Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Macworld Keynote impressions

So the big news in the tech world yesterday was what Steve Jobs talked about during his keynote address at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. The annual technology conference geared toward the Mac OS, and all things Apple, Inc., is often used for the announcement of new products from my favorite fruit company. Yesterday was no exception. Here are some of my thoughts on what was announced:

Time Capsule

If I hadn’t bought an Airport Extreme Base Station last year, to replace a router that died, I’d be buying a new 1 TB—yes, that’s a T, for terabyte—Time Capsule right now. Merging an Airport Extreme Base Station with a “server-grade” hard drive, the Time Capsule allows for wireless backups from all of your Leopard-based Macs via Time Machine. Jobs called it a “back-up applicance”.

Time Capsule photo

Backing up your data is very important, and too few people do it, realizing the value of doing so only when it’s too late. Time Capsule is a dead-simple way, for most people, to ensure their Macs are getting backed up. Plug in and power on the Time Capsule, open up Time Machine on your Mac and point it to the Capsule, and you’re done.

Time Capsule comes in two sizes, the 500 GB version for $299, and the aforementioned 1 TB version for $499. That’s an amazing bargain, a terabyte of storage and a full wired/wireless router for five hundred smackers. As I said, if we didn’t already have the AEBS router, my credit card would have already seen one of these charged to it.

iPhone Update

Today was the 200th day the iPhone had been available for purchase, and Apple’s sold 4 million of them, an average of 20,000 iPhones sold per day. This means that in terms of United States smartphone market share, Apple has nearly 20% of the national smartphone market.

The rumors of a 1.1.3 update to the iPhone proved to be true. The home screen can now be customized, and the Maps application—the underrated killer feature of the iPhone in my humble opinion—is now even more super-powered. The new Location feature in Maps is great. Combining data from Google and Skyhook Wireless, your iPhone can now, without GPS on board, triangulate your position within a couple of blocks. It pulled up my location at home with no problem.

You can, finally, send a SMS message to more than one person, something my lowly Motorola v557 was capable of two years ago. The WebClips functionality is pretty neat; you can create a WebClip from any web page or portion of a web page and pop it on to your home screen, so it’s easy to just go to Google, or The New York Times, or whatever web page you wish, with one touch.

I’ve had quite some fun this afternoon playing with all of this new stuff, and it’s almost like getting a new iPhone for free. All in all, it makes the iPhone an even better communication device.

iTunes Movie Rentals

In addition to buying movies through the iTunes Store, you can now rent them as well. Library movies (viz: older titles) are $2.99, and new releases are $3.99. From the time you click “Rent Movie” in the iTunes Store and it downloads, you have 30 days to watch the movie. From the time you click “Play” on the movie, you have 24 hours to watch it. You can also transfer the movie to another device, such as your iPod or iPhone, and watch it there as well, before your 24 hours or 30 days, depending on where you are when you perform the transfer, are up.

The thirty days requirement is pretty decent, but I find the 24 hours one to be a little restrictive. It should be at least 48 hours, and 72 would be better, with 96 being the ideal.

Going hand-in-hand with the new rental service is an updated Apple TV, or as Jobs put it, “Apple TV Take 2”. Whereas the original Apple TV pretty much required you to have a computer to sync it up with, the new version acts as a stand-alone box. You can rent movies from the iTunes Store in HD through the Apple TV, for only $1 more than the standard resolutions. So library titles go to $3.99 and new releases are $4.99, and no trip to the mailbox or corner Blockbuster is required.

I’m still not convinced that we have a real use for this in our house, given our movie viewing habits. For now, Netflix will continue to suffice, but I’ll be keeping my eyes on the Apple TV, and I’m sure I’ll try out the new rentals even without the new box.

MacBook Air

This had all the buzz, and was the announcement I was most looking forward to. I was ready to pounce on ordering Apple’s new subnotebook, provided it met my personal expectations.

Apple has created the world’s thinnest notebook computer. At its thickest point, the MacBook Air is 0.76 of an inch, and it weighs only three pounds. It comes with a full-size keyboard, a 13.3-inch LED backlit display, and a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. Two gigabytes of RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth, and a built-in iSight camera. A pricey option is to ditch the standard hard drive for a 64 GB solid state drive (viz: no moving parts), and when I say pricey, I do mean pricey: $999 on top of the base $1,799 cost.

You won’t find much in the way of ports on it, either: MagSafe power port, a single USB port, headphone jack, and a micro-DVI port which requires adapters to hook up to external displays. That’s it. The trackpad is larger than on previous MacBook versions, and features multitouch, so you can perform some of those pinch, zoom, and rotate gestures you may have seen with the iPhone.

MacBook Air photo

The downsides to this incredible piece of tech? For me, the hard drive size is the first. I put a 160 GB drive in my four year-old 12-inch PowerBook last year, and have gotten quite used to the extra room it gave me. I’d hate to step back down by half. Only two gigabytes of RAM? And no way to upgrade it? My two year-old iMac is maxed out at 2 GB, and some times I bump against that particular ceiling. I’d really prefer a machine that can handle up to four. The battery is also not replaceable by the user. This might be okay on an iPod or iPhone, but in a full-size computing system devoted to the ultimate road warriors?

Ultimately, I decided this was not the next notebook computer for me. It’s a really awesome system, and if someone were to buy one for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it, but that’s not happening. I think I’ll be better served ultimately by a MacBook Pro, and with seven and a half months since the latest edition of those came out, they’re due for a refresh, even a “silent” one like we saw with the Mac Pros last week.

Summation

In the end, it was what I would call a typical Steve Jobs Macworld Expo keynote address. There were the requisite ooohs and aaaahs, Apple’s making some evolutionary gains in all facets of its business, and there was a great new product introduced that has the entire tech world talking. It wasn’t a blow-me-away sort of keynote, as was last year’s with the announcement of the iPhone, but then they can’t all be like that. Still better than anything Bill does on stage.

posted on January 16, 2008 12:46 AM




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