Macs in dresses, and other innovations

by Giles Turnbull

Some years ago, I was fooling around with some geek friends and we came up with the idea of a silly web site. It would be called "Macs in dresses", and the only content would be photos of Mac computers wearing, um, dresses. We'd create the first few pictures, and rely on the Mac community to send in some more. We thought it would be fun.

Well, we ummed and ahhed and procrastinated and forgot about it, and nothing happened.

What strikes me, looking at how tiny the Mac mini and the iPod shuffle are, is that we're probably too late. Mac stuff is getting too small to dress up now.

So what do you think of Steve's latest keynote? This was far more exciting than last year's, and not just because of the hype whipped up online beforehand. No matter how many true rumors of these hardware and software products were leaked in advance, seeing them for the first time brings home to all of us - Mac devotee or PC-using iPod-owner - the continuing dedication to innovation at Apple.

All these products, no matter how much you thought you knew about them in advance (which, in any case, turns out to be precious little) are smart and ingenious new ideas. All of them look absolutely fantastic, but then we all knew that they would.

Let's take a look at a few details.

Mac mini

It's a Cube, sliced in half. Except it's much more than that. The super-cheap, well-specced Mac mini is Apple's attempt to pull in more customers. Those who've bought an iPod to plug into a Windows PC, and those who've lusted after Mac hardware but been unable to justify the cost.

The Mac mini lets you plug in your choice of keyboard, mouse and monitor. It's got at least 40GB of disk space, a Combo or Superdrive, and a G4 processor. Yet it's not much bigger than my backup external hard disk.

But is it user-upgradable? The iMac G5 is famously easy to open up and tinker with, that is one of its greatest strengths. But the tiny enclosure of the Mac mini might be trickier to fiddle around with. A note at the very bottom of the specs page says "Memory upgrade must be performed by an Apple Authorized Service provider," but that might just be a warranty breakage thang.

I hope the Mac mini is a success, and if I were in the market for a new desktop computer I'd be very tempted to buy one. I wonder, though, if it will pull in a lot of newcomers to the Mac platform.

I say that because there are still a lot of people -- more than you might imagine -- who see the monitor as the computer. Rather than seeing this as a bargain, they might see it as a waste. "I want to buy a computer that comes with everything I need," those people might say. I believe this computer will have more appeal to the geekier side of the spectrum, to the people with the knowledge and experience to provide the extras they need, than it will to newbies.


I'm really excited about iWork, mainly because words are my thing and the new word processor, Pages, looks very interesting indeed.

I say "word processor", but if Pages is anything like its description, it offers far more than just processing words. It also appears to offer a lot of features related to layout and page design. Yeah, good old-fashioned desktop publishing.

It can import Word, Rich Text Format, and old AppleWorks documents. It exports Word, Rich Text, HTML, plain text, and of course PDF. To be honest, this is not a great deal more than any of us would expect, at least those of us who have been using OS X for a while and are accustomed to apps like TextEdit. But I see iWork as another tool for tempting PC owners over the Mac platform. Apple makes a lot of the fact that iWork will, um, iwork happily with files created in Word and moved over from Windows computers. This is one of the commonest complaints of people presented with the option of switching: "But none of my files will work on the Mac!" Of course I know they will, and you know they will, but there remains a lot of work to be done to change that common perception among the majority.

iWork is a step along that path.

The multitude of templates included with it is important not just for its variety and scope, but because they actually look great. There are plenty of templates included with a certain other popular word processing application, and in my opinion they lack the kind of snazzy design associated with, well, most Apple hardware. These new templates are fresh, professional, modern. The kind of thing you'd want other people to see. I can't wait to try them out.

From a UI perspective, Pages follows Keynote by having an Inspector panel for controlling aspects of formatting and presentation. This is interesting because it's quite different from Microsoft's everything-on-the-toolbar approach in Word and pretty much every other application. The Inspector approach is all about simplicity and minimalism; open the Inspector when you need to make changes to something. But when you just want to type, close it, get on with the work; worry less about the controls, fixate on the content.

Keynote 2, Pages' companion within iWork, offers some nice new stuff. New themes will be welcomed, as well the save-as-self-running-slideshow option, allowing people to send presentations to others. Crucial to the success of many new features in Keynote 2 and in Pages is the integration with iLife. A widget called the iLife Media Browser lets users hunt around their collection of multimedia for stuff to include in documents and presentations.

Notice how the iLife and iWork icons (iCons? hmmm) have been designed to flow together. Apple certainly wants us to see these two bundles as complimentary. Since iLife comes free with a new Mac, we can expect lots of encouragement for new Mac owners to buy iWork too, in order to make their iXistance complete.

iPod shuffle

Aw, what can I say about this? I want one. Well, duh.

There were widespread leaks and predictions and one or two red herrings, but the flash-based, screenless iPod is now a reality and personally, I think it's great idea.

Apple has cut out the superfluous extras that make other flash players expensive, and concentrated on the essentials of a minimalist listening experience. People want to just listen to music, and it's become clear that millions of iPod and iTunes owners love the new random-shuffle way of exploring their music collections.

What's more, the whole point of mobile music is that you are usually doing something else while listening. Who wants a screen to have to interact with? For the bare necessities of taking some music with you all the time, the iPod shuffle offers everything people need. And it lasts for hours. And you can save other files on it. And hang it round your neck. I think it's cooler than the iPod. Even schoolkids can save up their pocket money to buy one. This tiny gadget is going to sell in truckloads.

So what didn't we get?

  1. No iHome. Sure, those pictures were fakes - the spelling made that clear - but the idea caught a few imaginations. *Looks wistfully upwards*. Hmmm, Apple owning the living room. Wouldn't that be nice?

  2. No Macs in dresses. But then, no-one, not even Think Secret, expected those.

So what's your take? Mac mini, good or bad? iPod shuffle, great or insanely great?


2005-01-11 21:52:31
Re: Macs in dresses
I say that because there are still a lot of people -- more than you might imagine -- who see the monitor as the computer.

For those there still is the iMac.

I was looking for years for an inexpensive box that I could buy in masses for the office folks. The Mac mini is just that machine.

For Apple, it is a market opener. In business, Macs were too expensive for anything but production work. Never mind that all things considered, the iMac is probably still a better value proposition, but there is the cheap safety anchor now. You could buy a Mac for less than $500 in case you had to.

2005-01-13 09:35:01
iHome with Mac mini
Can't you just use a mac mini hooked up to a home stereo (and a TV) as a an iHome Media Center device? There are only a few missing pieces to make that a reality.