|The MacWorld Expo 2001 report|
JOBS OPENS MACWORLD EXPO
By MIKE PASINI
Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Busy, busy, busy -- or bust
SAN FRANCISCO -- The night before Apple CEO Steve Jobs opened Macworld Expo here, local television news broadcasters were asking if he could, once again, "save Apple." Spooked, perhaps, by the recent "correction" in tech stock valuations, they feared a company as marginal as Apple would be among the first casualties.
But if they thought Apple -- or Jobs -- would "go quietly into the night" (as Dylan Thomas, at one point in the presentation, was heard to warn against), they haven't been paying attention recently.
The 'Vision Thing' Again
Give him a few tweaks to the beta release of OS X, a new peripheral, some QuickTime-like takes on audio and video, plus a "sexy" new PowerBook (a SexyPowerBook?) and Jobs invents The Digital Lifestyle to describe what's going on.
MAC OS X
After selling the beta to 100,000 users and getting 75,000 feedback emails "some of them quite long," Jobs said Mac OS X will ship March 24 for $129. The new OS will be preloaded as the default OS on systems shipping in July.
The shipping version will include a number of features missing from the beta including: Airport support, Location manager support, a revised Apple menu with Finder restart and shutdown commands, an icon-based screen saver, and a smaller and customizable toolbar with a status bar.
Jobs said 400 developers had committed to producing 1,200 applications for OS X, the bulk of which would be released in July around the time of the next Macworld Expo.
It isn't the death of the PC as the less imaginative pundits are proclaiming between gasps behind their oxygen masks. It's a whole new era, uh millennium, for the industry. One in which the Macintosh serves as the digital hub for all our digital gadgets.
Save Apple? No problem. Save the industry? Sure, same price.
The line around the block isn't for Michael Dell
But he's right, you know.
We've pointed out before that you can't just buy a digicam and live happily ever after. You have to view your images, print them, transmit them, store them, all sorts of things. And you don't do that with handheld devices, you do it with your computer. Which needs a photo-quality printer, a CD writer, a nice big monitor, an Internet connection, well, we could go on, but they all plug into your computer. It is, in fact, the hub to the digital darkroom.
NEW G4 AT A GLANCE
Jobs announced the first four new G4s in the Power to Burn generation. All sport CD-RW drives, a 133-MHz bus, AGP 4X and nVidia video cards (except the 46-MHz model, which still uses an ATI card), a 10-watt sound amp, 5 slots (including video) and a faster PCI bus (no bridge).
They are all OS X certified, single-processor G4s running from 466 to 733-MHz (the 533-MHz offers a dual processor option; the other model is a 667-MHz G4) with 128 to 256-MB RAM and hard drives ranging from 30 to 60-GB.
The 733-MHz model will ship with a Pioneer SuperDrive capable of reading and writing CDs and DVDs. The DVDs will play in consumer DVD players.
Prices range from $1,699 to $3,499. The two lower-end models will ship shortly with the higher-end models following later.
And if you've been listening to Jobs the last few years, you'll find this new direction is consistent with what he promised when he first returned. To develop products that only a company responsible for the entire user experience -- hardware and software -- could develop.
Stating the Obvious
We rabid consumers are, of course, already buying, making, selling digital audio, video and images. We know the problem of putting together a system to behave like a hub in this world of discreet parts that pretend to be plug-and-play.
For Apple, Jobs said, this came to light first with iMovie. You could do a lot with an iMac, a digital camcorder and iMovie. But moving the digital video to the computer, editing it, storing it and publishing it required more than plugs that play. They required design. The integration of hardware and software that is only Apple could do.
The concept of a hub was born.
Do You Hear Music?
Take MP3. Jobs asked the audience if they knew how many blank CDs were sold last year. And then told them: over 320 million. Consumers love to write their own CDs, disk-jockeying their lives with CDs for Commuting, CDs for Romance, CDs for Studying, you name it.
But, as Jobs demonstrated with a couple of screen shots, it's too complex to burn CDs. They don't call the popular CD authoring software Toast for nothing.
Its uncluttered interface is immediately comprehensible. The controls are on top, with a small feedback window designed like a black-and-white LCD panel. Under that two panes: a source and a playlist. Cumulative time is shown below the playlist. iTunes lets you build libraries of your music and search titles and albums. Yes, and play them. When you've got a playlist you like, you click an icon to burn a CD.
And it's free. Although it only works at the moment with Apple CD-RWs, Jobs promised plug-ins for the more popular CD writers soon.
