news of 2004-12-30

Making sense of that headless Mac rumour

Ever since Apple killed the clones (1997) and restructured their product matrix, many people asked themselves why Apple left out a really basic desktop Mac, like the PowerMacintosh 4400 once was (which was based on a cheaper motherboard design Apple licensed to clone makers). The iMac came but didn't leave people entering the Mac market with a choice without screen. We've discussed a 'headless Mac' a few times here on (cMac as in consumer Mac or 'cheap' Mac) ourselves, but Apple obviously was afraid it would eat into iMac and eMac as well as lower-level PowerMac sales, where Apple can get bigger margins.

The past few days now have shown a renewal of this "rumour that just doesn't want to die". So for a moment, let's assume that rumour is right and we'll see it at MWSF in January 2005. (And let's not think much about MOSR's claim of it being a "compact design reminiscent of Xserve meets iPod, with a hint of G4 Cube", since that would be what, a slim design in white colour with, erh, no success? I don't quite get that Cube part...) ;)

ThinkSecret first broke this story in this article, shortly after sources of our own indicated it "could be". We didn't at the time post the rumour, because as we've said at the beginning of this article, people often mused about such a Mac, and it just didn't seem as if Apple was "in" to such an idea. Now, assuming that those sources are right we could see what we've discussed here in March 2004 and here in November 2003. (Given the age of these articles, the specs are of course out of date by now...)

There's one thought that we think is important here: Apple probably always has wanted to do this. Ever since killing the clones. But the time just wasn't right. (Bear with me...) Back then, the image Apple and the Mac had in the press around the world was that it was going to die sooner or later. And if a doomed company releases a very cheap product, its image is basically doomed. But the iPod changed all that. Because when you're successful and you bring out a cheaper product, it's going to attract the 'second round' of adopters. And while Apple's try to sell the new iMac with a bit of iPod-halo effect seemed more like an afterthought without much success potential, this machine could simply make it. Just think about it... The iPod was probably the success story this holiday season. Apple was ready to sell a lot of them, and reports are in that they did sell a lot of them. And now Apple brings you the real thing in form of this 'cMac' (although it probably wouldn't call it that, would they? ;)) - and it's affordable, too! And it can re-use a PC-owner's TFT or CRT display and probably the USB printer as well! Yes, let's conquer the world. Virus-free and in Aqua style, baby.
Then again, this all is assuming that those sources are right. It's assuming that Apple feels ready for such a move. Let's just say: It would make sense and I'd finally buy another desktop computer again.

[ written by fryke™ on 2004-12-30 at 21:16 CET ]
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Review: Nokia Communicator 9500

It's not usually a very bright idea to get a new smartphone from Nokia before there's at least one firmware upgrade and before Apple gets its act together to support the phone in iSync. That's a little bit different with the new Communicator, although I still want iSync capability as soon as possible - and a firmware upgrade will eventually fix some bugs and speed things up. But don't misunderstand me here: The bugs are rare and the communicator feels finished, so if you want one: Get one.

The reasons why I intended to buy this communicator (and now bought it) actually make iSync somewhat useless. Because once you've started organising your life on the 9500, you're stopping to use iCal or any other PIM-device you might have. The reason why mobile phones need synching to your Mac is that they themselves are very restricted, usually. Sure, you can enter information on a (reasonably) smart phone like a SonyEricsson T610, S700 or the likes. You can enter them even better with a palmOne Tréo or some variant of those PocketPCs with GSM features. But you'll still want the same info on your computer, because the device just isn't enough PDA (personal digital assistant) and just isn't enough on its own. At least if you're like me.
I'll need iSync probably once every three months, as soon as it connects to the Nokia Communicator 9500, because I'll do everything on the device itself - and with an MMC of 512 MB (sold separately and they're quite cheap nowadays, a smaller or bigger one will do, too), I can back up the communicator's 80 MB easily, so I don't have to fear to lose all my information, should the device ever crash so hard that it can't read its data and needs a total reset.

