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Analysis: iCan't Believe It

Jobs keynote doesn't live up to pre-show hype By Dave Nagel
Today Intel introduced the 2.2 GHz Pentium 4 processor with support for DDR memory. AMD also today announced its Athlon 2000+ chip, complete with a 266 MHz front-side bus. What do Mac users get today, on the first day of the big Macworld Expo? A redesigned iMac running at speeds slightly slower than the current professional desktop models.

As I watched Steve Jobs's keynote this morning, frantically typing my coverage as each new detail was announced, I kept waiting for the big finale, the big moment when Jobs would say, "We have passed the gigaHertz barrier!" Instead what I saw was a drawn-out demonstration of iPhoto, Apple's new consumer-level photo capture, manipulation and archiving software package. I saw an appropriately brief glimpse of the new, slightly revamped iBook line, which includes almost nothing of note, especially in terms of the processing power. I heard an extraordinarily repetitious explanation of Apple's vision of the "digital hub" of the future. I saw a self-congratulating retrospective on Apple's past iMac glories. And I saw the anticlimax itself: the new iMacs.

Now, don't get me wrong. The new iMacs are, without a doubt, better than any consumer peecee on the market. With 700 MHz and 800 MHz G4 processors (finally), they're probably the best consumer machines on the market. I love the 15-inch flat-panel display. I love the nVidia graphics card. I love that they can be expanded to 1 GB of RAM. And I love the massive hard drive capacity and five--count them five--USB ports. What I don't love is that it ended there.

When Apple advertised on their site that their Macworld presence would be "way beyond" what the rumor sites were reporting, we all thought we knew what this implied--a G4 desktop that finally passed the 1 GHz mark. Heck, maybe even a G5.

Obviously this didn't happen.

Normally I won't fault Apple for failing to live up to what the rumor sites report. But they dug their own grave on this one. They built up the hype with their countdown to Macworld, and they failed utterly to live up to it. What do professional users care about iMacs? For that matter, what do consumers care? They haven't been too terribly moved to purchase any of late, and, judging from the sneak peek we got this morning of Apple's new iMac campaign, they won't be too terribly moved in the near future either.

No, Jobs knows very well what professional users and a huge number of consumers want: speed. What I don't get is why Apple would so clearly play upon this desire in its own promotions, only to disappoint like that. Is Jobs so enamored with the iMac that he actually believes it should be the centerpiece of Apple's product line? Granted, as a consumer model, it will probably sell more units than the desktop models, especially now that the processors (though not the bus architecture) are on par with the desktops, just as when the original iMacs were introduced.

Of course, back then, a 233 MHz G3 was something to get excited about. Now an 800 MHz G4, while zippy, simply doesn't compare in processing power with the top of the line Pentiums or Athlons. I don't care what Apple says about the "megaHertz myth." An 800 MHz G4 might compare favorably with a 1 GHz Pentium, but not a 2.2 GHz Pentium.

Professional users need raw power underneath all of the advantages that the Macintosh offers. Look, I'd rather run an 867 MHz G4 (which I just bought) than any peecee at any speed (which I have never bought). But I am both a professional user and a Mac psychofanatic. I'm not exactly your average professional user, and I'm certainly not the guy on the street who's trying to decide between a 2 GHz Pentium for $2,500 and a dual G4 800 MHz for $3,500. That question simply wouldn't enter my mind. But for those who don't care about the OS as I do, the answer to this question right now is not a difficult one.

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