By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 10:38 am
Hard-drive kingpin Seagate announced a refreshed lineup of FreeAgent external hard drives yesterday. The new models offer all the stuff you’d probably guess they would: more capacity at lower prices with a redone industrial design. The company also introduced what is, as far as I know, the first USB dock ever offered for hard drives–an optional holder for the FreeAgent Go portable drive line that sits on your desk and lets you plug in the drive without futzing with the cable. (It’s $29 and comes with a case for the drive.)
One of the most intriguing things about Seagate’s announcement is this: It’s expanded its FreeAgent offerings with drives designed specifically for Mac users. Smaller companies such as LaCie have catered to Macheads for years, but this is the first time that Seagate has done so. And the fact that a manufacturer as large as Seagate sees a business opportunity in the Mac market is yet another sign of the Mac’s resurgent good health. (It wasn’t all that long ago that big companies were fleeing the Mac, not catering to it.)
Of course, all of Seagate’s drives are Mac-compatible; I’ve used ’em with both PCs and Macs for years. So how did it make Mac-specific models?
–It gave the drives dual interfaces–both FireWire and USB 2.0. (FireWire remains slightly exotic in the PC market, but it’s standard on Macs and faster for external storage.) The FireWire interface works with both FireWire 400 and 800, for the fastest possible performance with Macs that have a FireWire 800 port.
–It formatted the drives for Macs using OS X’s HFS+ format rather than FAT32, which Macs can speak but isn’t their native file format. (Mac fans are used to reformatting drives, especially when they want to use ’em with Time Machine.
–It included the dock and case with the FreeAgent Go models rather than making them extra-cost options–the company told me that Mac users like the feeling they’re getting a premium product–while charging more than it does for the stock versions of the drives across the line
(which also covers the higher cost of the dual interface).
–It put the drives in white-and-silver cases that are similar to those of the stock drives, but a tad more minimalist, in an Apple-ish way.
Interestingly enough, the stock versions of the FreeAgent Go drives have a couple of characteristics that are decidedly Apple-esque and which the Mac versions of the drives don’t match. They’re available in colors: silver, black, red, and blue. (Seagate may see opportunities in the Mac market, but it’s not quite ready to juggle four different colors aimed at Mac users.) And the stock drives are noticably thinner than the Mac ones–which is not a design decision, but an artifact of the Mac drives’ FireWire connectors, which take up more space.
Here’s a comparison of the Mac and stock FreeAgent drives, both of which are sitting in their docks–that’s the Mac one on the left, and you can see that it’s a bit chunkier:
I’m guessing that some Mac users will choose to use the stock drives, since their USB connections work fine with Macs and they’re a bit cheaper. And aesthetically, they’re all good matches for Apple products–the new industrial design, which replaces the quirkier textured-brown plastic look of previous FreeAgent drives, draws lots and lots of inspiration from the Apple way. (I practically expected the packaging to say “Designed by Seagate in Cupertino.)
One other random note from my recent meeting with Seagate. A little under three years ago, the company acquired archrival Maxtor, and since then, it’s maintained both brands, focusing them in different ways that are so subtle I can never remember the distinction. But the company told me that it’s beginning to de-emphasize Maxtor, and left me with the impression that the brand isn’t all that long for the world. Makes sense to me: As useful as hard drives are, it’s tough for one company to package them in two ways that are distinct enough to deserve two different brand names.