MWSF03: Analysis – See the Softer Side of Apple

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Date: Wednesday, January 8th, 2003, 00:00
Category: Archive

Apple iLifeForget iApps or even the Digital Hub — Apple’s eclectic software strategy makes it clear that it will fill any niche it sees available, anytime, anywhere. With everything from geeky UNIX genetics apps to pro audio and video apps, Apple will buy, steal, or hit the drawing board to give us cool software. The results have sometimes been hit or miss (iCal/iSync isn’t mature yet, for instance), but it does lead to choices, and today’s introductions brought some great news. (Click ‘read more’ for the full story.)


Apple iLifeForget iApps or even the Digital Hub — Apple’s eclectic software strategy makes it clear that it will fill any niche it sees available, anytime, anywhere. With everything from geeky UNIX genetics apps to pro audio and video apps, Apple will buy, steal, or hit the drawing board to give us cool software. The results have sometimes been hit or miss (iCal/iSync isn’t mature yet, for instance), but it does lead to choices, and today’s introductions brought some great news.

The big hit from Macworld today was unquestionably Safari. I didn’t think anything would shake my loyalty to Mozilla’s Chimera, but Safari is addictive. It’s faster than any browser I’ve ever seen on any platform. Even Chimera seems noticeably slow afterwards. The integrated bookmarks are incredibly elegant. I’ve always been lazy about organizing bookmarks, but with Safari I’m already being anal about organization — for the fun of it! Plus there’s AppleScript, FlashBack, integrated Google, a gorgeous interface. Combined with screaming speed, this one’s a winner. Only two complaints: no tabbed browsing (Apple’s going to get an earful on that), and occasional page incompatibilities, like, unfortunately, the PowerPage story database. But we have every right to brag here on the Mac. While most PC users slog along with Microsoft Internet Explorer, we have an incredibly intense browser war heating up, with Mac-only contenders like OmniWeb, Chimera, and Safari that would make PC counterparts drool.

I don’t think iApps are likely to give Apple any additional market share, but loyalty for existing Mac users is unquestionably a benefit. Witness the flame war I ignited over my suggestion that a bundle of fee-based iApp upgrades would make lame news for a keynote. Frankly, I may have deserved the flames, and I think the wave of support is great for Apple. Clearly, a lot of us are willing to rely on, and pay for, iApps for our productivity. Ironically, I think people are more upset with shortcomings in iCal and iSync than with the prospect of paying for an improved iMovie, iDVD, and iPhoto. And yes, I’ll be ponying up my $49 for iLife: the integration between the apps is nothing short of brilliant, and I love iPhoto enough that I’d pay for that alone.

I’m still upset, though, that Apple continues to intentionally cripple iDVD’s compatibility with external DVD burners with identical mechanisms as internal Apple SuperDrives. PC users are able to burn DVD movies with the same drives, often via free software, while Mac users are supposed to pay $1000 for DVD Studio Pro. That’s just insane. Apple might be doing better in the education market (and some other markets) if it understood users don’t necessarily want to think of their machines as disposable. I appreciate Apple’s desire to motivate us to buy new Macs, but the disparity with the PC side is annoying.

In the end, though, I think all today’s announcements are healthy. Safari’s release is likely to continue to drive browser innovation, even among competing browsers. We have three robust open source-based web browsers on the Mac, Mozilla, Chimera, and now Safari. Continued development of the iApps shows Apple’s dedication to this software, and to coming closer to the company’s vision of the digital hub. The more these apps are elegantly integrated, the more powerful they become in the hands of users when compared to Windows XP. (I should mention that Avid has an iMovie alternative now, too, though: Avid Free DV.) Keynote will make both an excellent PowerPoint companion and competitor. Word and Excel are unlikely to see Apple competitors, but we’re now lucky enough to add Quartz-optimized Keynote slickness to our already Mac-only QuickTime Transitions in PowerPoint. Final Cut Express is going to be killer — I’ve heard many people talk about how they want more than iMovie, less than Final Cut Pro. And the release of X11 is making a lot of geeks very happy indeed.

Apple’s going to need this ammunition, because with flacid market share and rough economic times I think we’re about to fight another dark period for the Mac. Don’t get me wrong: I think that could be good news, because Jobs seems to be at his best when backed into a corner. But what’s interesting about Apple’s ongoing software strategy is that it really deflates the “Windows and the Mac are the same software-wise” argument that we hear all the time. I don’t question that the PC is an excellent choice for many users (not me, of course), but the difference in software is dramatic, all the way from consumer to pro. And Apple’s new agressive development strategy heralds a new design philosophy that’s likely to appear in apps from other developers, as well. PC users are often very aware of how Mac-based developers have a sense of what’s “Mac-like.” Maybe that’s why nearly all leading PC productivity apps started their lives on the Mac, from Microsoft Excel to Photoshop to Pro Tools. The Mac OS X transition has probably been the single most uncertain time for software design in Apple history. But with OS X finally maturing and Apple launching an all-cylinders development assault, we may finally reach a software renaissance.

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