2007 has almost certainly been the year in which Apple has established itself as a genuine (perhaps even the) force to be reckoned with. Even as this magazine hits the streets, there’ll no doubt already be a clamour to be among the first in the UK to own the ultra-desirable Apple iPhone. The new iPod Classic and iPod nano continue to set the benchmark for the rest of the MP3 players – no mean feat given the multitude of competitors – while the iPod touch offers a neat compromise that falls somewhere between the iPods and the iPhone.
And then, of course, there’s the continual progress of Apple in the desktop market. In contrast to the sullen, bland and, frankly, rather fitful PC, the Mac has always had a reputation for being friendly, stable and easy to use. Traditionally, this hasn’t prevented it from falling far behind on sales, since the PC has always had one rather significant advantage – its modular design. Whereas each Mac is a specific creation, designed and crafted by just one company, the PC amounts to little more than a set of specifications. Anyone could (and still can) take a case and fit it out with a motherboard, CPU, graphics card and memory configuration of their choice. And perhaps more significantly, anyone could design and sell their own components.
Back in the glorious nineties, when the PC was in its infancy and profit margins were blossoming, there were any number of small companies constantly launching fantastic new products. Many of these were, in their own way, truly innovative and would send the PC to ever higher heights. And, of course, this constant jockeying for position amongst the multitude of companies would ensure that the price of technology was always falling. Most markets were very undeveloped, so new components came on in leaps and bounds. Twelve months after buying a PC, the technology would have jumped forwards to such a degree that your former barnstormer now seemed a positive dinosaur.
Now, of course, it’s very different. Most of the small companies have long since gone out of business or have been gobbled up by mightier and hungrier foes, with the result that just one or two names now dominate most areas. There’s very little that’s truly new or revolutionary in today’s PC market. We expect the freshly-launched Intel Penryn chips to do very well for themselves in the next year or two. But they aren’t really a staggering advance over the processors we were reviewing a year ago. Indeed, the actual speed of PC systems has only gone up in small increments in recent times.
Which plays very nicely into Apple’s hands. With most new Macs coming with many of the same components that you’ll find in a typical PC, Apple Macs are no longer technologically backwards. Which means that the things that they do rather well (the operating system, the software, the ease of use) should now become even more prized. And with software such as Fusion 1.0, Macs can now happily run Windows applications without the user even having to reboot their machine.
Of course, the battleground of the future won’t necessarily continue to pit Windows vs Apple. More and more, customers are wanting small machines that can carry out specific tasks. Whether we’re talking about Media Centres or miniature laptops like the exciting Asus Eee PC, these systems don’t have to be good at everything, and so don’t need acres of processing power. This makes them very suitable for light operating systems like the many Linux variants. You can expect to see far more of Linux appearing on the computers of the future. These OSes are open source which means that anyone is free to redesign and add to them as they see fit. Just like the PC’s modular design, in fact. If we want to guess at the success of the future, we’d do well to first study the triumphs of the PC’s illustrious past.