As Macworld closes for another year, here are my reflections on a show of surprises and omissions.
The star of the show has to be the iPhone, yet it’s the first Expo I can remember where a product has been announced before it’s available. Not only is it frustrating for consumers but it also gives a long lead time for competitors to line up their iPhone alternatives – and you can bet that they’re doing just that.
Some are calling the iPhone ‘vapourware’ because the product can’t be bought. In fact, you’d be lucky to just touch one.
Apple TV had been announced last year, and whilst it got its share of limelight in Jobs’ keynote, as soon as the iPhone was announced, it’s fair to say that most people forgot about it.
That’s not to say that it’s an unimpressive piece of kit, though I have my doubts about how it will fare in a UK market.
Back seat Macs
Many true Mac fans (you know, the people who actually buy Apple’s computers) may well have been disappointed that these two consumer-friendly items have completely overshadowed – in fact, eradicated – any Mac hardware announcements.
iPhone or no iPhone, we had expected some new Mac to arrive. Yes, this is primarily a consumer affair, so maybe a new Pro machine will be announced later in the year, but dreams of more powerful Macs weren’t realised at the show.
Best Mac hardware from third party
In fact, the best Mac-based hardware of the show had to be Axiotron’s ModBook, a ‘tablet Mac’ created from the Apple MacBook. A very slinky piece of kit, winning one of the “Best of Show” awards, it’s something we wish Apple themselves had made. Maybe they will, one day.
Dropping the computer
After the iPhone excitement, Steve threw in the announcement that the company were changing their name from “Apple Computer Inc” to “Apple Inc”, to reflect their increasing presence in the consumer electronics market.
Given that their biggest selling products to date are iPods, not desktop or laptop computers, and that Apple TV and the iPhone could prove a hit with consumers, this isn’t too surprising, but is it a sign of something more?
Apart from the usual references to record numbers of non-Mac computer users switching to Macs, there was precious little mention of Apple’s computers in the keynote. However, what there was mention of was OS X.
Apple’s killer app – OS X
Apple has a killer application. It’s not the iPod, the Apple TV, nor the iPhone.
It’s OS X.
In a computer and consumer electronics industry where manufacturers are picking up on good product design, both visually and in usability, there’s less of a distinction between Apple hardware and PC manufacturers hardware. Yes, Apple computers still represent great design, but a whole range of PCs, both desktop and notebook, are no longer simply beige lumps that are purely functional.
Apple’s winning product, the one that will unite its current and future hardware devices, is OS X, a modern, robust, scalable operating system that sits just as happily and works just as well in an iPhone or in the Apple TV as it does in a Mac mini or a top-of-the-range Mac Pro.
Despite Jobs’ current protestations, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, at some point in the near future, it’s announced that OS X can be legitimately run on any Intel-based PC.
Sure, the iPhone is supposed to synchronise with PC users’ Windows-based machines, but how much easier would it be for users to have versions of OS X spread across the whole range of hardware? Of course, interoperability still needs to be worked on, as not everyone is going to load OS X on their PC, but it feels like a distinct possibility.
Apple marches on
The pre-Expo message, the company name change, the ongoing move to mainstream consumer products, OS X in the iPhone… these signal a company that is keen to take on new markets, and to be recognised for much more than its computers.
Whether it has more successes like the iPod remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that Apple is changing.