Thinnovation Makes the World Go RoundBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
SAN FRANCISCO -- It may be the first time Apple's stock price has dropped after a Steve Jobs keynote, but thinner, after all, was his theme. The keynotes often smack of high school rallies and when, as today, there's little to say, the noise is the music.
If investors were not impressed, perhaps they spent more time looking at the centerpiece MacBook Air's specs than examining the merchandise. As one colleague put it to his video camera, "You really have to pick it up to appreciate it."
It's light, insubstantial, an engineering marvel. On which you will be hard pressed to install any software you can't download, since the design jettisons an optical drive. There is a $99 optional SuperDrive DVD drive available, but it connects to the computer through a USB port.
That USB port is its only wired connection to the world (not counting the micro DVI port for an external monitor and the headphone connection). It does talk to the world wirelessly with WiFi, but that should go without saying these days. No Ethernet, no card slot.
Its power management -- long and short term -- is even less accommodating. You can't swap out the internal battery (or even replace it when it's time comes).
It's not the box to replace your desktop, but more a vacation or classroom computer. Unimpressive as it is for heavy duty work, the MacBook Air does make a marvelous prototype. Most compelling is the gestural interface on the trackpad, a derivative of what iPhone and iPod Touch users enjoy. Put three fingers on the trackpad and swipe them left to go back and right to go forward in Safari. Enlarge an image in iPhoto by spreading two fingers. Very cool.
The LED backlit display is also a nice move.
Available in two to three weeks, the MacBook Air comes in two configurations. Both sport Intel Core 2 Duo processors, 2-GB of RAM, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and a 13.3-inch screen. The only significant difference is the $1,799 1.6-Ghz model has an 80-GB 4200 RPM PATA hard drive while the $3,098 1.8-Ghz model has a 64-GB solid-state drive. Never before has less capacity cost more.
The illuminated keyboard is full-size but chicklet. The wedge shaped body slices between 0.16 to 0.76 inches in thickness. There is no mechanical latch. The top is magnetically attracted to the base.
Ironically -- for a computer with no optical drive -- it ships with install/restore DVDs.
To live with this on vacation, you'd need a USB card reader to get your images into in (no PCMCIA or ExpressCard readers). And back home, we imagine you'd be swapping devices like tablets, external drives, printers, scanners and readers -- or hauling around a USB hub to connect everything to the Air. We do that now, of course, but our external drives are FireWire. No FireWire here.
Mac OS X Leopard adds Time Machine, a backup utility, to the Mac's standard software arsenal. All you really need to take advantage of it is an external drive. Not content to leave that to third parties like LaCie and Other World Computing who've been building them for years, Apple introduced its own external drive, the Time Capsule.
But with a twist. Apple's externals also include a full-featured 802.11n Wi-Fi base station. They're designed to support multiple machines wirelessly.
There are two models. The $499 1-TB model and a $299 500-GB model. Ports include Power, USB (for shared printing or a hard drive), Gigabit Ethernet (for a DSL or cable modem), three Gigabit Ethernet ports and security slot.
While 802.11n provides five times the performance of Wireless G networks, according to Apple, adding a non-N device to the network will degrade performance. Initial backups could be painfully long, although subsequent incremental backups, which only copy changed files, might not be.
That's a big "might," however. The latest version of iPhoto, for example, bundles all your images files into one OS X package. That large file would count as a changed file every time you import or edit an image, triggering the incremental backup. Doing that over WiFi, even in the background, isn't something we'd like to be subjected to.
Apple claims the Time Capsule hard drives are "server grade disks." They will be available in February.
The most interesting aspect about them may be their capacities. Full enjoyment of Time Machine requires at least a 500-GB external drive.
A single backup device, however, is not a solution to your image archiving needs, no matter how informal they are. You'll want multiple copies (CD/DVDs and more than one external drive) to really be safe.
If you want to get serious about this, consider a 500-GB array in a Drobo external unit (http://www.drobo.com). Now that's something to think about. It gives you a redundancy that Time Capsule and Time Machine can't -- with no more work. If only it made offsite copies simple to build, too.
There's no getting around the expense of a backup system. But with so much content, there's no getting around the need for one either. Apple's solution is fragile but it may just encourage a few users to back up who otherwise would not.
We're big fans of Apple TV (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/ATV/ATV.HTM) but we've always felt it was a little under utilized. So apparently does Apple. A free software revision (along with a slight price decrease to $229 for the 40-GB model and $329 for the 160-GB model) adds quite a bit more capability to this (literally) hot little box. Or will add when it becomes available in a couple of weeks.
Essentially, the update frees the Apple TV from getting its content from iTunes on some computer in your house. One of the first revisions to it allowed it to tap into YouTube videos and this iTunes-free protocol has been extended to dealing directly with the iTunes store for videos, podcasts, movies and now movie rentals. Content you buy gets synced back to iTunes, making that a two-way street at last.