The Nokia Communicator 9500 doesn't come cheap, but it's complete and will serve you well for more time than 'just' another smart phone. It has an integrated keyboard that easily lets you handle your office and PIM needs. Yes, you can get your E-Mail (through GPRS, HSCSD and WiFi!) with attachments, and if the attachment is, say, a Word file, you can even edit it and send it back without damaging it too badly. So for short weekend trips away from home, the weight of the 9500 (222g) actually lightenes my package, since I don't have to lug my PowerBook around, unless I need to do some serious graphical work.

Now to the middle part of this review: The desillusional part (the really bad stuff comes last, after this paragraph). The Nokia Communicator 9500 is a business tool. It won't surprise you with many bells and whistles. It will not become your gameboy and although it does feature an MP3 player, it probably won't replace your iPod, either. You can install some games, too, but basically: This tool's reduced to its primary focus, and that's an office away from the office. You can SMS, MMS, fax and E-Mail - whether you're at a WiFi hotspot or out in the field on a GPRS (or EDGE, but we don't have that here yet) network or a good old GSM data connection. You can browse the web using the integrated Opera browser, but the screen's small and the browser a bit slow with complex sites, so you'll probably use that for googling information and download a new eBook or two to use with the free MobiPocket Reader or Adobe Reader. MemoWare has the free books for it. Reading eBooks, btw., is very good in the two column mode! But if it's serious gaming you want for leisure, I suggest to either stick with a gameboy, an N-Gage or simply stay at home instead of going out. ;)

Now for the bad stuff.

Yes, I still miss iSync. I have many contacts and had to enter them by hand. Sure, this process allows me to clean things up (i.e. get rid of all the contacts I've assembled over the years that don't serve any purpose any longer, like for example the hotline for Sony Clié problemsolving), but the initial setup of the device this way takes much longer than needed. PC people can use the dreaded PC-Suite from Nokia, which I hear is better now than a few years ago, but we want iSync, don't we.
Then there's a certain slowness for application starting. Once the apps are open, switching between them is okay, but if for example Opera (or Adobe Reader, or MobiPocket Reader) isn't started yet, it takes a few seconds to get it running. I can adapt to that by keeping the important apps open, but the fact that I have to adapt tells me something's wrong with Nokia here. ;) But as usually with their phones, the second or third firmware version will be a lot better in this aspect. So we'll have to wait for those.
And the third bad point is nit-picking on my part. There'll soon be the smaller sister of the 9500, the 9300. It's smaller and lighter. Almost like a normal mobile phone in closed state. Does the WiFi part really take up so much space? Or is it the camera that I don't need? I wish the 9500 were as small as the 9300 (but still with WiFi) and that Apple would get its act together for synching this wonderful PDA to my Mac.

But to sum things up: The Nokia Communicator is still (ever since the original Nokia Communicator 9000, actually) the best connected PDA around. This newest version builds on the older ones and brings important changes (Bluetooth, WiFi, GPRS, finally enough memory) that make it a "must-have" upgrade for users of older versions.

[ written by fryke™ on 2004-12-30 at 14:46 CET ]
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Will Apple support my new smartphone?

A while ago, I talked about how Apple needs to be faster in supporting new phones through iSync. (Here and here...) Well... I have a Nokia Communicator 9500 now. While I intend to keep it as my only device for calendar information, it would still be nice to synch contact information. Sadly, Apple still doesn't support new phones very fast... Why? Is it really that difficult? The last time I talked about this, someone informed me that actually, Apple does not use SyncML as transport language. But after digging a little bit, I guess it just depends on which mobile phones we're talking and actually, iSync acts as a SyncML server - yet it doesn't automatically understand any SyncML client. Hopefully, newer versions of iSync will come out soon with support for quite a few newer smartphones that are currently not supported. And not just that 9500 I just bought. Also some Series 60 devices (which should be the same to support like the already supported Nokia 6600, 7650 etc.). If you want to help me out here: Go to and suggest support for Series 80 (Nokia 9500, 9300) and newer Series 60 phones (Nokia 7610, 6630, 6260), too.

[ written by fryke™ on 2004-12-30 at 11:07 CET ]
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