Thoughts on ‘Back to the Mac’

Steve Jobs took stage on Wednesday for Apple’s Back to the Mac event where there were several big, Mac-related announcements. The event felt much larger than I thought it would and confirmed that Apple hasn’t been resting on their laurels when it comes to the Mac side of their business. Mac sales are stronger than ever and will continue to improve as Apple remains at their current pace of improving products.

iLife ’11

Apple released iLife ’11 on Wednesday and with it came updated versions of iPhoto, GarageBand, and iMovie. The suite itself has followed Snow Leopard’s lead and is available for only $49. I can’t say much about iMovie and GarageBand because I really don’t use them. But, they look like great updates to a couple of already fantastic applications.

In regards to iPhoto, Facebook users can now more easily upload photos directly to the site and you can view comments on photos from your friends on Facebook from within iPhoto. The new slideshows look fantastic, I really enjoyed the places slideshow that Phil Schiller demoed on stage. And, the ability to email photos from within iPhoto looks really handy.

One of the big new features that has come to iPhoto is a fullscreen mode that gets rid of distractions and allows you to use every feature of the application without ever leaving fullscreen mode. What I find most interesting is just how much the application feels like an iOS app when in this fullscreen mode. It makes me wonder if Apple was planning (or is planning) to release iPhoto or other iLife applications for the iPad. I can see how easily iPhoto’s fullscreen user interface could translate to a touchscreen device.

FaceTime

Apple is pushing FaceTime into more places and now you can FaceTime on your Mac. I’m a little surprised that FaceTime wasn’t integrated into iChat but I’m starting to get the feeling that Apple is getting ready to end development of iChat. FaceTime will be Apple’s preferred means of video chatting and unless Apple comes up with a brand new instant messaging platform that works across all of their devices, SMS on your iPhone will likely be Apple’s preferred text chatting platform.

Mac OS X Lion

Apple has released seven major Mac OS versions in the past decade, and in Summer 2011 Apple will release their eighth. Apple only previewed three major new features in Lion but already this is looking to be a pretty hefty update. With Lion Apple has decided to take some of the innovations that they’ve made with iOS and bring them back to the Mac. One of those innovations is application home screens which on the Mac will be dubbed “Launchpad.” Launchpad displays all of the applications installed on your Mac in easy to navigate pages with the ability to quickly organize your applications with iOS-style folders.

Just like iPhoto’s fullscreen mode, Apple will be bringing system-wide support for fullscreen applications. Switch between these fullscreen apps and your desktop with just simple swipe gesture on the trackpad or Magic Mouse. I love the idea of fullscreen applications. There are a lot of apps that would benefit from the increased screen real estate and the lack of distractions that comes from viewing them in fullscreen mode.

With Mac OS X Lion, Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces, and fullscreen applications will be unified into one place that Apple is calling “Mission Control.” Using a swipe gesture pulls you out of your current application and into a bird’s-eye view of everything running on your Mac. Whether your looking for a dashboard widget, a Safari window, or iPhoto in fullscreen mode, you can find it with Mission Control. I don’t use Dashboard or Spaces and rarely use Exposé, I usually use command+tab when trying to find another application. But, I can see myself using Mission Control, especially with the addition of fullscreen apps — I can see how things could get a little hairy trying to find the application your looking for when you have multiple fullscreen apps, multiple spaces, multiple windows, and a few dashboard widgets.

Mac App Store

Another of Apple’s big announcement at the event was the Mac App Store which Steve Jobs said would be coming to the Mac within 90 days. The Mac App Store will work just like the App Store on iOS, there will be a 70/30 split between developers and Apple and applications will need to be submitted and approved by Apple. Applications will automatically install when purchased and users will be able to update their applications with one click from within the Mac App Store. Users will be able to re-download applications to their Mac that they’ve already purchased and the applications will be licensed for use on all of the Macs you own.

The biggest difference between the iOS and Mac App Stores is that the Mac App Store isn’t the only place you’ll be able to purchase and/or download applications from. Developers that choose not to release through the Mac App Store or applications that Apple is unwilling to approve can still be distributed as they are today.

I think the Mac App Store is going to be huge for users switching from the PC. I can see many of my friends and family members feeling significantly less hesitant to make the switch knowing that they have one place to go if they need to find an application for their new Mac. No need to do any Google searching, just fire up the Mac App Store and they’ll likely find what their looking for in just a few minutes. And, because Apple has approved all of the applications they don’t need to worry about whether or not the application is doing anything nefarious.

The only real worry I have with the Mac App Store is for developers whose applications aren’t able to be approved by Apple. There will always be Mac applications that Apple will never approve for their App Store (Handbrake, Transmission, etc.) and there will also be applications that get rejected for silly reasons, it’ll be even more difficult than it already is for those developers’ applications to get noticed by users if they’re not in the Mac App Store.

MacBook Air

Apple’s final announcement came as no surprise to anyone, a brand new 13.3-inch and 11.6-inch MacBook Air. The new MacBook Air starts at a jaw-dropping $999 for the 11.6-inch model with the 13.3-inch starting at $1,299. All models come with a solid-state disk (SSD), MacBook Pro-style glass trackpad, two USB ports, and NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics and are available today. These new MacBook Airs have a boot time of less than 15 seconds thanks to their SSD and have 5 and 7 hours of battery life for the 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch models respectively. They both feature LED-backlit displays with a resolution of 1366×768 for the 11.6-inch model and 1440×900 for the 13.3-inch model.

Apple has raised the bar even higher for notebook computers and are really giving PC manufacturers a run for their money. $999 for a notebook with a build quality of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air is an unbelievable deal and makes the decision between the MacBook Air and MacBook even more difficult for most. The release of the iPad pushed my planned purchase of a new notebook back 6-12 months and I’m glad it did. When I finally purchase a new notebook the MacBook Air is going to be the perfect choice. I already have an iMac at home and don’t need a notebook to act as my full time computer. I just need it for when I want to do some writing in the living room or when I am going on a trip and want something a little more powerful than my iPad.

When I make the purchase I believe I’ll be getting the 11.6-inch MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD, 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, and 4GB of RAM. That’ll bring my purchase price up to $1,399 but I think I’ll be much happier with the larger drive, faster processor, and you can never have too much RAM. It’s a small price to pay that will increase the life of the computer another year or two.