Jobs hypes new products to Mac faithful
Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
"The last several months of 2000 were particularly challenging for Apple and our industry," Jobs said in his keynote speech at Macworld Expo here. "We've decided to start 2001 with a bang."
Jobs also introduced a thinner, faster PowerBook laptop and pushed back the schedule for Mac OS X's release to late March.
As expected, Jobs unveiled four new Power Mac models with PowerPC G4 processors ranging in speeds from 466 MHz to 733 MHz.
Three of the models will come equipped with CD-rewritable drives. The top model will have what Jobs dubbed a SuperDrive, a combination CD-RW/DVD-recordable drive. The SuperDrive can read and write DVDs that can then be played in mainstream DVD players.
Jobs also announced that the long-awaited Mac OS X will be available for purchase for $129 on March 24. However, Jobs added that the new operating system will not be pre-loaded on new Macs until July when the bulk of the new OS X applications will be available.
Apple had originally said it would begin shipping the new operating system last year, but instead decided to offer it as the "public beta," or test version, last September. At last year's Macworld Expo, Jobs had promised the new operating system would become Apple's default operating system on new models beginning this January.
Jobs said July's Macworld Expo in New York will be the "coming-out party" for Mac OS X applications.
Wearing his trademark black turtleneck and faded blue jeans, Jobs succeeded in rousing the 5,000-person crowd into cheers. To illustrate the speed of the 733-MHz Power Mac, Jobs staged a mock battle between the machine and one with a 1.5-GHz Pentium 4. The Apple G4 rendered a complex 3D graphic 12 seconds faster than the Pentium 4.
"This highlights the megahertz myth. What matters is how fast the machines are," Jobs said.
Of the four new Power Macs, the bottom two are available immediately, and the other two will be available in February. However, Jobs said Apple will probably not be able to meet demand for the 733-MHz model in the first quarter.
The prices for the four models are $1,699 for the 466-MHz system; $2,199 for the 533-MHz system; $2,799 for the 667-MHz system; and $3,499 for the 733-MHz system.
The bottom two models will come with 128MB of RAM, the top two with 256MB. All four models come with new audio systems, CD-RW drives and AGP 4x (accelerated graphics port). The three faster models also come with Nvidia graphics cards.
Although Apple isn't heavily touting it, the company's online store also allows people to purchase a dual-processor 533-MHz system for $2,499.
The faster processors and other improvements to the Power Mac line come as welcome relief to the graphics professionals and others who use Macs at work.
Adam Tatro, production support coordinator for Williams-Sonoma, said the new Power Macs will run the programs he uses faster, meaning less time spent waiting.
"It's well within our budget," he said. "You get what you pay for."
When addressing the CD-RW drives, Jobs acknowledged Apple's tardiness. "We're late to this party. But we're here," he said.
To further show that Apple has recognized the free digital music revolution, Jobs announced a program called iTunes that lets people rip and burn CDs, manage playlists, and play Internet radio. The program is available now as a free download.
Jobs also introduced iDVD, a program that allows people with the new "super drives" to create their own DVDs with digital video and photographs. The software will be bundled with the super drive-equipped Power Mac.
Apple also moved the Power Mac to a faster, 133-MHz system bus and speedier, 133-MHz memory chips.
The new PowerBook G4 notebook bulks up and slims down at the same time. Jobs called it "the fastest notebook in the world."
The new notebook has a titanium case, five hours of battery life and a slot-loading DVD drive. It can be ordered with a 400-MHz and 500-MHz processor, 120MB to 256MB of RAM, and a 10GB to 20GB hard drive. The notebook ranges in price from $2,599 to $3,499.
The PowerBook G4 has a 15-inch, extra-wide screen. The notebook is 1 inch thick and weighs 5.3 pounds.
Jobs compared the new PowerBook with Sony's Vaio 2505, saying Apple's model is thinner and has a larger screen.
The new PowerBook will be available at the end of January.
Analysts offered a mixed take on Jobs' announcements.
"Are these things enough to help them tremendously in their recovery? No. But it keeps them fresh, relevant and innovative," said Anne Bui, an analyst at market researcher IDC.
In particular, Bui questioned the way Apple positioned its new software. Jobs clearly aimed iTunes and iDVD at consumers, she said, yet the only models with a CD-RW drive are the new Power Macs, and only the top-end Power Mac has the SuperDrive needed to burn DVDs.
Owners of iMacs and iBooks can still use iTunes either without the CD-burning feature or by adding an external drive. Jobs said the necessary software to allow iTunes to run on popular makes of external drives will be coming shortly.
Apple must have felt it needed to get all its new software out, Bui said, adding that the company is likely to beef up its consumer machines in the coming months.
"The sense I think Apple had was 'We've got to do something now,' especially with the state they have been in," Bui said.
Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq praised Apple for taking more than a speeds-and-feeds approach to the new systems.
"The message was great," LeTocq said. "In a competitive marketplace, in a tight PC market place, emphasizing the value of your systems is great."
By positioning the new Power Macs for specific purposes, such as recording music CDs or making movies, Jobs showed the value of new Macs compared with other computers, LeTocq said.
"But the reality underneath is: If you want to write a DVD movie, there's only one way to do it, and that's to shell out something like 3,800 bucks."
David Bailey, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison, called Jobs' announcements "strong."
"They definitely met the expectations of the Mac fan base," Bailey said. "The big question is: Can they go beyond their (current users) and reverse their weak sales at a time when demand is deteriorating. I think the answer is no. But that is not because the products are weak. It's just very difficult timing."
News.com's Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.