The end of the calendar year is a good time to review currently available hardware, falling as it does near the end of the tax year for most businesses, and with several federal holidays for changing and configuring equipment with minimal loss of work time. In years past, Apple would announce new product at January’s MacWorld Expo, but those days are thankfully behind us now. With new products announced throughout the year, now is still a terrific time to review Apple’s current hardware line to consider what is on the horizon and whether now is the time to replace previous equipment.
Timing Purchases for New Equipment
With constant advances in computer technology over the past twenty years, it often seems as if waiting is the best strategy. With a history of better, faster and less expensive products every year, some are reluctant to buy anything, ever. Fear of buying something at full price just before it is replaced by a better and less expensive version is rational, but considering just a few factors can help to make better decisions.
Product Cycles, Useful Life and Technical Generations
Human things tend to move in cycles. Those who have been around technology appreciate this, and it is evident in the history of Apple. Technology also tends to advance in stages, and these can also be observed and anticipated.
Apple’s products can broadly be placed into major categories: hardware or software, desktops or laptops, professional or consumer, key components or peripherals. With design, production and marketing considerations, it never makes sense for Apple to update everything at once, and so each product is on its own “refresh cycle,” which can be anticipated. If you are looking to purchase a Mac Mini, one can look at the history of this product and see that a new model or set of models is announced approximately every 250 days. With the last revision in October of this year, it is reasonable to assume that the next model will be out sometime mid-year. By understanding this cycle one can then wait for new models to be announced and then decide whether to purchase that model or try to pick up the “day old bread” of the current model then, at a reduced price.
Another key thing to watch for are technical changes. Often one key technology or feature will change, creating new opportunities or making current equipment obsolete. The original RJ-11 plugs on the Macintosh keyboard, for example, were replaced by ADB, which was then replaced by the current USB standard. Old 68K chips were replaced with the PPC series, G3/G4/G5 and then Intel, as SCSI disappeared and then two flavors of FireWire behind it. These are in addition to major software changes such as the transition from OS 7.x to 8, then 9 then the various flavors of OS X. Each change in a key technology presents challenges and opportunities that are worth considering.
Although I would certainly never suggest living one’s life based on the various Apple and Mac rumor sites, appreciating generational changes can help to make wiser decisions. As importantly, it helps to appreciate Apple’s uncanny ability to make even minor product updates look much cooler and more important than they are. However shiny and sparkly Steve Jobs’ presentation may be, it never makes sense to buy a computer one does not need, except for psychological reasons such as a mid-life crisis.
How long one keeps a machine depends on a lot of things. For some it is budget, for others job function, extended warranty or support costs. As long as a machine is doing the job it needs to do, plays well with others and is productive without disruptive frustration, I generally tend not to replace it. Some video-content producers really do need a new professional machine every two years. I replace my own machines every three years or so, as AppleCare expires. I recommend that businesses plan to replace every computer workstation every five years, but also have clients who are happily running cash registers on 15-year-old machines or reading their email on original CRT iMacs over telephone modems. Make hardware decisions that are right for you.
Apple’s Product Line for December 2009
Below is a quick summary of Apple’s main product lines as of December 7, 2009. The release date for each model is noted in parenthesis, along with basic info on full retail pricing at Apple’s web site. Machines are listed in price order, from least to most expensive.
Apple Desktops: Minis, iMacs and Mac Pros
Most of my clients prefer desktops and I generally recommend Mac Mini’s for businesses and those on a budget. Families and smaller offices often prefer iMacs because they are self-contained and physically beautiful. Anyone who can avoid buying a Mac Pro or an X-Serve should, in my judgement. Unless otherwise specified, higher-priced desktops contain all features of lower-priced models and only improvements are noted here.