The movie rental business is not going to fly at my house. Titles in the catalog (with a little dust on them) will go for $2.99 but recent titles go for $3.99. What do you get for that? You get 30 days to watch the movie before it expires. The catch is that once you start Playing the movie, you have 24 hours to finish viewing it. And that's the part that won't fly here. Fall asleep and you're done for.
Would it kill Apple to give you three days to watch the thing?
The extended connectivity provides some benefits to photo sharing, too. You've always been able to see images from one computer on your HDTV. But now you can see photos and videos from anyone with a .Mac account. You can also view Flickr albums, adding contacts to the Apple TV.
That independence extends to podcasts, too, which can now be streamed like YouTube videos.
It's gratifying to see Apple develop a product like Apple TV into a more and more useful appliance. Much as we tisk movie rentals, we'll probably spring for a few.
The iPod Touch has gotten a massage as well. Mostly the enhancements tap into its Internet capability, adding email, Google maps, weather and stocks in addition to notes. The five new applications will cost $20 to install in your current Touch, but come free with new ones.
This little box is close to being a traveling photo portfolio. It's Internet performance was pretty dismal (unusable) on the unit we tried on the Expo floor. But it displays photos admirably.
We met with Matthew Drayton of Nolobe (http://www.nolobe.com) who demonstrated Iris, his new image editing software for Leopard. Matthew is the author of Interarchy, having acquired the file transfer software from Stairways Software last February.
Iris is making its public debut at Macworld Expo and is available now as a public beta. The free download is available at http://nolobe.com/iris where regular updates will be posted and feedback collected.
Matthew expects the public beta period to end during March. Starting Jan. 15, you can pre-order Iris for $39.95 at http://store.nolobe.com, a savings of $40 off the release price.
The program can open TIFFs, JPEGs, bitmaps, Photoshop and Raw files. It uses not only the Leopard services for image file formats but includes a few custom routines for unsupported formats. It's an 8-bit channel editor, though, so your 12- or 14-bit Raw files are converted on import. It isn't, in short, a Raw editor.
We found a number of familiar tools in Iris. Levels, Filters (including Unsharp Masking), an Exposure tool. It's a pixel editor, not a metadata editor, so changes to the image are permanent.
The distinguishing feature seems to be the inclusion of palettes like tools and layers in the same window as the image. This takes up a little more real estate, but keeps things simple for the novice.
And that's who the program has been designed for. "Iris has been created for previously overlooked Mac owners who simply wanted an accessible and easy to use image program that provides professional results, without the professional price tag," Matthew said.
We were glad to see two new 13x19 photo printers on the floor. It's a format we much enjoy, given as we are to standing back and admiring our work.
HP introduced its $549 Photosmart Pro B8850, available in April. Based on its flagship B9180, the eight-ink printer includes several color management advancements that simplify the printing experience. The printer is seamlessly integrated with Adobe Photoshop CS3, HP said, enabling users to print directly from their preferred workflow. The choice is then automatically synchronized with the color management setting, eliminating issues associated with "double color management." This technology also is available in a free software download for the award-winning HP Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer.
"HP played an instrumental role in our development of the improved printing experience of Adobe Photoshop CS3," said Kevin Connor, Adobe senior director of product management, Professional Digital Imaging. "Thanks to design input from HP, creative professionals can generate their prints more quickly and easily, while taking advantage of color controls and a unified printing interface that help provide predictable and consistent prints."
Additional advancements that ensure consistent color and superior gallery-quality prints include Electrostatic Drop Detection and closed-loop calibration. The Electrostatic Drop Detection printhead management system efficiently self-monitors and self-cleans to keep the printer in top condition while minimizing waste by cleaning only the individual print nozzles that require attention. Closed-loop calibration automatically adjusts print settings to maintain color consistency.
It also offers truly neutral black-and-white printing with three individual HP Vivera black inks: photo black, matte black and light gray. And it can handle a wide variety of media, including HP Advanced Photo Paper and digital fine art media up to 0.7-mm thick, including canvas and fiber-gloss.
Epson delivered the other 13x19 printer, its $549.99 Stylus Photo R1900. One thing we immediately liked about it was the roll feeder on the back. But it also sports Epson's UltraChrom Hi-Gloss 2 pigment ink and can handle a wide variety of media including glossy, luster, matte, canvas and fine art papers.
The Epson R1900 also includes Radiance technology, co-developed by Rochester Institute of Technology, to maximize the color gamut while simultaneously optimizing print quality. Radiance technology reduces grain, provides smoother color transitions and ensures colors stay consistent in virtually any lighting condition, according to the company.
We're pressed to cut this short and return to the show floor for an afternoon and evening of appointments. We'll illustrate it with photos later tonight. Meanwhile, be sure to enjoy our Expo Gallery (http://www.imaging-resource.com/EVENTS/MWSF08/mw-tue-gallery/) for a look at whose showing what.