TV-PGJuly 17, 2002: Another Stevenote has come and gone, and while this one didn't pack too many surprises, there were at least a few points worth chewing on. Meanwhile, the sudden shift from free iTools accounts to for-pay .mac subscriptions is sure to have at least some users crying foul, but the new 17-inch iMac represents a value too good for mere mortals to pass up...
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Debriefing Ruminations (7/17/02)

Ahhh... Pardon us while we bask in our traditional post-Stevenote glow. Granted, we didn't get to attend in person this time around, so we weren't subjected to the full, unfiltered force of a close-proximity unadulterated Reality Distortion Field, but it's surprising how much of a buzz still comes through from a QuickTime webcast piped through a Pismo's S-video port onto the living room TV set. And there's something to be said for skipping the folding chairs of the Javits Center and instead spending two hours watching from the comfort of the AtAT couch-- although we did have to get up every ten minutes to hit a key and wake the display because we forgot to turn off Energy Saver. Duh.

So there weren't any huge surprises, at least not to any Mac fans with an ear to the ground for the past few weeks. In terms of hardware, we got both the 17-inch iMac and the 20 GB iPod we all expected. iTunes 3 is now here, boasting a slew of nifty new features like Smart Playlists and automatic volume normalization-- and in fact we're playing Piebald's latest through it right now, so it apparently works just fine. (Incidentally, if you're wondering how the "60's Music" Smart Playlist knows which songs are from the '60s, it performs a complex audio-to-text routine and scans the resulting lyrics for the word "groovy.") Windows-compatible iPods are on their way, much to Mediafour's probable dismay. Mac OS X 10.2 has a solid release date of August 24th, but it's going to cost $129, which is a bit more than we expected. Meanwhile, iTools is no more, having morphed into .mac-- at a cost of $99 a year. Hmmm... come to think of it, quite a few of these surprises are of the "Wait, I'm going to have to pay how much?" type. Considering the bath we're currently taking on Apple stock, let's just say that we're a little bummed about the timing.

But hey, there were pleasant surprises, too-- like the debut of iCal, a nifty and free multi-calendar app, and iSync, free software that can synchronize iCal and Mac OS X's enhanced Address Book to iPods, Palm devices, and a few (currently, a very few... like, four) mobile phones-- even wirelessly over Bluetooth. Those ought to be fun to play with once they show up in September. Plus, as faithful viewer The Lame Camel noted, RealNetworks finally released a beta of RealOne Player for Mac OS X. And Alias|Wavefront, whose Mac version of Maya has so far been lagging behind what's available for Windows/UNIX, just announced Maya 4.5 for Mac OS X-- bringing feature parity to the Mac amid news that our beloved platform has gone from zero to a quarter of A|W's business in a mere nine months. (Developers take heed!)

But really, for our money, the biggest surprise of the keynote (well, other than the fact that those weren't Evian bottles with which Steve was hydrating himself-- what's up with that?) was twofold: firstly, that the Mac OS X 10.2 upgrade formerly known by its codename of Jaguar has evidently been renamed "Jagwire." The web site still lists the old name, but we're going to have to assume that Steve is the end-all be-all authority on such matters, and thus his word is law. And, of course, the other surprise is that as of 10.2, Apple is eschewing the traditional Aqua Blue motif in its Mac OS X packaging in favor of faux animal prints. We don't need to tell you that once you cross that line, there's no turning back. (We're guessing that the Naked Mole Rat is jumping for joy.) So Steve-- when oh when will we be able to order an iMac with zebra stripe detailing? The die has been cast; it's only a matter of time, now...

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The End Of The Free Ride (7/17/02)

Proof that even Steve Jobs's infamous Reality Distortion Field has its limitations: was it just us, or was the whole room suffused with a deafening silence when His Mercurialness announced that iTools-- er, we mean .mac-- now suddenly costs $99 a year? And did you notice that the silence became, if anything, even more deafening when Steve told us that existing iTools members could sign up for "only $49" for the first year? Maybe, like us, everyone present kept waiting for Steve to say "Just kidding! Basic services are still free to all Mac users, as thanks for being our loyal customers, and you all also get free ponies!" Sadly, that announcement never came, and now anyone who wants to keep using their iDisks or their email addresses is going to have to fork over a yearly fee. Faithful viewer Jay Tuley has a point: for people who have made their email addresses their primary mail accounts, this smacks a little of ransom-- pay up, or the email address you've given out to everyone you've ever known for the past eighteen months sleeps with the fishes.

