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Mac Bloggers Surf Safari 3.1, Fuss Over Flash, Swoon for Unlimited iTunes

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 21, 2008 4:00 AM PT

It may be some time before any Apple news rivals the iPhone software development kit (SDK) or the MacBook Air, but it's nonetheless been a busy week for Apple-focused bloggers.

Mac Bloggers Surf Safari 3.1, Fuss Over Flash, Swoon for Unlimited iTunes

Apple updated its Airport Express WiFi mini router to the faster 802.11n standard, delivered a new version of Safari, fixed dozens of security weaknesses, and saw Mac sales shoot through the roof in February.

Plus, while Adobe might want to work out an iPhone Flash solution all by its lonesome, it probably can't, and Intel's next-generation Nehalem microprocessor architecture may make new Macs fly -- among gobs of other tidbits and rumors, like the notion of unlimited iTunes songs for special iPhones.

A Faster Ride

Apple kicked the week off by updating the Airport Express to 802.11n, which gives the little wireless router twice the range and up to five times the performance of its 802.11g predecessor. The US$99 Airport Express is also designed to let owners stream iTunes music to plugged-in external speaker systems, use it to connect to a printer, or travel with it to convert cabled Internet access to the joys of WiFi.

"The Express is the perfect thing to have in your travel bag," noted commenter Booga on the AppleInsider post on the subject. "For all those hotel rooms that don't have wireless and put the little couch across the room from the CAT5, you can just set up your own wireless network (or those meeting rooms where the chairs next to the uplinks fill up first thing)."

Safari on Speed

On Tuesday, Apple released Safari 3.1, which the Cupertino company says is the world's fastest browser for both Mac and Windows PCs. Safari loads Web pages 1.9 times faster than IE 7 and 1.7 times faster than Firefox 2, Apple said, adding that it runs JavaScript up to six times faster than other browsers.

"I'm not a daily Safari user -- more of a Camino man myself -- but I think all of us should be excited to see Apple pushing some standards forward with this morning's Safari 3.1 update," Pete Mortensen noted in his Cult of Mac blog post.

"Though it's just a bug fix at first blush, the most significant change in this version is support for CSS (cascading style sheets) Animations, CSS WebFonts, and HTML 5's video and audio tags. Though WebFonts have shown up in other browsers, Apple is claiming to be first to support Animations and HTML 5 video and audio. And that's great," he added.

Plugging Holes

Also on Tuesday, Apple released Security Update 2008-002, which squashes at least a few dozen known bugs. Apple, of course, recommended it for all users, rolling out several different versions to handle older Macs and servers as well as newer Leopard-based Macs. It does, however, seem to be causing some SSH (secure shell) errors for some users.

"Yup, some people have ssh and ftp (file transfer protocol) failures after the update. Some don't. I'm not risking it for now," commenter artifex succinctly noted on the Ars Technica post on the subject.

Macs on the Rise

February may be a short month, but it rang up long receipts in the retail store channel. CNET's One More Thing blog by Tom Krazit detailed the news surrounding a variety of reports that said Apple's February Mac sales grew 60 percent compared to the same month last year. Reportedly, the catalyst for the news stemmed from data collected by The NPD Group that financial analyst firm Pacific Crest Securities cited in a research note about Apple.

"Notebooks were the primary source of Apple's strength, according to the data, with shipments up 64 percent compared with a 20 percent gain for the overall market," Krazit wrote. "But the difference between Apple's desktop shipments and the industry is stark: iMac and Mac Pro shipments were up 55 percent compared with last year, while industry desktop shipments declined 5 percent."

Certainly Apple's own retail stores have had something to do with the increase. One commenter on the One More Thing blog, billmosby, posted his own anecdotal evidence: "I thought our Apple store (Salt Lake City) had been getting mighty crowded lately. A couple of years ago, business was brisk, but you could get around in the store without too much trouble. Nowadays you kind of need a shoehorn to get in there!"

