Apple web site updates

The first mention of the new products is the .Mac page on iLife ’06. The Apple Store is updated too, with the tag line: What’s an Intel chip doing in a Mac? A whole lot more than it ever did in a PC. And finally, the MacBook Pro and iMac product pages (you’ll probably need to refresh the latter). Interesting that the MacBookPro still features only a single FireWire 400 port. At least it has one. Also interesting: no modem. The Apple USB Modem is offered as a $49 option. Now that you mention it, I haven’t actually had a dialup service in 3 years, so maybe I won’t worry about the lack of modem.

Hardware updates: iMac, MacBook Pro

Then there’s the third interpretation of the silent upgrades to Mac Minis: that there will be no refresh of the current hardware for a while. iMacs in Intel but no Mac Minis yet. All of a sudden the price point of the Mini–now 2-3x slower than a base iMac at half to 3/4s the price–doesn’t make sense.

However, the new Macbook Pro sure as hell makes sense. “Fastest notebook ever”–4-5 x faster than existing PowerBooks using the Intel duo Core processors — two processors in a single chip. Thinner than the current 17″, 15.4 LCD, built in iSight. I’ll miss the PowerBook moniker, but after all it’s lasted for 15 years now. And, as Steve points out, Apple is kind of done with the whole Power name, having given the PowerPC the big heave-ho. It also comes with an Apple Remote–meaning that Front Row is spreading…

Magnetically attached power adapter–I guess they’ve learned something from all the broken adapters on PowerBooks over the last three-four years.

$1999 price point. 512 MB RAM and 80 GB hard drive–you’ll still probably need to add more RAM unless univeral Mac OS X is more efficient there, which I doubt. Shipping in February, taking orders today. I’m personally having difficulty not pulling out my credit card.

Aside: Apple embrace of RSS continues

With the new photocasting capability of the just announced iPhoto update from Apple, which uses RSS as a medium for photo subscriptions, Apple has turned a corner, and so has RSS. I think the day of the monolithic aggregator may be coming to an end. The direction is now toward contextual RSS: feeds of information showing up in applications where they make the most sense. There is no question that iTunes provides a superior experience for subscribing to podcasts–with clear, built-in controls for managing playback and machinery in the form of smart playlists for organizing content.

The other side: Apple is now clearly committed to using RSS as a sharing technology across the Internet, and providing innovative new user experiences for RSS usage. Today’s announcement is in some ways a bigger deal than the iTunes podcasting support. There Apple was hopping on a phenomenon that someone else had created. Today it’s using RSS and the podcasting phenomenon to enrich the sharing experience for its customers.

There’s just one sour note–the out-of-box ability to publish an RSS feed of your own photos from iPhoto requires a paid .Mac subscription. But the same has always been true for the out-of-box ability to publish your own photos to the Web, and it hasn’t stopped innovative developers from creating plugins to allow publishing to arbitrary destinations. And the content that gets published to .Mac is just plain RSS. While I’ll be interested to see what extensions got plopped on this time, this is still really positive.

Update: Even more positive, since you can use iMovie to create video podcasts.

Product updates: Mac OS X 10.4.4, widgets, iLife, etc.

Okay, Mac OS X 10.4.4 is coming out today, as are some new widgets, including a new Address Book widget (good, cause the last one blew). New iLife: “music, movies, photos, blogs.” iPhoto update improves speed (good), raises limit on max photos in library to 250,000. Improved quality in both hardcover and softcover iPhoto books. Hopefully they’re improving the order expediting as well–there’s a story in that. Photocasting! Someone called it–sharing photos over the Internet like Podcasting. Sounds a little like the model for the late lamented PhotoPeer. Hope it allows proper RSS this time.

Aside: it will be good to have Wynton Marsalis as the poster child for the iPod instead of Eminem.

Last minute Macworld keynote handicapping

The odds makers have already spoken about the likely products to be announced during today’s keynote. I’m going to speak up with some slightly contrarian predictions.

