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Apple Mac-sprucing bores fanbois

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Opinion Apple updated its Mac Mini, iMac, and Mac Pro lines on Tuesday. And what a ho-hum set of updates it was.

Admittedly, Apple-watchers have been spoiled by past announcements. Nostalgia buffs will remember how excitement was high, for example, at the introduction of the original iMac in 1997, the Power Mac G5 in 2003, and - of course - the better-than-rumored iPhone in 2007.

But the Cupertino Fruit Company's recent roll-outs have done little to reward the devotion of Apple fanbois.

When Apple revamped its MacBook line last October, few were dancing in the streets over a unibody aluminum case and greener specs. While the new MacBooks were fine machines (although we're still not enthusiastic about the later-announced 17-inch MacBook's sealed battery), they didn't live up to the expectations engendered by Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer reference to a "future product transition" during an earnings call last July.

And then came Macworld Expo 2009, which included a valiant keynote address by Apple's SVP for Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, during which he attempted to galvanize the gathering with tweaks to iLife and iWork.

Today's announcements continue in the same yawning path. The Mac Pro's move to Nehalem-based Xeon processors was welcome, but it was proof yet again that the best way to predict Apple's speed bumps is to keep your eye on Intel's processor roadmaps and product list.

Doing so would have cooled the jets of those who were expecting Nehalem-based iMacs. Mobile-class Nehalems (iMacs, though desktops, are built with mobile-class components) won't be available until later this year - and there's no way that the iMac's slender confines could handle the 130-watt toastiness of the two existing high-end Nehalem desktop chips, the 2.66GHz Core i7-920 ($284/£202) or the pricey 2.93GHz Core i7-940 ($562/£400).

And speaking of the "new" iMacs introduced today, while their price cuts are welcome, US users are the prime beneficiaries. Due to the recent Meltdown-induced rise of the US dollar, folks purchasing their iMacs in pounds or euros won't benefit.

Then there's the Mac Mini upgrade, which falls into the "About %$#@!ing time" category. Like the other announcements, it's welcome, but it won't make the earth move beneath a fanboi's feet. Thanks for the improved graphics and upgraded ports, Apple, but isn't that industrial design getting a wee bit dated?

The announcements were also notable for what wasn't announced. The iMacs don't have LED-lit displays, such as the company's 24-inch LED Cinema Display. There's no Blu-Ray option, despite the recent simplification of the Blu-Ray licensing morass.

And there's no longer a numeric keypad or forward-delete key on the new standard wired Apple keyboard.

Still, hidden below the top-of-the-line Mac announcements are some welcome niceties, such as the fact that Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme are now 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band 802.11n and that the speed-bumped 15-inch MacBook Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro can now be purchased with a 256GB solid-stated drive (SSD). But why does that SSD costs $825 extra in the 15-incher but only $750 in the 17-incher?

It's all a bit underwhelming. Where's the hoped for mini-tower? The ever-elusive tablet Mac? An updated industrial design for anything?

In the end, Apple's recent caution - or, less kindly, torpor - can be blamed on the ongoing Meltdown. It's simply not a good time for bold, risky moves.

And Apple's not making any. ®

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