Airport Extreme; Biggest & Smallest Powerbooks

Apple Notes

Published in SOS March 2003
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Technique : Apple Notes

Apple christened 2003 'the year of the laptop' by introducing their biggest and smallest Powerbooks ever — are these the Mac portables musicians have been waiting for?


Mark Wherry

If there's one good thing about the New Year's holiday, it has to be the knowledge that Steve Jobs' Macworld San Fransisco keynote speech is usually less than a week away. This year's San Fransisco keynote speech was full of surprises that few of the rumour sites or Apple commentators had been able to predict, and Jobs was clearly beaming brighter than usual when he arrived on stage, saying he had "two Macworlds' worth of stuff" to announce. And since Jobs has previously used this stage to launch the 'Anglepoise' iMac in 2002 and the Titanium Powerbook in 2001, it's fair to say the expectation for something special was high.

Ski Tools Express

As per usual, the opening part of the keynote was used to recap matters of business, including the continued success of Apple Stores in the US. The first product announcement was a "very limited-edition" ski-jacket (only to be available from the Apple online store) in partnership with Burton, featuring a pouch to hold your iPod while on the slope. Better still, this particular item of clothing also includes a built-in set of transport and volume controls on the sleeve, saving you from having to fumble with your iPod whilst wearing ski gloves!


OS X was next on the agenda, and there are now five million active users, according to Apple, who predict there will be nine to 10 million active users by the end of the year. Many people were surprised that Jobs should invite Digidesign VP and General Manager Dave Lebolt to spend a few moments demonstrating the basics of Pro Tools 6 running on OS X during this part of the keynote, especially since Apple have their own music production product thanks to last year's purchase of Emagic. However, since Digidesign have been one of the last main music and audio developers to join the OS X party, and since there are several tens of thousands of Pro Tools users running OS 9, I think it was possibly quite savvy to send a message to these users. Apple stands to gain more by keeping this user base on the Mac and getting them to make the move to OS X, especially since many Pro Tools users also run Logic, rather than have them look to other Windows-based solutions.

However, it was perhaps ironic placement that following Digidesign's brief demo, Apple announced Final Cut Express (FCE), a £249 version of Apple's professional £829 video-editing software Final Cut Pro (FCP) — a product that's already helping to erode Avid's market share. This new product is aimed at those users who want the editing power of FCP, but don't require some of the high-end features and support, and should be of interest to anyone who's outgrown iMovieFCE will import your iMovie projects.

Apparently, there are now 5000 native OS X applications available, and Jobs confirmed that every new Mac introduced from that day, including speed-bumped versions, would no longer boot into OS 9, although Classic mode in OS X will still function. Existing Mac models are unaffected by this announcement, including the 15.2-inch Powerbook, iBook, iMac, eMac and Powermac, until the next round of updates.

It's iLife, Jim!

Software stayed the focus for the middle-part of the keynote, with Jobs announcing iMovie 3, iDVD 2 and iPhoto 2. The most significant part of these updates was the introduction of iLife, Apple's new collective name for iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto and iTunes, which Jobs described as doing for the digital lifestyle what Microsoft had done for productivity with Office. To this end, iLife applications are now able to work in a far more integrated way than before, with iMovie and iDVD able to access your iTunes music collection, and iDVD able to import work from iMovie without lengthy export procedures, for example.

A particularly interesting aspect of Jobs' iDVD demonstration was when he took a moment to illustrate the effect of playing two different songs against the same movie clip, underlining the importance music can have on your potential audience. With this in mind, maybe the demo was planting seeds for another keynote when Jobs unveils an iApplication for creating music that works seamlessly with the other iLife applications, or maybe this is simply imaginative speculation.

Although iMovie, iPhoto and iTunes will remain freely downloadable, iDVD will be shipped in a box because it's apparently too large to download with the new audio and visual themes. So because of this, Apple is bundling all the iLife applications into one box (including those that are freely downloadable), which is available now for a very reasonable £39.

The long-rumoured Apple web browser was also announced in the guise of Safari, which is based on the open-source KHTML rendering engine that's apparently popular in the Linux world. Apple claim that Safari is the fastest web browser on the Mac, and while this is certainly true compared with Internet Explorer, many users are still finding Chimera (the browser based on the Mozilla engine) preferable, especially with its tabbed-based browsing experience. However, Safari has some neat features, including a simplified user interface, built-in Google support (although this is not as advanced as the Windows plug-in for Internet Explorer), and a Snapback button for jumping back to the your original search results, or the root page of a web site.

After Safari came Keynote, another new application that can basically be thought of as 'Apple does Powerpoint'. Jobs admitted that he'd been personally beta-testing the software throughout his 2002 keynote speeches, and the software had originally been designed around his own personal needs. While Keynote isn't as sophisticated as Powerpoint, it does look very nice, both from an ease of use perspective, and because it uses OS X's Quartz and OpenGL technologies for amazing graphics. Keynote can import and export Powerpoint, PDF, QuickTime files, in addition to importing Flash, Photoshop, and MP3 formats, and is also available now for £79.