- $599 Mac Mini (Oct09) 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 160GB HD, 8x DL Super-Drive
- Mac Mini (Oct09) 2.53GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB HD
- $999 Mac Mini (Oct09) Dual 500 GB HD w 10.6 Server
- $1199 21″ iMac (Oct09) with 3.06GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB HD
- $1499 21″ iMac (Oct09) with 1TB HD, better graphics card
- $1699 27″ iMac (Oct09)
- $1999 27″ iMac (Oct09) 2.66GHz Intel Core i5, better graphics card
- $2499 Mac Pro Quad Core (Mar09) 2.66GHz “Nehalem”, 3GB RAM, 640 GB HD, 16x DL Superdrive
- $3299 Mac Pro Eight Core (Mar09) Two 2.66GHz “Nehalem”, 6 GB RAM
- $2999 X-Serve Quad Core (Apr09) 2.66 GHz “Nehalem,” 3 GB, 160 GB, 10.6 Server
- $3599 X-Serve Eight Core (Apr09) Two 2.66 GHz “Nehalem”
Apple Portables: MacBooks and MacBook Pros
For singles and professionals (especially the self-employed) I generally recommend a portable computer, with AppleCare and a good backup strategy against catastrophic loss. An external hard drive using Time Machine is plenty, so long as you’ll plug into it at least weekly. Based on past client experiences, I am not a huge fan of the MacBook Air.
- $999 MacBook 13″ (Oct09) 2.26GHz, 2GB RAM, 250 GB HD, 8x DL SuperDrive
- $1199 13″ MacBook Pro (Jun09) 2.26GHz, 2GB RAM, 160 GB HD, 8x DL SuperDrive
- $1499 13″ MacBook Pro (Jun09) 2.53GHz, 4GB RAM, 250 GB HD
- $1699 15″ MacBook Pro (Jun09) 2.53GHz, 4GB RAM, 250 GB HD
- $1999 15″ MacBook Pro (Jun09) 2.53GHz, 4GB RAM, 320 GB HD, better graphics
- $2299 15″ MacBook Pro (Jun09) 2.66GHz, 4GB RAM, 500 GB HD, even better graphics
- $2499 17″ MacBook Pro (Jun09)
- $1499 MacBook Air (Jun09) 1.86GHz, 2GB RAM, 120 GB HD, no optical drive
- $1799 MacBook Air (Jun09) 2.13GHz, 2GB RAM, 128GB solid-state HD
Apple Handhelds & Media Players: iPhones, iPods, AppleTV
- $49 iPod Shuffle 2GB (Sep09) available in five colors, 4GB @ $49, stainless steel @ $99
- $149 iPod Nano 8GB (Sep09) available in colors, 16GB @ $179
- $199 iPod Touch (Sep09)
- $249 iPod Classic 160GB (Sep09)
- $499 iPhone 3G 8GB (Jun09)
- $599 iPhone 3GS 16 GB (Jun09) available in black or white
- $699 iPhone 3GS 32 GB (Jun09) available in black or white
- $99 Airport Express
- $179 Airport Extreme (Oct09)
- $299 1TB Time Capsule
- $499 2TB Time Capsule
- $29 “Snow Leopard” Mac OS 10.6 (Aug09)
- $49 “Snow Leopard” Mac OS 10.6 family pack
- $79 iWork 09 (Jan09) with $99 family pack available
- $79 iLife 09 (Jan09) with $99 family pack available
- $169 “Mac Box Set” w Mac OS 10.6, iWork 09 & iLife 09
- $229 “Mac Box Set” family pack
- $199 Aperture 2 (Feb08)
- $199 Final Cut Express 4 (Nov07)
- $999 Final Cut Studio 2 with FCP 6 (Apr07)
Other Software of Note
FileMaker Pro version 10 released in January of 2009 and rumors about a new version are scarce. QuickBooks 2010 was released in October of 2009, and I anticipate no updates for a year or two. New versions of both Microsoft Office and Adobe CS (Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design, etc) are expected to release mid-year 2010.
Help with Technology Planning
For help with technology planning, including business-wide data planning, documentation, maintenance and disaster recovery, please consider phoning MacRory.com at (360) 666-7679. Now may or may not be the right time for new equipment, but it is always the right time to evaluate your computer systems to see if they are doing what they should or if there is a way for them to help you save money by working more efficiently.
Rory Bowman of MacRory.com may be reached by phone at (360) 666-7679 and a one-hour intake consultation to discuss your needs is almost always free. Happy new year!
May 2010 be your best year yet.