Apple’s OS X operating system. (A report on Leopard is forthcoming, I promise.)
By marrying a router and a hard drive, Apple has made it simple for Mac users to start doing something they’ve always said they needed to do: perform regular data backups. The two Time Capsule models are priced aggressively too, at $329 and $529. In the past, Apple’s Airport routers were a bit too expensive when compared to the DLink or Linksys options. Time Capsule changes that—it’s a reasonably priced, one-box solution for wireless networking and performing backups.
Finally, rumours have been circulating for at least a year about an Apple Store opening in Vancouver. While Apple representatives would not confirm this, Pacific Centre’s Web site lists the Apple Store as a new tenant for spring or summer of this year. Which means you may soon be able to geek out over all the new Apple products in person. -