As far as we can make out, here's the scoop: more stuff's coming later, like the ability to publish iCal calendars, but right now .mac is just iTools as you knew it, but with more iDisk storage space (100 MB vs. 20 MB), a bigger email quota (15 MB vs. 5 MB), a free copy of Virex 7.1, and access to Apple's new Backup software (which only fully works if you have a current and valid .mac subscription). Unfortunately, that means that those of us who don't need bigger iDisks or inboxes and already own (or don't want) virus protection or backup software need to shell out the cash just to keep the status quo. The good news is that you've got 75 days in which to decide whether or not it's worth it; until then, your previous iTools account functions as a "trial" .mac subscription. So enjoy it while it lasts. (Quick note: at least Apple's playing fair. Faithful viewer Morgan Brown had purchased extra iDisk storage last year, and as a consequence, is getting a full year of .mac for free.)

Okay, granted, $99 a year isn't terribly much to ask for all you get. And it undoubtedly cost Apple some serious moolah to have provided all these Internet services and bandwidth to its customers free of charge, but we've always considered that to be an inalienable perk of buying a Macintosh. Many's the time we've made this pitch to Wintel users: "Sure, Macs may cost more at the outset, but look at all the great and tightly integrated Internet services you get for free!" Unfortunately, that formerly effective sales argument just crumbled to dust, and for our money it couldn't have come at a worse time; now that Apple's "Switch" campaign is in high gear, the sales folks at the retail stores need more ammo to convert the curious Wintellians who dare to venture within, not less.

Don't get us wrong-- we're realists (sometimes), and we understand that Apple wants to make money by providing a valuable service. We just can't help but wonder whether the company would realize more in increased Mac sales-- and more customer good will-- if Steve told Fred Anderson to tap into Apple's $4.3 billion piggy bank to keep .mac free to all Mac users. C'mon, since iTools/.mac is integrated so tightly into Mac OS X, at the very least we'd have thought the company would provide a free ".mac Lite" subscription which retains just the original iTools functionality, but noooooo. It'll be interesting to see whether the amount of email we get from accounts drops precipitously in about 75 days' time. If not, Apple stands to make a killing: 2.2 million iTools subscribers times $49 equals a substantial revenue boost for Q4...

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And Super-Size It, Please (7/17/02)

Okay, so today we found out that our formerly free iTools accounts have just turned into subscription-based .mac accounts. On top of that, we were also told that we're going to have to shell out a full $129 if we want to upgrade to Mac OS X 10.2 come August 24th; as faithful viewer Mike Harris notes, there's no special upgrade price, so the only way to upgrade your existing copies is to buy completely new full-price licenses. Don't believe us? Then you might want to call Apple's Mac OS X Up-To-Date program at (800) 335-9258 just to hear it from an Apple rep's lips. But remember, if you then choose to express your dissatisfaction with this bizarre and expensive situation, keep in mind that the nice person on the other end of the line probably didn't set the policy. Please be polite, because shooting the messenger is wicked bad karma. Maybe the Mac OS X Feedback page is a better place to vent?

Anyway, that's a digression we'll let the rest of the planet rant about for a while. True, what with having to spend $49 on a year of .mac, $129 on Mac OS X 10.2, and $30 on a new QuickTime Pro license (the QuickTime 5 codes don't work with QuickTime 6), these have proven to be an expensive few days for many of us in Macville-- but being generally positive people, we'd like to point out that there was at least one super deal unveiled this morning. Did you happen to catch that new 17-inch iMac? Sure, we all knew it was coming, but the widescreen aspect ratio is a nice touch-- and maybe it's just us, but we think the new screen just looks so much better perched atop that big white dome.

So why is this thing such a steal? Well, aesthetic issues aside, think about it for a minute. Yesterday, $1899 for a top-of-the-line iMac was a great deal; you'd get a zippy G4-powered all-in-one system complete with a gorgeous 15-inch flat-panel display and the reads-and-burns-almost-everything-out-there SuperDrive. Today, for just $100 more, you can instead buy that same system with a 17-inch widescreen LCD (with 65% more pixels, for screen real estate encroaching on $2499 Cinema Display territory), a faster GeForce4 MX graphics subsystem, and an extra 20 GB of hard disk space. Seriously, that is one incredible value for an extra hundred clams. When Steve-o was rattling off the specs, we expected a price tag of $2399 or thereabouts. Such a deal!

If you're more of a 15-inch screen sort of person, though, fret not; there's good news for you, too. Apple's playing Follow The Bouncing Price Tag again, and the original 15-inch SuperDrive model which debuted at $1799 and soon went up to $1899 is now-- you guessed it-- back down to $1799 again. Our advice? If you're at all in the market for that particular machine, order it now, before Apple decides to kick it back up to $1899 again. Because who knows how long this particular window will stay open?

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