It's a kind of Magic

Not a heck of a lot really came out of Apple's hardware announcements this week.

Sure, the new 27" iMacs are dead sexy not-so-little beasts. They're greener than they used to be, although you'll have to be careful how you dispose of their corpses a few years from now. Still, they're basically speed bumps internally and externally, not a complete redesign of the iMac line, as happened between the G4 and G5 iMacs.

Likewise, the new plastic MacBooks are pretty much just a price cut and presumably a factory somewhere that spits out MacBook Pro Unibody Aluminium models being switched over to spitting out the odd plastic case in more or less the same style. The new Mac Minis are likewise a speed bump with the notable exception of the Mac OS X Server 10.6 model. That's kind of cool, and an interesting play on Apple's part — although a walk through the Apple Store in Sydney yesterday didn't show the company particularly pitching the Mac Mini that hard. Some things, it seems, never change.

As an aside, having walked through the Apple Store yesterday, if you haven't checked out the rather awesome pics of what happens when the glass in an Apple store cracks, visit this story now. Given they used suction cups to get the glass out — and this is exactly what you do with an iMac or iPhone to get to the innards — this means that the Apple Sydney store is, in a manner of speaking, just one gigantic iMac. I wonder — does that mean my iMac has lots of little bright-shirted folk running around just behind the screen selling processes and services?

Getting back on track, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a speed bump. Or a price cut. I'm still doing the sums between going the whole hog and picking up a Core i7 iMac, or getting a new white MacBook and a Mac Mini for about the same amount of money.

So what does that leave as Apple's major, lets-get-some-headlines-in-the-face-of-that-other-company's-launch announcement?

The Magic Mouse.

Apple makes some of the best hardware in the business in notebooks and desktops. Paradoxically, it also makes some of the worst at a given price point in peripherals. Yes, some of that is my personal opinion. It's just that I'd strongly argue that it's a pretty well-informed opinion. I've reviewed more peripherals than I'd care to think about for more than a decade. I've seen them all, from premium keyboards with leather hand rests to keyboards shaped like fish to keyboards with an unfortunate habit of losing keys when banged only once or twice against a wall.

Apple's not quite in that bracket but, then again, it doesn’t charge as if it were. If I buy a $5 mouse, I expect it to be pretty ordinary. If I buy a $99 mouse, on the other hand ...

My views on the Mighty Mouse are no great secret; I've never thought there was a product that was so badly named. The Mighty Mouse, to put it simply, just isn't that mighty. The nicest thing I could say about the Mighty Mouse is that it works ... just. Certainly not enough to justify the price tag to my mind, especially when better alternatives from Logitech and (ducks tomatoes) Microsoft exist.

Yeah, I said that. Microsoft makes significantly better hardware than Apple in the peripheral arena.

If your brand loyalty ties you to Apple and only to Apple, I've got to say that you're missing out on the best tools for the job. A Mac with a good keyboard and mouse — and I'd say that does mean one NOT made by Apple — is a sublime combination. Then again, I am rather manic about trying to use the best tools for the job at hand, which is why I work mostly on a Mac, except when I'm out and about and switch to a Netbook. Still no Apple Netbook. Sigh.

But where does this leave the “Magic Mouse”?

Apple invited me in for a very brief press briefing and play with the Magic Mouse on Thursday afternoon. I didn't get enough time to test the little beast comprehensively to speak of, so what follows represents pretty much just my first impressions of it.

It is better than the Mighty Mouse. I don't want to throw it at a wall, for a start. I don't have $99 to waste, realistically speaking.

In terms of gestures, right and left clicking were OK, and the virtual scroll wheel works fairly well. I do think however that removing the scroll ball, while geeky-clever, isn't that great a step unless you're comparing it only to the easily gunked Mighty Mouse scroll ball. I've never had scroll wheel problems over a dozen or so other mice from other vendors, and my initial impression is that it's a bit gimmicky overall. Having to hit a keyboard key and stroke the mouse to zoom? How is that more efficient, exactly?

I know that MacTheMag’s Editor, he of the hairy chin, wanted a more flexible external touchpad-style product, and while that wasn't something I was hanging out for, what the Magic Mouse does almost makes it feel like a halfway house to that kind of product. In essence, it's a touchpad in a mouse form factor, and I'm not entirely sure that's a great combination given you're never going to have exactly the right number of fingers to move the mouse body and perform more complex gestures without moving away from whatever it is you're trying to click, zoom or twirl upon.

There are undeniably better mice out there. There are some limited external touchpads out there, albeit none that I know of with real multi-touch capability. The marriage of the two doesn't, at least at first glance, excite me quite enough to part with $99. I think I'd rather have a really good mouse, or a really good touchpad, but I've got to wait for a bit more testing time to really be sure.

What do you think? Which announcements this week excited you, and why? Should Alex just stop whinging about the Mighty Mouse and get on with work? Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!


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