Mac Bloggers Poke at Air, Lament Update Killjoys, Celebrate SuperDuper Tuesday
Feb 8, 2008 4:00 AM PT
There's been lots of Apple-focused activity this week, including a handful of application-specific software updates as well as speculation that 10.5.2 is close to delivery but is hanging tight until it works perfectly with Time Machine and the on-the-way Time Capsule -- which is basically a combination of a server-grade hard drive and Apple's Airport Extreme wireless base station.
The biggest news, however, comes back to the company's hottest products -- laptops and the iPhone and iPod.
How Dare They Make Progress!?
While the Apple MacBook Air has been in the hands of customers for about a week -- and generating tons of reviews and impressions -- Apple enthusiasts wanting to buy an upgraded MacBook Pro are still out in the wintery cold. Instead of delivering an improved MacBook Pro, as some blogs have predicted, Apple surprised many by beefing up its iPhone and iPod touch, doubling the maximum storage capacity to 16 GB for the iPhone and 32 GB for the iPod touch.
Apple also jacked the price up US$100 for the extra storage in the iPhone, nudging the 16 GB iPhone to $499. The 8 GB iPhone remains at $399. The 32 GB iPod touch also costs $499, with 16 GB and 8 GB options for $399 and $299, respectively. Eric Zeman, who posts on Information Week's Mobile Weblog called "Over the Air," nailed a surprising reaction to Apple's update in his post, "Apple Updates iPhone And iPod Touch; People Start Complaining."
"Instead of cheering, user forums are full of whiny moaners who think Apple is out to screw them," he wrote. "The positive and negative backlash was almost instantaneous."
One anonymous guest commented on the blog post, echoing the key issue raised by Zeman: "I think it is ridicolous how they are always trying to boost up the memory and make it more appealing so they can gain more money ..."
A commentor who goes by the name "Mal" piped in with the voice of reason: "Folks, Apple isn't the only one that does this sort of thing -- they just happen to be the trendy ones to pick at. Are they obligated to everyone to announce when their products evolve? Maybe they are trying to get more money out of the customer BUT THEY ARE A BUSINESS. It's their obligation to continue to enhance their products to make them more appealing to customers who weren't enticed enough before."
Mal brings up an interesting point. For some reason Apple may get hammered more than other companies even though most tech companies are constantly evolving their products.
"The iPhone has to be marketed like a cell phone," Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst, told MacNewsWorld. "Cell phones are traditionally upgraded even faster [than devices like iPods]. So while customers may have bought an 8 GB and now there is a 16 GB and they are complaining ... that's just the way it has always been. People always buy, and manufacturers always improve, and people buy, and devices improve, and so on. People buy cell phones and GPS devices and laptops and televisions and then newer models come out -- and that's just the way it is in technology."
Back to the Air
Despite the massive consumer appeal of the iPhone, the MacBook Air has been holding its own -- lots of coverage, lots of reviews, and now, comparative reviews and discussion over the pros and cons of hard drive selection.
One of the highest-profile comparative reviews to get blogged about comes courtesy of The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg. After subjecting his solid-state drive (SSD) Air to his usual battery test -- shut down all power savers, leave the WiFi on, crank up the screen brightness and keep a music playlist on loop until the thing drops dead -- he said the SSD model kept going only five minutes longer than the one with the standard drive. Apple, he noted, never claimed an SSD Air would outdo the standard model in battery life, since even a standard Air uses a low-powered drive.
A gamut of tests on SSD-based MacBook Airs have resulted in respectable levels of battery life. Apple claims up to five hours while wirelessly accessing the Web, and independent tests with a variety of workloads have resulted in three hours on the lower end; four-plus hours was a reasonably common result. Some power-hungry multi-tasking tests, however, have resulted in less than three hours.
"Who actually plays movies while downloading large files and listening to iTunes (whether plugged in or not)? Probably no-one," wrote gavza, who commented on AppleInsider's "MacBook Air HDD and SSD battery benchmarks" post. "My typical use of my MacBook Pro is on an airplane, using Powerpoint or Word, maybe listening to iTunes (but more likely my iPod), with the screen brightness at only one square (which works just fine on a plane). I'd be much more interested to know how long the battery lasts under those conditions,"
"There's a couple of things people are going to see with an SSD versus a hard drive," Jeff Janukowicz, a solid state drive and hard drive components research manager for IDC, told MacNewsWorld.
"First, they'll see increased performance, and typically that means faster boot-up times, the loading of applications, and opening files. The next thing they'll see is lower power consumption -- because SSDs don't have moving parts, they use less power. And the next thing people will notice is an increase of reliability -- again without moving parts, SSDs are a bit more reliable. And the final thing that shouldn't go unnoticed is that SSD are completely quiet. There's not acoustical noise to them," he explained.
As for how much more battery life users can expect, that's a tough question because it depends on the applications and how the laptops are being used. "People can expect an order of a ten percent improvement, but that still can vary," Janukowicz added.
While U.S. presidential candidates were battling for votes on Super Tuesday, shareware software publisher Shirt Pocket released SuperDuper 2.5, which is now fully compatible with Leopard, a.k.a. Mac OS X 10.5.x. SuperDuper is a popular shareware-based backup and recovery utility that lets Mac users create backups of their Mac's entire hard drive. It's similar to Bombich Software's also popular Carbon Copy Cloner.
"One of the most sought after applications since Leopard was released has finally been updated," noted Josh Pigford on The Apple Blog, writing about SuperDuper 2.5.
"Thank goodness! While I love Time machine for the 'oops, I didn't mean to do that' type errors, nothing less than SuperDuper's clone of my MacBook Pro's HD makes me sure that I'll be able to resurrect it -- or even run it off the cloned external HD for a bit. I'll sleep easier at night now, for sure," a user called "corpmac" posted.
David Nanian, owner of Shirt Pocket, has his own take, published on his Shirt Pocket Watch blog.
"Our new feature set is great on its own, plus it's an excellent complement to Time Machine, adding the ability to have a bootable backup alongside your Time Machine archive -- and we've done all this without any increase in complexity. With SuperDuper!, recovery from a disk crash is just a matter of rebooting from the backup!" he wrote.
As February slogs on, bloggers will be keeping an eye for several key Apple releases -- new Apple TV software and high definition movies from the iTunes Rental Store, Time Capsule, Mac OS X 10.5.2, and updated MacBook Pros.
As for which will come first -- that's anybody's guess.