Whoof…this is working out to be a hell of a week for Apple news. I was expecting them to release the 2011 MacBooks yesterday, and I was certainly expecting them to include a new combination data/display port that they developed with Intel.
I wasn’t expecting the first developer preview of the next edition of MacOS. It’s terrific news in and of itself: it means that the OS is well on track, and the new elements I’ve seen are pretty exciting.
But my curiosity about next week’s iPad event has been kicked up a few notches. Wednesday would have been the perfect opportunity to quickly walk the media and analysts through some more of Mac OS X 10.7’s new features. As soon as they made the preview available to developers, everybody was going to start writing about it. Apple didn’t have to release the developer preview yesterday. They could easily have done it on the same day as the iPad event.
So it’s…interesting…that Apple passed on this opportunity to walk the press and analysts through their first exposure to 10.7. It would have been a piece of cake to slip a 15-minute Lion highlight reel into Wednesday’s presentation.
One possible explanation: this iPad news is going to be a lot bigger than we’ve supposed.
Another possible explanation: Apple just wants to make sure that the focus is 100% on the iPad news, whatever it is.
The new MacBook arrived in my office this morning and I’ve just had a briefing with a few Apple folks. Here are some bullets from my notes, incorporating both Apple’s pitch and their answers to my questions.
- The new Sandy Bridge CPUs have integrated GPUs. Part of the whole point of this architecture is to put as much as possible on the chip. Yes, reducing the physical distance between sections of the system results in increased speeds; I remind you that the speed of light remains a constant. The machine also has a conventional outboard Radeon graphics accelerator. Whenever a GPU-intensive app (like Aperture, Photoshop, games) is launched, the MacBook switches to the Radeon, system-wide.
- Why bother with two GPUs? So that the MacBook can choose between “optimal power consumption” and “optimum graphics performance” on the fly.
- The new iSight HD chat camera shoots 720p video in widescreen format.
- The cited battery life of the new MacBooks is lower than their predecessors (7 hours). This is actually due to a new testing protocol that Apple feels is more accurate. The automated test mimics real user behavior by visiting websites, playing Flash content, etc. Apple claims that 2010 MacBooks benchmark a little below the 2011 models using the new battery test.
- Thunderbolt isn’t controlled by proprietary licensing, as the iPod/iPad dock connector is. Any manufacturer can make any kind of Thunderbolt cable or device they wish. They just need to buy Intel’s controller chip. So if (for example) someone wanted to take advantage of the 10 watts on that port and manufacture a Thunderbolt to USB cable that could fast-charge an iPad or iPhone, they could go right ahead and do that.
- Is it suitable for mobile devices? Like…I dunno…phones and tablets? No comment. But vis a vis its implementation in the MacBooks, Apple is pleased with Thunderbolt’s power management features.
- These MacBooks can’t boot off a drive attached to the Thunderbolt port. Not today. Target Disk Mode will work, however.
- Thunderbolt incorporates two independent and bidirectional channels. The theoretical max speed is 10 Gbps, but if Apple wanted to get cute with the numbers they could claim that its absolute theoretical max throughput is 40 (as in: a 10 gig transaction up and a 10 gig transaction down on each of the two channels).
- Data and display interfaces are on separate channels. A big data transaction shouldn’t interfere with the performance of your display.
- The data interface is essentially PCI. So engineering a FireWire to Thunderbolt connector would be more similar to “wiring up a cable” than “designing a bridge controller.”
Mac OS Lion Developer Preview
- iOS-style multitouch is all over the place. In Preview, for instance, you can turn pages by dragging, just like in iBooks. The familiar “double-tap to zoom” behavior in the iOS version of Safari is in the desktop edition. Etc.
- Autosave and Versions are now integrated at the OS level. If an app want to support a “Time Machine”-style rewind of a document to the state it was in a week ago, Lion provides all of the machinery for that.
- “Resume” lets you suspend apps the way you do in iOS. Rather than an app relaunching and re-opening the windows you had open the last time you ran it, Lion simply freezes the app in its current state and then restores it.
- An existing app that has a fullscreen mode can support Lion’s new Fullscreen feature by hooking into the new infrastructure. They won’t necessarily need to write a new Lion-ey fullscreen mode.
- The Lion version of FileVault allows for a (yes, iOS-style) “remote wipe” of user data: Lion just burns the only copy of the key that it needs to decrypt the user’s directory.
The Lion discussion had a consistent theme: there are a lot of iPad concepts that translate nicely to the desktop. Silly people have mused on that idea and imagined that Mac OS X would inevitably turn into a tablet-style, multitouch OS, if it even continued to exist at all. But when Apple talks about bringing iOS features to the desktop, they’re just referring to features that make the iPad slightly more awesome, like remote-nuking a stolen computer, and being able to close an app without having to spend five minutes closing all of its windows and saving its data.
Many of these features have nothing to do with multitouch…though yes, absolutely, you can expect to grope your Lion a lot more than you pawed your Leopard.
I remind you that all of the above are just notes copied down from what Apple said. I haven’t researched my review yet…and it’ll be a number of months before we can understand the full scope of these statements. Overall, I’m pretty excited about Lion. It appears that the Mac OS is about to receive a sorely-needed shot in the arm. It’s always a good thing when I get a briefing and think “Man, I know exactly how I’d use that feature…” at several different points.