At the Macworld Expo this past week in San Francisco, thousands of Mac-happy people ploughed through Moscone Center’s exhibition halls, drinking in Apple’s annual festival of tech.
As Apple closes in on its 30-year anniversary, the company is marshalling the semiconductor and entertainment industries to create a powerful suite of hardware and software products that can rival the dominance of the PC.
The tone of this year’s expo was set on Tuesday, January 10, when CEO and founder Steve Jobs presented this season’s Apple computers, iPod accessories, and software to a crowd of hundreds attending his keynote presentation. His big announcement was the release of two new computers: the iMac for desktops and MacBook Pro for laptops – with Intel’s Core Duo chip inside (see “Macintel”). The chip makes these new computers around two to four times faster than Macs with the old IBM and Freescale Semiconductors PowerPC chip, Jobs said.
Understandably, the introduction of the new computers excited enthusiasts; but for Apple to succeed, it will need to rely on its most popular franchise: the iPod. Its computers have not driven the financial success of Apple lately, which hovers around a modest four percent of the overall personal computer market. During his keynote, Jobs said the company’s big breadwinner, the iPod (in all its incarnations), sold 4.5 million units during the 2004 holiday quarter and 14 million during the 2005 holiday quarter. Or, as he put it, “100 iPods being sold every minute, 24/7, throughout the quarter.”
While the iPod dominates portable entertainment, there is still no clear leader in the world of PC-based home entertainment, although Microsoft has made a pass at it with the Windows Media Center computer. Apple, offering a more elegant option, introduced Front Row last year. This simple software lets people view photos and play DVDs and music using a minimalist remote control. Now Apple, with the powerful Intel hardware, has the opportunity to leap ahead with a superior home entertainment network.
And while high-powered hardware is crucial, equally high-powered software is as well. Jobs also announced the company’s upgraded software bundles for its do-it-yourself movie/music studio, iLife, and Apple’s counterpart to Microsoft Office, iWork. The presentation itself was created using Keynote software in iWork, and Jobs displayed three-dimensional pie charts in this new version.
For the most part, though, Jobs focused on iLife, spending more than a quarter of his presentation time demonstrating new features, such as “photocasting,” a trick that allows friends and family to automatically receive updates of certain photos as soon as they’re filed in iPhoto. Another addition is the podcasting studio within the application Garage Band, and iWeb, an application that easily publishes blogs, photos, videos, and podcasts to the Internet.
There is reason to believe that the new “Macintel” hardware – along with the ever-growing iPod franchise and the new, personalized software tools for both home and work – may pose a threat to the PC for one key reason: an evangelical love of Apple products by Apple users. This year, roughly 40,000 enthusiasts packed into the expo shopping for iPod add-ons, testing Apple’s new computers and software upgrades, and attending iLife software tutorials. There were even children dressed as iPod nanos and the video iPods. More than 300 exhibitors displayed items ranging from video iPod goggles and solar-powered battery chargers to paisley-patterned laptop bags and pastel iPod skins. And, knowing that plenty of people browse the hall with their laptops in tow, massage therapists were among the vendors (one dollar per minute).
Amidst the festivities, however, the main theme of Macworld 2006 was clear: Apple’s shift to an Intel-centered infrastructure. In his presentation, Jobs made Intel-ization appear seamless, by announcing the MacBook Pro earlier than anticipated.
But such a sweeping change will not trivial. Over the next year, there will be plenty of hurdles to overcome in hardware as well as software – with Mac loyalists watching every step.