Size Matters

Of course, I'm stating the obvious by saying that the highlight of Jobs' keynote was the introduction of two new Powerbook models to join the lust-inducing Titanium Powerbook G4, which Apple have no intention of discontinuing. While few were expecting a new Powerbook, we all knew where the keynote was heading when Jobs showed the original advert for the first Powerbook G4 model and spoke of Apple's belief that notebook sales will eventually overtake desktop sales.

So to help Apple attain their 35 percent notebook sales target for all machines sold in 2003, Jobs unveiled the 17-inch Powerbook; and I think it's safe to say that if you've been craving a 15.2-inch Powerbook, you'll die when you see the new 17-inch model! Featuring a 1GHz G4 with 256K DDR Level 2 and 1MB DDR Level 3 caches, the new 17-inch Powerbook is manufactured from an aluminium alloy and is literally an inch thick (making it marginally thinner than the original 'inch-thick' G4 Powerbook) and weighs 6.8 pounds — 1.4 pounds heavier than the Titanium. The screen is taken from the 17-inch iMac and features the same 1440 x 900 resolution.

The 17-inch Powerbook comes with 512MB PC2700 DDR RAM (upgradeable to 1GB), a 60GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce4 440 Go graphics with 64MB DDR memory, Gigabit Ethernet, a modem, analogue audio I/O on mini-jacks and a Superdrive. However, aside from the usual specifications, the coolest feature of this new Powerbook has to be the backlit keyboard, which is activated automatically when built-in light sensors detect the ambient lighting level has dropped below a certain threshold — great for those who use their Powerbooks on stage.

The 17-inch Powerbook is also the first Mac to include a Firewire 800 port alongside a standard Firewire (400) port. Firewire 800, as you can guess from the name, is twice as fast as Firewire 400, supporting data transfer rates of up to 800Mb/s; and although it uses a new type of connector, Firewire 800 is backwardly compatible via a supplied adaptor cable. With all the features on offer, the £2599 asking price for the new 17-inch Powerbook doesn't seem totally unreasonable, especially considering Powerbook prices from a couple of years ago.

Steve Jobs is the master of the 'one more thing' keynote crowd-pleaser, and after announcing the 17-inch Powerbook he had just "one more thing — one more small thing" in the form of a 12-inch Powerbook. For those who can't justify or afford a 17-inch or 15-inch Powerbook, the new 12-inch model is Apple's most affordable Powerbook to date and is really, really going to annoy anyone who's just purchased an iBook. With a slightly smaller form factor than the iBook, the 12-inch Powerbook features an 867MHz G4, but only with a 256k DDR Level 2 cache, so musicians won't benefit from the performance gains that a Level 3 cache can bring, unlike those who buy the 15.2- and 17-inch models.

The 12-inch Powerbook includes 256MB PC2100 DDR memory (upgradeable to 640MB), a 40GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce4 420 Go graphics with 32MB of DDR memory, 10/100 Ethernet, a modem, analogue audio I/O on mini-jacks and a Combo drive, although a model featuring a Superdrive is also available. While the iBook is retained in Apple's product line-up, with prices for the 12-inch Powerbook starting at just £1399, you can now see Apple's reason for lowering iBook prices before Christmas.

In last issue's Logic Notes, I concluded that the new Powerbook would be ideal for musicians, which was amusing given that the statement was originally written to mean the speed-bumped 15.2-inch Powerbook, and yet would have been read to mean the new 12 and 17-inch Powerbooks by the time the issue hit the shelves. But despite this, I'm sure I can't be the only composer who's joining the dots between a new Powerbook, Logic 6 with the EXS24 MkII and Vienna Symphonic Library, for example. It doesn't take much to see that these are going to be the best Powerbooks — and most probably the best laptops — for musicians ever released.

  Look, Ma — No Wires!  
 
Apple pioneered the use of wireless networking with Airport and the original iBook, and the new Powerbooks take this technology one step further. Both feature Bluetooth as standard, enabling you to use and synchronise your mobile phones and Palm organisers with Apple's own iSync utility. However, both Powerbooks also feature Apple's new Airport Extreme technology, although there was sadly no amusing demo with Apple VP Phil Schiller jumping off a ledge onto crash mats, as with the introduction of the original Airport!

Airport Extreme is based on the 802.11g standard and operates at 54Mb/s, making it up to five times faster than the 802.11b-based 11Mb/s Airport, which is admittedly still faster than most broadband Internet connections. An Airport Extreme card for your 12-inch Powerbook costs £79, and the old Airport card now costs just £59. The old Airport base stations have been discontinued since the new Airport Extreme base station is backwardly compatible — the 802.11g standard itself is backwardly compatible with 802.11b after all. Airport Extreme base stations cost just £189 for a model with a built-in modem and antenna port, or £149 for a model with only an Ethernet port, meaning there's never been a better time to get wirelessly connected.

 

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