Donut Age: America's Donut Magazine

Expo redux

OK. Like everyone and his brother has already posted their impressions of the Macworld San Francisco announcements from last week. Reactions have been mixed (Mac Net Journal is "underwhelmed"; Creative Bits thinks the marketing of the iPod shuffle is "genius" even if the device itself isn't; bsag finds the MacMini "adorable"), but there seems to be broad agreement that the three announcements of significance are the the $499 Mac Mini desktop, the ultra-small flash-based iPod Shuffle, and (to a lesser extent) the iWork productivity suite. Here's my two cents.

First, the new entry-level hardware is certainly an interesting new strategy: gateway drugs designed to swell the ranks of "power-user" junkies in the next few years. More power to Apple if they can make it work. By the by, Paul Nixon has a neat graphic analysis of the way Apple has systematically built up to the point of entering the mass market.

The Shuffle probably impresses me most because at $99 for 512MB and $149 for 1GB, it's comparably priced with equal capacity non-music-playing flash drives, and while the storage is tiny compared to the hard-drive based iPods, it's still sufficient for 6+ and 13+ hours of continuous music at a stretch, respectively. It won't appeal to hardcore music geeks who need every song in their collection at their fingertips, but I've noticed that even with my 5GB first-gen iPod, I have almost never made it through a given 1000-song collection before re-synching it with my main library and getting a new bunch.

I can see the Mini working for some people, although the similarly small-footprint-boasting Cube a few years back never gained much traction in the marketplace. The no-peripherals approach might work as an enticement for the "switch" crowd (I have seen complaints in this vein before about the all-in-one iMac and eMac lines), or, as Mark Bernstein suggests, for lab upgrades, but for someone starting from scratch, an iMac is going to make more sense. Some people have floated the idea of using a Mini as a home media server, which is also intriguing although nothing I'm going to be setting up anytime soon.

iWork seems to have disappointed many because it falls short of being a replacement for MS Office. Really, it is an upgrade of Powerpoint-competitor Keynote, bundled with a new "word-processing" application, Pages. There seems to be disagreement about what Pages exactly is. Mark (in the post referenced above) does see Pages as an assertion that "Word can no longer kill us," whereas Dori Smith sees it as a lightweight InDesign and "no competition for Word in any way." It's perhaps worth noting that iWork only costs $80 (the same price as Keynote by itself had been), and also that iLife coalesced piecemeal from a loose collection of "entertainment" apps into a comprehensive media development suite. Perhaps we will see an ITables (hopefully not "iSpread") or an iBase show up in the next year.

Addendum (1/17): John Gruber of Daring Fireball has posted a pretty thorough analysis of the Shuffle and Mini.