First, what the consensus has right: the FrontRow “media center” concept, with its 10-foot UI and remote, will be extended beyond its current home on the iMac to the Mac Mini. It’s almost certain that we’re due for another revision of iLife. And the evidence seems pretty good that we’ll see something called iWeb, though I doubt a web page editor is going to knock anyone’s socks off in 2006. I also think that Kevin Rose’s prediction of a point increment for Mac OS X, to 10.4.4, is pretty likely. I also agree with ZDNet that an announcement of 10.5 aka Leopard is extremely unlikely today. Macworld is simply the wrong audience for new OS previews—that’s the one thing Apple could talk about at WWDC to drive a mid-year bump in demand for its products.

Next, where I part with the rumormongers: I think it’s extremely unlikely that any pro class machines, either G5s or PowerBooks, will move to the Intel platform. I think that the odds are in fact rather long that Apple will move up its Intel migration timeline from its original mid-year delivery timeline, but the Mac Mini is the most likely first delivery vehicle. But here’s the rub: why is Apple silently bumping the specs on existing Mac Mini orders if a new version is to be announced today? My bet: yes, an Intel Mac Mini, and maybe even Intel based iBooks, will be announced—but availability will be a good eight weeks from today.

Boy, all this tea leaf reading is fun. It’ll also be interesting to see exactly how wrong I am in a little over four hours when the “one more thing” is unveiled.

Finally, one last wildcard to hedge my bets: one possible reason that 1.5GHz G4 chips are showing up in Mac Minis is that the platform that they normally would power is about to move to a different architecture. The only machine in Apple’s lineup currently using 1.5 GHz G4s is the lowest-end PowerBook. Is it possible that Apple might be hedging their bets and announcing one pro and one consumer machine on the Intel platform simultaneously? Or is Apple just moving proactively to work through its chip inventory or meet final contractual goals with IBM?

New (old) mix: the unapologetic liberal psychosis blues

A new mix minifeature kicks off today, inspired by the recent loss of my iTunes library. I was able to rebuild some mixes from Art of the Mix, but had to go back to j-cards from the original tapes for many of my playlists. At that point I decided that it was time to stop being embarrassed about my old mixes and just go ahead and post them, if for no other reason than so that I would have a back-up record of them later—but also so that I could transcribe some of my memories about what was going on at the time.

I started with my first self-consciously titled mix: the unapologetic liberal psychosis blues. The mix dates from my second year in college—in fact, if my rare handwritten date on the j-card is to be trusted, from right after Thanksgiving break, November 25, 1991. I was, if the playlist is any indication, knee deep in my contemporaneous love affair with the Pixies, just discovering Bauhaus and Joy Division, and working out from under the influence of U2’s Achtung Baby. I was still buying discs from the music services, including the Bob Dylan Bootleg set and the Jesus and Mary Chain. I was also digesting a stack of CDs that I had bought during the summer from the independent music shop in Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News, including a two-disc Hendrix compilation and a House of Love rarities disc.

In fact, for all its aggression and noise, this disc has my hometown written all over it. In addition to the stuff from the mall, I had been turned onto Nine Inch Nails and the Jesus and Mary Chain by a kid a year younger than me who used to go to my high school. I was trading tapes with friends, and my sister’s friends, and getting feedback about the Pixies from people who had seen U2’s show at the Hampton Coliseum where the Pixies opened for them.

But the tone of this mix was so much darker than anything I had made before. What brought that darkness? Maybe it was the second year of college. In fact, almost certainly it was—I was taking a more than full course load, 20 hours compared to the original 15, and I was freaking out. I was also, I feared, in danger of failing my first math course—I was in a math for physics majors course with third years and in way over my head. I was also being distracted by things that were much more interesting—literature, music, philosophy—and didn’t know what was going on. Didn’t I want to be a physicist?

I’m just now, 14 years later, realizing how confused I was and how much anger I had stirring in me as a result of what I was fearing was a waste of time, years spent as a science student, years not spent learning how to be a kid. I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up, in a way, ever since.

But none of that changes the fact that this is damned good music. It’s funny how the distance from those events actually makes the music that much better.