"We don't break out specific items, but the MacBook Air -- February was the first month it was widely available, and sales of that were about 20 percent of the notebook sales," Stephen Baker, vice president of consumer technology industry analysis for The NPD Group, told MacNewsWorld.

"We also saw that Apple had a very nice transition -- they moved away from the older Intel processors and into the new Penryn products and they did that without any kind of hiccup in the MacBook and MacBook Pro line. We didn't see any changes in direction on any of the products that had specific things happen to them in February," he added.

So what about market share? If sales are growing faster than the PC segment, Apple must certainly be gaining on PCs, right?

"They are growing in the consumer space," Baker confirmed. "If you want to get to an apple-to-apples comparison, you want to factor down things like enterprise sales and places where Macs don't [have] any presence, but for the consumer market they are in the low teens in terms of market share at this point."

Adobe Flashing the iPhone?

After Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen implied on investor conference call that Adobe could bring Flash to the iPhone via Apple's SDK, bloggers jumped all over the news, with many treating it as fact -- despite pesky details that include Apple being the iPhone application gatekeeper. Then there was Apple CEO Steve Jobs' comment at the annual Apple shareholder meeting a couple of weeks ago. There, he said regular Flash ran too slowly on the iPhone while the Flash Lite Player wasn't good enough to pass muster.

Much of the news was perhaps fueled more by what many are hoping for than what's likely to become reality any time soon. The iPhone has been lambasted by critics for months on end for not having built-in Flash, which is used on many Web sites. Of course, if a site uses Flash for cool features, the iPhone doesn't render those features. That makes some sites virtually useless with the iPhone.

Krazit, again writing from his One More Thing blog, was one of the few voices of reason. "Flash isn't a mere third-party application, like a game or an instant-messaging client. It's a plug-in that would have to work very closely with Safari on the iPhone, and that's something Apple has declared off-limits to third-party developers at this time unless they get a hall pass," he explained.

Regardless of Flash status now, there's something to Narayen's comments about Flash being "synonymous" with the Internet experience.

"I do think supporting Flash on iPhone is important. If Apple truly wants to replicate the broadband browsing experience, it needs to support the large base of content and services out there that are running on Flash. Pure and simple," Christopher Ambrosio, executive director of the Global Wireless Practice for Strategy Analytics, told MacNewsWorld, noting that he believes that the iPhone will eventually support Flash.

Nehalem on the Way?

Apple might have barely started shipping its Penryn-based MacBooks, but that hasn't stopped Intel from detailing its next generation of super-fast microprocessors, dubbed "Nehalem." The line won't find its way into Mac laptops until 2009.

"Intel's tick/tock strategy is really pushing CPU (central processing unit) development. It's hard to remember back when the G4's were stuck in development hell. I think Apple really did have a good vision to start thinking about switching to Intel with the start of the development of OSX," noted commenter wymer100 on the post on the subject.

And Maybe Unlimited iPhone Tunes, Too?

According to a report in the Financial Times, Apple is thinking about offering some sort of "all-you-can-eat" subscription model that would be similar to Nokia's Comes With Music offering, wherein the purchase of a phone gets a consumer unlimited subscription access to music for a year. There are tons of details that would have to be worked out, of course, such as a one-time fee vs. a monthly subscription, and whether at the end of the iPhone's life a user would get to keep any tracks. Apple had no comment on the report.

Unlimited music is a tantalizing idea, of course, but one commenter, Reuven, on the blog was having none of it:

"Uh, uh. I've had my hopes raised only to have my heart broken one too many times by these iTunes subscriptions rumors. And I'm not going to fall for it again," Reuven posted, then noted, "Oh, who am I kidding? I would love it if this were true. I love the subscription model I get from Rhapsody, but I hate having to Parallels into Windows to get it, and I hate the buggy Rhapsody app even more. This would make my day if it came to be."

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