Mac Musings

Apple's Digital Hub Report Card: Current Grade, B+

Daniel Knight - 2007.04.26

Back in 2001, Steve Jobs announced that the Mac would become the digital hub that would tie our digital lifestyles and digital gear together.

How far have we come?

Digital Audio: A+

The iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Store have propelled Apple to the center of the digital music world. The iPod is the leading brand of digital music player, Apple's iTunes Store completely dominates the legal downloadable digital music market, and iTunes is the best thing ever for ripping your CDs, buying music, organizing your audio library, burning CDs, and listening to podcasts.

Even if you use Windows.

With Apple beginning to support DRM-free music, it earns extra credit and an A+.

Digital Photos: A

Any digital camera I've plugged into my Mac has been immediately recognized, launching iPhoto, and asking if I want to import my images. Ditto for plugging the memory cards into a card reader. Quick recognition, launch of iPhoto, ask to import. Perfect.

You can even order photos and books of your photos through iPhoto, although I've never had any reason to do so.

On top of all that, iPhoto integrates with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or whatever other image editing program you specify for when you want to do things iPhoto doesn't support.

Digital Video: A-

iMovie lets you import video from your digital camcorder and edit it, and iDVD lets you burn your movies to disc. It's a high quality but still relatively slow process, and the switch to Intel has made a big improvement in how long it takes to process video.

Still, no matter what Mac you're using, it takes a lot of time to convert between formats - first importing into iMovie, than into iDVD. It's far better than it used to be, but it's far from seamless or transparent; you know your computer is hard at work because these processes bog down all of your cores.

iTunes and the iTunes Store expanded to video, and then came the video iPod. You can now buy slightly less than DVD quality videos through Apple and watch them on your Mac or PC, your video iPod, and - with the advent of Apple TV - a modern television.

Recording Digital Audio: A

GarageBand makes it easy to record multitrack music, and the most recent version also includes a lot of podcasting features. It's nothing I've worked with, but praise for GarageBand seems to be universal.

Organizing Your Life: A

iSync makes it easy to sync your Address Book, Safari bookmarks, iCal calendars, and passwords between Macs if you have a .mac account - and recent versions of iTunes let you do the same thing using an iPod.

On top of that, various Apple apps work seamlessly together, such as Mail and Address Book - and a lot of third-party apps also works with Address Book, iCal, and so forth.

In short, Apple has made the Mac the perfect digital hub.

Well, almost. There is one area where Apple falls short.

Mobile Phones: D+

I'm talking about cell phones. iSync only supports a very limited number of mobile phones, which ruled out my buying a Samsung phone that I really liked in favor of one that I knew could work with iSync. Even then I had to hack the drivers to work with my particular Motorola phone - something I learned to do with my previous Moto mobile.

We can expect perfect integration between the Mac and Apple's forthcoming iPhone, and I would be shocked if Apple didn't also have first class software to support Windows users. If anything, it's going to mean one less reason for Apple to support more third-party phones.

The Windows world has it all over OS X when it comes to mobile phone support. Every phone with Bluetooth or a wired interface has Windows drivers, and there are lots of third-party apps for things like loading ring tones, taking photos off your mobile, and managing your speed dial numbers.

With the Mac, Apple's support it spotty, and third-party support is far from exhaustive. There are a lot of cell phones out there with no support at all in OS X.

For those wanting to manage their speed dial lists and have more control over which contacts and phone numbers from your Address Book are synched to your phone, take a look at OnSync. It not only synchs contacts between your mobile and your Mac, it also lets you rearrange speed dial numbers, something iSync doesn't support - and should. That's the reason I bought OnSync. OnSync has an extensive list of supported phones from ten different brands and is up front about problems with certain mobiles. It supports Address Book, Entourage, Eudora, Now Contact, and Palm Desktop contact lists. It lets you exclude fax numbers, pagers, mobiles, home phones, and/or business phones. $12 shareware.

If Apple wants to earn a better grade, here are a few things they should do:

Final Grade

Except for mobile phone support, which is completely lacking on some models and incomplete on supported models, Apple receives an A in all categories. Because of spotty cell phone support, Apple's final grade in Digital Hub 101 is a B+.