Apple: New OS X, iPods, iMac Lead the Charge

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs introduced several Windows-oriented initiatives during his MacWorld keynote address in New York yesterday, but the revelation that some of the company's most important upcoming products and services will cost customers quite a bit of money was the most impressive surprising aspect of his much-anticipated talk. Jobs introduced several cool products and services but hardly any new Mac hardware. Highlights included new iPod portable-audio players; Mac OS X 10.2 (code-named Jaguar); a Plug and Play (PnP) over TCP/IP technology called Rendezvous; an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)-compatible application called iChat; the iTunes 3 media player; an iSync service for synchronizing data between Macs and Palm OS devices, iPods, and cell phones; and a new 17" widescreen iMac. Yes, it's a heady list. But Jobs likes to keep the crowd on its toes, and yesterday's 2-hour speech didn't disappoint in that regard.

"Jaguar is light years ahead of Windows XP," Jobs said. "There's never been a better time to switch to Mac. With UNIX at its core and the most advanced object-oriented environment ever, Mac OS X is delivering more software innovation than our industry has seen in a decade." Indeed, Jobs pushed home the notion that Mac OS X is an industry leader, an important point given Microsoft's questions earlier this week about the OS's slow sales and long-term viability. He claimed that Apple is now the leading UNIX supplier, "ahead of Sun, ahead of Linux." I suspect many UNIX vendors would dispute that claim, however.

Apple's Windows-oriented initiatives are interesting. Jobs touted the company's "Switchers" ad campaign, which aims at converting Windows users to the Mac. "These are real people telling their \[stories\]," Jobs said, noting that 60 percent of the more than 1.7 million people who have visited Apple's Switch Web site are Windows users. He also discussed an upcoming application from Detto called Move2Mac, which will automate the process of moving preferences and data from Windows systems to the Mac. And starting in August, Apple will release three iPod models for Windows; the products will use MusicMatch Jukebox software to synchronize music with the PC.

Apple's biggest bet is the success of Mac OS X, and the next release--OS X 10.2--will ship "early" in August (the company originally anticipated a September release). OS X 10.2 will address the biggest concern I had with previous versions: It will include Windows-network-browsing capabilities. Jobs said that the company wants to be "an even better client" on Windows networks than it has been in the past. Current OS X releases include only limited Windows-network functionality.

But the cost of these products and services has even diehard Apple fans wondering what went wrong. Jaguar, for example, will cost $129 for all Apple customers except those who purchase a new Mac between now and the end of September, and even those users will have to pony up $20 to pay for the CD-ROM's shipping and handling. Contrast this news to the Mac OS X 10.1 release that Apple issued last fall: The company made the upgrade available for only $20, but most people got the upgrade on CD-ROM for free simply by showing up at an Apple Store or other Apple reseller.

A bigger issue, however, is the new Apple .Mac (dot mac) services, a name that Jobs openly admitted is meant to sound like Microsoft .NET. .Mac replaces the old iTools set of services, with one crucial difference: iTools was free, but .Mac costs a whopping $100 per year. For this price, users get 15MB of email storage space, a Web-based home-page creator, 100MB of online storage space, access to backup and virus-protection software, and a special support area "for members only." When the company's new iCal calendaring software becomes available this fall, .Mac members will also get access to online calendar publishing and subscribing, which lets iCal users share their schedules with others.

Predictably, .Mac's cost has Mac users seething. "I paid $3500 for a Powerbook, and Apple wants to grease me for another $100?" one user griped on a popular Mac talkback board last night.

In what looked strangely like an afterthought, Jobs introduced the new iMac moments before he walked off the stage. The new iMac features a 17" widescreen display but is otherwise virtually indistinguishable from the previous high-end iMac release. Typically, new Mac introductions are the highlight of any Jobs keynote. But because most rumor sites had already broken the news about the machine--and overstated its feature set, predicting a nonexistent swiveling screen that could also work in portrait mode--the introduction probably lacked the surprise Jobs had hoped for.

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