MacWorld Keynote 2006 -- MacBook, iMac x86, new iLife/iWork

There are a few annual events that are really influential in the tech world. MacWorld is one of them. Every year Steve Job's Reality Distortion Field rocks Mac geeks, and this year is no exception. Here is the coverage. Software wise there are Mac OS X 10.4.4, iLife and iWork '06. They bring in new features that make lives of every Mac zealots easier, but most importantly, they also contain the universal binaries to run on Mac's latest platforms. So what new products from Apple have been announced?

MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro This is Steve Job's "one more thing" this year -- a new name for a new notebook. New design with something really new under its shell -- Intel Cole Duo processor inside (formally nicknamed Yonah). MacBook Pro is a 15.4" notebook that weights 2.54kg, and the price starts at AUD$3199 for 1.67Ghz dual core -- exactly the same as the old 15.4" 1.67Ghz G4, except much faster (according to Apple's magical PR).

Here's are its detailed specification:

Processor 1.67Ghz or 1.83Ghz Intel Core Duo
Memory 512Mb 667Mhz DDR2
Display 15.4" LCD at 1440x900
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 128Mb/256Mb GDDR3 SDRAM
Hard Disk 80Gb/100Gb SATA 5,400RPM drives
Optical Drive Slot-loading SuperDrive
Network 1000Base-T + 802.11g wireless + Bluetooth 2.0
Expansion Firewire 400 + 2x USB 2.0 + ExpressCard/24
Cost AUD$3,199/AUD$3,999

Interestingly that modem with R11 jack is no longer provided -- if you can afford an MacBook Pro you are probably not going to be on dial up. Also the inclusion of ExpressCard/34 to replace previous PCMCIA/CardBus slot, which is marginally smaller, although I have not seen many accessories on the market yet.

MacBook Pro also includes iSight at the top side of LCD monitor, just like the recently announced iMac G5 (which again gets superseded by iMac Intel). It also has integrated IR sensor that works with Apple's remote control, which makes it a portable media centre.

As you can see it is quite a high-end kind of machine, and comes with a hefty price tag as well. People will still rush out and buy them for the performance and style, but I have seen cheaper alternatives also using Core Duo that can almost match the performance. I see these days sub-$2,500 notebook is where the market is, and I eagerly awaits Apple's rumoured-but-not-delivered iBook with Intel Inside.

Also according to Intel Core Duo specification, 65nm Core Duo can scale up to 2.16Ghz -- so I think there are still rooms to grow for MacBook Pro.

Instead of superseding, Apple Store apparently is still selling PowerBook with G4 processor, although I do not see how can they sell with MacBook Pro running much faster at the same price. They might just want to get rid of their old stock, but shouldn't they price the old and obsoleted PowerBook at a discounted price? Or maybe there are still demands for PowerBook for those who depend on the PowerPC processor.

iMac x86

iMac x86 Another new hardware announcement is the new iMac with Intel Core Duo running at either 1.83Ghz or 2Ghz that makes them 2 to 3 times faster than previous G5 based offering running at either 1.9Ghz or 2.1Ghz. Everything is the same, except (1) Intel Inside (2) upgrade to ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 (3) memory is now 667Mhz DDR2.

Here's the specification:

Processor 1.83Ghz/2Ghz Intel Core Duo
Memory 512Mb 667Mhz DDR2
Display 17" LCD at 1440x900/20" LCD at 1680x1050
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 128Mb GDDR3 SDRAM
Hard Disk 160Gb/250Gb SATA 7,200RPM drives
Optical Drive Slot-loading SuperDrive
Network 1000Base-T + 802.11g wireless + Bluetooth 2.0
Expansion 2x Firewire 400 + 3x USB 2.0 + 2x USB 1.0
Cost AUD$1,999/AUD$2,649

The rest is about the same. It is still a great update -- more speed for the same price. Again, desktop with 17" monitor starts at around AUD$1,000 these days (i.e. those cheap Dell you buy with integrated graphics), however for those who desire the design and performance will still be willingly flashing the credit card at the local AppleCentre.

Another interesting thought is -- will these new x86 Macs run Windows? Boot up your new Mac (probably still with Open Firmware), and you can either select the smiley face or flying window, or possibly a sitting big fat penguin and a cute red devil with horns?

What about the Rumours?

If you buy the tips of Jason O'Grady of ZDNet on his top 10 prediction (which I wrote about here), sorry you won't get your money back. There is no 1Gb iPod Nano, nor Mac Mini for the living room, and even the "sure-bet" wide-screen iBook that was first rumoured by ThinkSecret last November is no where to be seen.

Why? Simple -- no iBook should be faster than PowerBook, especially in this case at the possibly 4 times faster. Media centre Mac Mini is probably not yet ready, as Intel Viiv platform has only recently been announced, and Mac Mini would surely be compatible with that, if it needs to be compete in the living room. 1Gb Nano? If it is going to be priced similarly to 1Gb Shuttle, it would surely be a lose leader. But Apple doesn't need a lose leader -- it already has the market share.

However, Apple seriously needs to release products at consumer price if they still want market share for their Mac. A $1,999 desktop might be considered "normal" 5 years ago but expensive today -- so is a $3,199 notebook. iBook has been Apple's best selling notebooks because it is well priced, though not necessarily a speed demon. We just need a new Apple notebook below $2,000 that matches specification of equivalently priced notebook from Dell or HP. Maybe call it "MacBook" without the "Pro". That's something I (plus many others) am waiting for.