That same playlist could just as easily, however, be transferred to an MP3 player attached to your Mac hub.
But burning CDs is even integrated into the system level. Pop a blank into a CD-RW drive and the Finder asks if you want to 'prepare' it (rather than 'format' it). Copy files to it like any other volume and when you eject it, the Finder asks if you want to burn it.
It isn't quite packet writing (and must require about 650-MB free hard disk space, we guess), but it is easy.
What About Images?
If you think that's to die for, hang on. With iDVD, Apple has brought the same ease of use to DVD authoring.
Jobs plays a slideshow of digicam images from a DVD
Which may only half-impress you until you hear the hardware half of the story. Among the four new G4 systems introduced today (sporting a faster system architecture) is one with a new DVD-RW that can read and write both CDs and DVDs that can be played in consumer DVD players. The new Pioneer SuperDrive competes, Jobs said, with units shipping today for $5,000.
Jobs used iDVD, bundled on the new G4s, to layout several home movies and an album of digital images on one DVD.
Burning MPEG 2 using software rather than hardware, he said, takes 25 times the play time. A day to burn an hour's movie. But using the G4's Velocity Engine, Apple engineers have been able to reduce the overhead to only two times the play time.
While at first glance burning DVDs of your images may seem like overkill when a CD will do just fine, the growing popularity of DVD may just make it more likely you'll find a DVD attached to a TV than a CD player connected to a computer in the house. It's certainly cheaper to outfit the grandparents with a DVD player than a system that can display CDs.
With a 15.2-inch screen in its one-inch thick titanium shell, the G4 PowerBook includes a slot-loading DVD player and 5-hour battery life. And the 5.3 lb. laptop is also Airport ready.
The G4 PowerBook will ship in two models, a 400-MHz model and a 500-MHz model. RAM ranges from 128-MB to 256-MB and hard disk sizes range from 10 to 20-GB in the Mac OS X ready machines which are expected to ship at the end of January.
Prices range from $2,599 to $3,499.
One More Thing
The "one more thing" of this show was the new G4 PowerBook.
Apple has always had the power, Jobs said, but not the sex. The new one-inch thin G4, a titanium box smaller than the Sony Vaio with a larger 15.2-inch screen, has both, he said.
Slim and elegant, it did not power on
And Another Thing
There's always something a little disturbing about these keynotes, though.
Take, for example, the standing ovation for the iCEO who just had a rather disappointing quarter. Or the woman behind us as we left the auditorium who asked, "Is he married?" And told yes, persisted, "Kids?"
What got us this time was the subtle '70s theme. Maybe it was because we were staring at John and Yoko on a huge banner on one side of the hall instead of Charlie Chaplin above our heads. Or maybe it was the psychedelic light show iTunes creates in its window so you can see "what music looks likes." Which is sort of a digital lava lamp to go not quietly into the dark with.
And why he keeps playing Here Comes the Sun at these things is beyond us. No one's called anyone Little Darling for a long, long time.
But even worse, the "sexy" design of the G4 PowerBook seemed to us, on closer inspection at the Apple booth, very retro. We were reminded of the brushed aluminum look of certain 1970s reel-to-reel tape decks. Had Jobs just sold us the cassette recorder of our era?
But much of that is simply a matter of taste. Titanium can be cool, no doubt. If you can avoid thinking of Vic Damone when you see it.
The reason people line up to hear Jobs is because, like what he says or not, there's a higher than usual intelligence at work here. In this day of analysts who are no more than salespeople and newscasters who have no grasp of any subject but small talk, it's refreshing to hear a salesman who can save his company from ruin and simultaneously recharge his industry before he sits down to lunch.
Wonder what he's having.
We'll be digging our way through the show aisles with an eye on intriguing new storage options (some small and portable), Nikon's new scanners and some new imaging software. Rather than bring you daily updates, we'll post a photographer's summary of the show later this week but before the Friday sell-off, should you be looking for bargains. Meanwhile, visit Apple's guide to Macworld for the digital photographer at http://www.apple.com/creative/events/macworldsf2001/#digphoto.
And just to tease you:
We caught up with Hoodman, the guys who make the hoods for the NFL's instant replay booths. They were wearing referee shirts and selling little digicam and laptop hoods so you can see your LCD in daylight. The digicam hoods cost $20. Wonder if they make eye patches, too But we're staying away from this one for obvious reasons. Gateway country?