Los Altos, California

Intermittent closures of I-5 over the Siskiyou summit led Dave and me to take the coastline down to the Bay Area. The drive of beautiful winding roads through tall Redwood forests only partially offset the pain of an extra 2.5 hours in the car. We encountered torrential rain from Eureka down to Los Altos, an experience which Dave deserves some kind of medal for completing seeing as how he drove most of it.

The night before we left I was sadly up late doing computer work for a client which had to be finished prior to departure. This led me to sleep much of the trip down, and be only partially refueled mentally on day one of MacWorld. Nonetheless, here are some early impressions and thoughts:

Apple’s Mac mini is a $499 home run. Anyone who has complaints about the high price of Macs after this is hereby branded a skinflint. Honestly, I don’t know what else Apple could do to sell a Mac and still make a reasonable profit. The Mac mini is only 2 inches x 6.5 inches with a slot load drive on the front and all the ports in the back. Given its size, it’s almost like a portable. And with a 1.25-GHz G4, it’s a decently powerful machine. Perfect computer for PC switchers who are likely to already have monitor and USB keyboard and mouse (none of which are supplied with the mini). Also fantastic as a second Mac (take note, Mom and Dad).

You can order it with optional Airport Extreme, Bluetooth, and SuperDrive. It also comes in a $599 version that includes 1.42-GHz G4 and 80 MB hard drive (versus the standard 40). For most people, I think the $499 version will be the right choice. It’s an amazing deal, and one which I think will hammer the accelerator/upgrade market for older Macs. Dave was looking at a 1-GHz G4 upgrade for his B&W G3/300. Show special for that accelerator is $369. Now for $130 more, he can get a whole new machine that is literally better in every respect. If people don’t line up around the proverbial block to buy these things, I will be stunned.

Apple’s iPod Shuffle is another knock-it-out-of-the-park hit. I may have been wrong about the iPod mini—I didn’t think it made sense at a $249 price point, and I was obviously about as wrong as a person can be. But a flash-based $99 iPod that is even smaller (.78 of an ounce) than the iPod mini will be the sales item of the year. There is no price break for education customers off the $99 retail price, so its a reasonable hypothesis that the iPod Shuffle represents a market share grab by Apple. Steve Jobs admits it’s early in the digital music revolution. Without gizmos that promote the iTunes Music Store as the one stop shopping solution, Apple might eventually be in some trouble. The iPod Shuffle is Apple’s latest attempt to insure that they stay at the forefront of digital music. I think it’s a winner to the point that I’m strongly considering a purchase myself and I have very little need for one.

I also like the upgrades to iLife, though I find them less compelling than the hardware offerings. The updates to iPhoto and Garage Band are certainly welcome, but the iMovie and iDVD revisions seemed minor. iTunes is, except for a smaller security tweak, unchanged and remains freely downloadable.

Perhaps I need to look at iWork ’05 more closely. Although I own the original Keynote application, I’ve never been a fan of presentation software. I didn’t see anything in Keynote 2 to change my mind. Pages, Apple’s new word processor, seems like something of an AppleWorks upgrade, but outside of some admittedly nifty templates I’m not convinced it brings anything new to the table. In other words, Microsoft Word for Mac is unlikely to see many converts.

We played with the Mac OS 10.4 (aka “Tiger”) demo and I’m prepared to pronounce it a fun and sporty good time. Due in the first half of 2005, I dare say that anyone who can run it will want to. My credit card will certainly be at the ready.

More on the show soon, including (I hope) some audio….