iBook and iMac: Sibling Rivalry?
Jul 23, 1999
So the good news is that iBook is all set to ship 'in quantity' in September, which brings to a climax the pent-up demand over many months for the elusive consumer portable, as Apple finally pieces together the jigsaw puzzle of its hardware product strategy.
Personally, and judging by the overwhelming response to the unveiling of iBook, the long wait has not been in vain. Whilst all along, the main preoccupation had been about what iBook would look like, what flavors it would offer, and other more cosmetic concerns, the true marvel of iBook turns out to be its technology instead: wireless local area networking dubbed as AirPort, which was jointly developed between Apple Computer and Lucent Technologies. My reckoning is that this feature alone will single-handedly propel the iBook to stratospheric sales levels, as the iBook would have been just a pretty flat iMac otherwise, if you'll pardon the pun.
But it is precisely because the iBook has phenomenal success written all over it that you begin to wonder where that leaves its older sibling, the iMac. Are the two really complementary to each other? Because if they are, then everything's fine. Or will there be sibling rivalry? Will consumers have a tough time deciding between one and the other? Or will the iBook draw customers away from the iMac?
If you recall, the iMac almost began life with a deprecated 33.6K modem, was interesting in its introduction of IrDA, intriguing for that little metal plate concealing the mysterious 'mezzanine' slot, irritating for its So Really Shrill (SRS) surround sound, and infuriating to many for its round mouse. However, the iBook dispenses with unnecessary trappings and is instead packaged with no-nonsense essential features spearheaded of course by its elegant wireless networking capability. It's a winner even before the gates swing open. And at a data transfer rate of 11Mbps (about 1.4MB per second) via AirPort technology, Apple can now convincingly say R.I.P. To Floppies Forever! (Can floppies pass through solid walls? Nooo...)
And so it's hard not to be convinced that the edge iBook has over iMac is sufficiently strong in several areas as to possibly impact iMac sales significantly. Frankly, the iMac now has little to offer that the iBook hasn't, which is why the next incarnation of iMacs will have to be pretty radically different and offer things the iBook can't (like FireWire, better bass, kick-ass game performance, and a bigger display).
Now that the launch of iBook has been set for September, and The Apple Store has already begun taking orders, resellers will soon be banging down Apple's doors to get a piece of the action as well. And the iMac, at least in its present incarnation, will quite likely have to take a backseat to make room for the new darling of the consumer crowd. To put it another way: Would you go out today to buy an iMac, knowing that in less than two months from now, iBook will be available, and not even have second thoughts? I thought so.
So in the natural progression of things, Apple would probably have to think of the different scenarios precipitated by the iBook's introduction, and respond to them according to what its objectives are. Some possible events to look out for in the horizon:
Significant markdowns of the present batch of iMacs to clear stocks before the next-generation iMacs arrive, which will have to be soon so as to maintain sales momentum, but almost certainly not until after the iBook has had at least a good 4- to 8-week head-start in sales. In anticipation of the transition, production levels of the current iMacs will probably be scaled back in the next two months to keep inventory levels trim (for the US market, at least) with production channeled mainly to other markets like Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Like the iMac, introduction of the iBook to the different continents is expected to be in phases so as not to tax the production plants unduly, and hence the impact of the iBook on sales of the iMac may not be as immediately felt in these regions, and sales could still be sustained.
The C2 iMacs will appear not earlier than October. Firstly, it is expected be a significant enough model transition (it'll look different, for one thing) to warrant a reasonably high-profile media event, and there doesn't appear to be any suitable event scheduled in this timeframe, unless Apple creates one. (Remember the October 14th Event?) Even then, it would not serve Apple well to have such an event so soon after the launch of the iBook in September as to distract consumers. Delaying the introduction to early next year however (say, Macworld San Francisco), would indicate that Apple is prepared to let demand for the existing generation of iMacs ease for a while (in other words, Apple accepts a temporary slowdown in iMac sales), and make the iBook the focus of media and consumer attention during the intervening period before the transition takes place.
Let's see what happens.
AirPort Imposes Luggage Limit
A recent article had remarked that AirPort technology enables several iBook users to access different sites on the Internet simultaneously on the same modem connection without any drop in performance, and deemed it remarkable. To clear any possible ambiguity, it is unlikely that any device could have a multiplier effect on a modem's performance, meaning if 3 users share the same modem connection, the modem bandwidth is split 3 ways, pure and simple. I believe though that the wireless data rate of 11Mbps between iBooks is independent of the number of users, up to the maximum network capacity of 10.
FAQ no. 11 of Apple's TIL Article 60430 states quite clearly:
Will my modem connection slow down if I'm using AirPort?
"No. If you use a V.90 connection you'll still have up to 56 kilobits per second to SHARE AMONG all the computers using your AirPort Hardware Access Point."
Hope that clears things up.
Sherlock 2 holds the promise of offering consumers the economics ideal of Perfect Market Knowledge, or so it seems. With 'live' price comparisons possible using Sherlock 2, you'd expect customer confidence to be boosted substantially, and purchasing indecisions to be minimized, without needing to even 'shop around' online. If buying decisions can be proved to be arrived at much quicker because of Sherlock 2, it'll make the search facility a bit of an e-commerce goldmine, wouldn't it?
That Pesky Reset Button
Why couldn't Apple just spare a moment to write a brief TIL note about why we have to poke a straightened paper clip into a tiny hole to restart an iMac when it freezes? If there was a technical rationale for the inconvenience, I'm sure many would like to hear it.
Thankfully, it almost never happens these days. Must be either the new OS or the latest ROM Update.
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