If Apples new products were school projects and I were the teacher, Id grade them like this: an A for the Mac mini, a B+ for iWork, a C+ for iLife 05, and a C- for the iPod shuffle.
I purposely avoided Steve Jobs Macworld keynote, instead relying on the Apple Web site, news releases and a couple of calls to people who were at the keynote to fill me in.
I did this because Apples new products always seemed so much better when I attended the love fest than when I considered them later in the harsh light of reality. This time, I decided to avoid the brainwashing and consider Apples products as I do everyone elses.
Heres my immediate reaction:
Mac mini: A $499 Mac ought to be the ultimate “switcher” box. Not that most Windows users actually switch to Macintosh, but many have bought a Mac for use at home. Buy a KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switch, and the Mac mini can share mouse, keyboard and screen with your PC. This gets users a Mac without a lot of work and for a minimal investment.
Having this machine in the Apple product line allows Mac fanatics to tell their Windows friends that instead of upgrading their Windows machine, they should add a Mac to their desktop or home—and save money in the process.
The downside of the Mac mini may be performance in the graphics-intensive applications toward which Mac users tend to gravitate. I want to see an independent, hands-on review before committing to a final score, but as a preliminary grade, I think an “A” is right on target. Im about ready to pull out my credit card for this one.
iWork: So, this is the Microsoft Office competitor Apple was rumored to be releasing? Clearly, thats not what this is. But I am looking forward to using iWork nevertheless. First, Keynote is a very useful presentation package, and Ive been looking forward to a new version.
Second, the Pages word processor is intended to be a tool that offers more layout options than a word processor without the complexity of desktop publishing. Thats a need I often have. For $79, Id be willing to take a chance on this one. Meanwhile, the Office competitor, if it exists, must wait for another day. A B+ seems appropriate.
iLife 05: Maybe there are features here that I really want and would be willing to pay for, but the Apple Web site isnt very convincing. This looks like Apples bid to sell customers annual releases of popular software with only minor changes to functionality.
Nevertheless, keep the price low enough, $79 in this case, and some customers will buy. Its hard to upgrade applications whose main virtues are simplicity and a limited feature set, but Apple seems to manage. This one gets a C+, but might be hard-pressed to do better.
iPod shuffle: When I bought my first iPod, it was because the MP3 players available at the time were low-capacity and took a long time to fill with music, thanks to a low connection speed to the desktop.
The iPod Shuffle is low capacity, compared with a “real” iPod, but fortunately it connects at swift USB 2.0 speeds, as well as at the much slower USB 1.1 rate used by the first MP3 players.
Apple is trying to make a virtue out of the fact that the device lacks a screen by making it sound like random playback is an advantage. I dont think so. But I am sure they will sell a zillion of these—just not to me. I give it a C-.
I am sure those still washed in the glow of Steves keynote will rate all of these products, and especially the iPod shuffle, a full letter grade or higher than I have. But Ive been following Apple long enough (and have become cynical enough) that I think Ive called these about right.
And now, I am off to order my new Mac mini. Yes, sometimes even I succumb—and at a distance, too.
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