MacWorld 2008

Friday, February 1, 2008

Another new year, another MacWorld, another keynote. San Francisco once again played host to the 2008 conference held from January 15th to 17th at the Moscone Convention Centre. As in the past, this was a highly anticipated event, with a lot of speculation about new ultrathin mobile Macs and iPhone upgrades. These days the speculation is driven more by stockholders and computer journalists than Apple’s fanbois – an clear indication of Apple’s growing mindshare.

At least this year, there were some legitimate leaks – observers saw the new mobile and iPhone software on the internet well before the event. Apple showed they learned something from the last pre-keynote iPod nano picture fiasco and said nothing, leaving the leakers looking a bit like Jon Lovitz’s liar guy… “No, reaaally!” Even so, there were some surprises in store for Apple-watchers.

The hour-and-a-half keynote was delivered, not surprisingly, by Apple CEO and recent California Hall of Fame inductee, Steve Jobs. He was joined onstage only briefly by two guests – Jim Gianopulos, chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Filmed Entertainment, and the ubiquitous Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel.

Jobs began by disclosing sales figures for Leopard. Over five million copies of Leopard had been sold in the first three months – Apple’s most successful OS launch ever.

Figure 1: The Time Capsule, front (top) and back (bottom)

The first product announced was Time Capsule – an Airport Express Base Station with a built-in “server-class” hard drive, three ports for wired connections, one port for cable or DSL internet, a USB 2.0 port for a shared printer, and either a 500GB or 1TB (terabyte-one thousand gigabytes) hard drive for $329 and $529 respectively. Time Capsule works with Time Machine software to automatically backup any Mac attached to it – even wirelessly.

Figure 2: The Macbook Air

Next up, the MacBook Air – the “world’s thinnest notebook”. MacBook Air measures just 0.16-inches at its thinnest and 0.76-inches at its thickest, near the hinge. MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch LED-backlit widescreen display, full-size backlit keyboard, built-in iSight video camera, and a large area trackpad with multi-touch gesture support so users can pinch, rotate and swipe. MacBook Air has either a 1.6 GHz or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4MB L2 cache, and includes 2GB of memory, either an 80GB 1.8-inch hard drive or a 64GB solid-state drive (a $1,024 option), and 802.11n Wi-Fi technology and Bluetooth 2. The MacBook Air begins at $1,899.

Accessories for the MacBook Air include an external Superdrive for $99, an ethernet adapter for $29, a modem for $59, a Magsafe airline adapter for $49 and an Apple Remote for $15.22. The MacBook Air includes software you can install on a Mac or PC that will allow the MacBook Air to “take over” the CD/DVD drive in the host machine. Speed bumping the MacBook Air to 1.8 GHz adds $325 to the base price.

Jobs revealed some iPhone sales figures. Apple has sold four million iPhones since their introduction to the US market. This represents 19.5% of the US Smartphone market placing Apple in the number two spot, second only to RIM. Jobs then announced a free major software upgrade (1.1.3) for the iPhone that bring maps with locators, webclips, custom home screens and multi-party SMS to the iPhone.

Jobs announced that the much-awaited Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone will be available in February. Rumours abound that IBM is already putting Lotus Notes on the iPhone using a pre-release version of the SDK. IBM also announced that their Lotus Symphony office productivity suite will be available for the Mac in one week. IBM’s search for a non-Microsoft partner seems to have driven the ex-lovers back together.

Apples iPhone locator technology uses both cellular and wifi technologies which allows the iPod Touch to locate itself using just the wifi component. So, the iPod Touch has also received an update that adds mail, stocks, notes, weather and maps with locators to the iPhone’s younger sibling. The upgrade will cost Touch owners $20.

Jobs also announced the introduction of movie rentals from all nine major studios on the iTunes Store. Apple will charge $2.99 for library movies, $3.99 for new releases and $4.99 for HD movies with 5.1 sound. No mention of when Canadians will be able to do this, but hopefully it will come soon.

Jobs then introduced a software upgrade and price reduction on the Apple TV. The new software upgrade allows you to rent movies and buy music from the iTunes store, visit Flickr and .Mac photo sites, view YouTube movies – all without being connected to a computer. The software upgrade is free to current Apple TV owners. Take 2 of the Apple TV is priced at $249 for the 40GB model, $349 for the 160GB version.

The keynote over, MacWorld visitors flooded the Moscone Centre to take part in what may be the largest MacWorld in many years. The show has increased in size from 38,000 attendees in 2006 to 45,000 in 2007, and all indications are that this year’s attendance follows that trend, in excess of 50,000 were expected. IDG – organizers of this year’s MacWorld – had not released any official figures at presstime.

Microsoft released Office 2008 for Macintosh at the show – the last major product to go Intel-native on the Mac. Other highlights on the show floor included:

Photoshop Elements 6 – Universal version of Adobe’s consumer photo editor.

Guitar Hero IIIAspyre’s rhythm game for Mac.

Dictate – $99 Dictation / voice command software from MacSpeech

NEC Multisync LCD3090WQXi – 30 inch display

Parallels Server – virtualize Windows, Linux and Mac OS X Server

Vector Designer – vector drawing tool

sd200v Notebook Docking Station – Add a monitor to your Mac via USB

Bobcat – Mac software for Garmin GPS integration

SubRosaSoft – Data protection and Data Recovery

ProVideoPlayer/ProPresenter – grid-map video content across multiple displays attached to multiple computers

Well, that’s it for another year! What’s next for Apple. How about a desktop Mac somewhere between a mini and a pro? And what about iPhone 2 – and when will iPhones be in Canada, eh? And, where’s the rumoured Newton/tablet sub-notebook? Stay tuned…