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Apple in 2008 - the rising tide

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Not much new came out of Apple all year except the iPhone 3G, then new MacBooks and MacBook Pro laptops. Various other stock Macs got slight hard drive and processor tweaks throughout the year, as is normal, and although the next Mac OS was announced, with some features shown off at the Apple Worldwide Developers' Conference mid year, so-called Mac OS 10 'Snow Leopard' will not be available until (hopefully) the first or second quarter of this year.

Meanwhile everyone's waiting for new iMacs, and perhaps wondering if the Mac Pro towers will ever fundamentally change. The iMac line is definitely a bit tired, but strangely, in the US$2000-plus desktop computer category, Apple finished the year at number 1 in the US.

The Macintosh maker has so far defied critics who say it shouldn't be able to compete with its expensive computers. Apparently, what the world needs now is not love, sweet love, but cheap netbooks. (Hey, love is good, too.) Amazon's Christmas notebook sales emphasise the point - the top 25 sellers comprised seven Acer netbooks, four Asus netbooks, two Samsung netbooks, two MSI netbooks, one OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO laptop, one Lenova Ideapad laptop and one Toshiba Satellite laptop.

Oh, and seven Apple MacBooks!

The seven Apple MacBooks are 'premium-priced' compared to the other offerings.

The rest of the list comprises stripped-down netbooks, heavily discounted Windows notebooks and the 2-for-1 US$100 OLPC laptop designed for developing countries.

Except for the MacBooks and one $599 Toshiba, all the other computers on Amazon's list sold for less than US$500.

The seven MacBooks, by contrast, cost nearly three times as much at an average of US$1473.41 after rebates.

Fortune at CNN says it's almost as if Macintosh buyers were insensitive to price, even in a recession. In fact, the best-selling Apple on that list isn't the cheapest; it's a US$1299 unibody MacBook marked down to $1,218.98. The cheapest Apple - a $999 white MacBook, marked down to $929.99 - is No. 22.

Mac buyers just know they're worth it. Non Mac buyers just don't know that yet.

Meanwhile, desktop Mac sales are supposed to be in the doldrums, yet on Amazon's desktop computer bestseller list, four of the top five are also Macs.

Does that surprise you? As Kiwis, we tend to consider Macs as a small percentage of our little (by dint of population size) computer market. We have a great, creative but small community of long-term enthusiasts. So some look upon us as a slightly crackpot minority.

Except that's a much bigger minority overseas, and we're a subset of that.

The same percentage (say it's seven per cent) of the US and European personal computer markets makes up a vastly bigger group of users. For example, the US-hosted MacBytes  site has several million subscribers; its readers regularly check out links about Apple happenings, and leave comments. If you ever want to check out some, shall we say, less parochial (if not better informed) opinions on Mac topics, sometimes from extremely clued up international developers, users and commentators, check it out.

So Mac computers have been plugging along all 2008, defying expectations, while the iPhone 3G has been the big success story. The iPhone 3G made Apple a serious international contender in the smartphone market.

Why? Apart from being a slick phone with a camera, the apps make it the treat that just keeps on ... well, being a treat. I honestly can't imagine living without mine - it keeps me in touch, it keeps me amused and it keeps me productive. Amazing.

I've said for months that the iPod touch is pretty cool, too. Like the iPhone, it also runs Mobile OS X. Apart from the touch being an email communicator and net surfer inside wireless zones (it can use Fring and other apps for Skype, even), the iPod touch has almost full access to the apps in the App Store also - excluding the few telephonics-only offerings. That includes games using the capabilities of the touch's excellent touch-screen and accelerometer.

iPod touch sales soared before Christmas, once again defying all expectations that in these threatening financial climes people would be looking mostly at the cheaper iPods. Of course, the huge advantage is you don't need a cellphone plan to get a lot from an iPod touch - one payment and breathe easy. Since most people have cellphones anyway, and those on budgets most sensibly would have their mobiles on Prepay, this is not available for the iPhone in some countries (including New Zealand).

Information Week posted a chart of iPod touch browser usage over the week including Christmas Day, registering a sharp increase starting Christmas Eve and peaking Christmas Day. The site also noted App developers report a 2-4x sales boost over Christmas, according to 148apps, a blog following the App Store. Free apps are seeing a 5x boost in downloads. Impressive.

Wired magazine commented: "That's great news all round, but the real eye-opener is that, whereas before everybody carried a music player in their pocket, soon everyone will have a computer in their pockets. Apple might just have reinvented the UMPC without anybody noticing." (Presumably that's ultra miniature personal computer?)

Other than that, 2008 has been a solid year for the tech company, as Steve Jobs worked away at enshrining his vision inside Apple. This is a Really Good Idea considering what happened the last time he left.

 

 

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