Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
# 2:43:00 PM:

Hidden gems from Apple

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UPDATE: See my further comments above.

Apple Computer announced a whole slew of new stuff today. But aside from the obvious (and surprisingly accurately-rumoured) wow-that's-tiny-and-cheap factor of the iPod shuffle and the Mac mini, there are some very well thought out details in other products too—particularly the iLife suite—which are easy to miss in a quick scan of all the new things:

  • iPhoto 5 now imports and stores those little movies that digital cameras make, and includes much more sophisticated image-editing capabilities that formerly required software like Photoshop Elements or GraphicConverter. (Does that editing extend to the movies? I don't know.)

  • GarageBand 2 goes from cool demo tool to a serious recording application: with a fast enough Mac, you can record up to 8 tracks (say two guitars, stereo drums, lead and background vocals, bass, and keyboard) at once, correct pitches, make your own loops, and even generate sheet music in real time. No doubt hit albums, even from major artists, will start coming out of this program.

  • iMovie HD not only edits high-definition video (not too useful for most people who don't have $4000 camcorders), but also has a "Magic iMovie" feature that automatically rewinds your digital camcorder when you plug it in, imports the video, creates transitions and titles, and will even burn it to DVD for you—all automatically. Now, it won't be an artistic masterpiece, but imagine being able to create a fairly professional DVD of a wedding ceremony or a series of convention speeches for all the guests before the event is over, without even having to babysit the computer. That's cool.

  • iWork is not the Microsoft Office killer (or even really the AppleWorks replacement) people were speculating about. True, it includes Keynote 2, Apple's fine competitor to Microsoft PowerPoint, but the word processor (awkwardly named Pages) is actually more of an introductory-level layout and desktop publishing application, which is something the world actually does need. People creating brochures, simple instruction manuals, posters, and other things will love it. Cleverly, its templates start out not as blank pages, but filled in with fake (non-English) text and images, so you get a sense of what it will look like before you even start.

  • The Mac mini and iPod shuffle (man, that capitalization is annoying) are smaller, more elegant, and more spare than even Apple aficionaods were expecting:

    • First, few people (me included) took seriously the rumour that a new, micro-size iPod would have no screen—it's all managed through iTunes for this one—and no one thought it would look like a tongue depressor. One neat feature worth mentioning: apparently iTunes can automatically convert songs to 128 kbps AAC encoding when syncing (yielding smaller files than, say, 192 kbps MP3s), so more fit on the iPod shuffle than might otherwise. Smart smart smart. Despite its limitations, I think the iPod shuffle means Apple will now own the entire MP3 player market, top to bottom.

    • Second, the Mac mini is a stark piece of minimalism (not just miniaturization), and is also tiny for a desktop computer with that much horsepower. (It's significantly smaller than the 140 KB floppy disk drive attached to my Apple II 20 years ago, as one example). Besides its appeal to iPod users of all types, Mac users wanting a second or third or fourth computer, office environments, recording studios, and schools, it would make a pretty decent file or web server too. I'm sure the rackmount kits are already in the works.

I've been impressed by Apple's product announcements before, but this set is particularly solid in two ways: market-busting, sexy hardware; and software that helps people get things done in seriously, intelligently better ways.


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