Jobs' Keynote -- Are We There Yet? (UPDATED)|
Mike Pasini, The Imaging Resource
(Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - 17:04 EST)
Ten million iPods, but eight of them in 2004 and half of that in the last quarter. One hundred and one stores in three and a half years with one million visitors a week (20 Macworlds a week). And now the $499 Dell-killer. Is Apple there yet?
SAN FRANCISCO -- Macworld Expo opened here today with the traditional keynote review and preview of Apple products by company CEO Steve Jobs. A morning storm did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that assembled to hear him.
|The Storm Abates|
We looked for signs before leaving the house and decided against taking the kayak down Market St. Opting instead for the streetcar (which runs discreetly under Market St.), we had the chance to do a little market research, so to speak.
Our fellow passengers, hardened commuters every one, were about evenly divided among readers and listeners. The listeners were about evening divided between disc players and, well, iPods.
In fact, Apple passed the million iPod mark in sales last December, moving eight million units in 2004, some 4.5 million during the holiday quarter alone. So it was no surprise the company today introduced its $99/149 iPod Shuffle in 512-KB and 1-GB sizes. The Shuffle also doubles as a USB pen drive.
|The iPod Shuffle|
Only a little more surprising was the Mac mini, a two-inch tall 6.5-inch square anodizes aluminum box with everything but a keyboard, monitor and mouse (and Airport card). The $499 version sports a 1.25 GHz G4 with a 40-GB drive while the $599 version has a 1.42-GHz G4 and 80-GB drive. Ethernet, Modem, DVI/VGA, USB 2.0, Firewire and an audio out jack are tightly arrayed along the bottom back edge. A slot-loading combo drive or SuperDrive to burn DVDs, too, is also built in.
|The Mac mini|
The Mac mini makes it pretty simple for Windows users to try the Macintosh experience for themselves. Just plug your existing peripherals into the little box and see what happens.
IT'S THE SOFTWARE
The bulk of the presentation, however, was devoted to software. Tiger, iLife '05 and iWorks were all rumored to be in the spotlight and they were.
The fifth major release of OS X, Tiger is scheduled to ship in the first half of this year with 200 new features. Jobs highlighted five of them:
• Spotlight, a searching technology built into the core operating system and accessible to other applications. Documents can be found by content (including metadata) and organized into categories.
• Mail, Apple's email program, gets a major update, integrating Spotlight technology for retrieving emails and a slideshow function to display images attached to email. The slideshow provides a number of controls that can even file the image in an iPhoto album.
• QuickTime 7, the first major upgrade in 10 years, will provide HD playback and be fully MPEG-4 compliant. It will also include the new H.264 codec.
• Dashboard mimicks the capabilities of Konfabulator (http://www.konfabulator.com) to put transparent widgets at your fingertips for quick calculations, look-ups and the like that don't require the services of a full application.
• iChat AV supports up to 10 simultaneous audio conferees or four simulataneous video conferees using H.264 compression while displaying them arrayed full screen.
THE YEAR OF HD
Proclaiming 2005 the Year of High Definition Video, Jobs also announced Final Cut Express HD would be available next month for $299 ($99 upgrade) joining Final Cut Pro HD, which is already available.
Jobs waltz a $3,499 Sony prosumer HD camcorder onto the stage as the preferred method of capturing HD video before introducing Sony President and CEO Kunitake Ando. Sony and Apple have long collaborated, Jobs claimed, citing the 3.5-inch floppy used in the first Macintosh.
Ando, who launched Sony's Vaio series, confirmed the two companies' commitment to collaborate on HD, but suggested Apple stick to software and leave the hardware to Sony, provoking a surround-sound laugh from the crowd.
With the exception of iTunes, all the iLife applications enjoy "a major upgrade," according to Jobs. But iPhoto most of all.
The grid helps straighten images
Jobs cited six major improvements to iPhoto:
• Improved organizing and searching using Spotlight technology. The bottom left corner now sports a calendar through which you can view your images. And an iTunes-like search field complements the new tag-on-import feature.
• Raw image formats are now supported along with JPEG and video clips from your digicam.
• Editing has been beefed up with an editing Dashboard that apparently will see more widespread application in Tiger. It provides sliders for eight controls and displays an editable histogram, too.
• Slideshows have been improved to a "cinematic" level, offering the Ken Burns effect and adding attributes like duration, transition and effect to individual images rather than the show as a whole.
• More book templates and new book sizes. Three soft cover options in 3.5x2.5, 8x6 and 8.5x11 sizes join the hardcover 8.5x11.
• Jobs also cited general usability improvements.
The suite also enjoys improvement to:
• iMovie, which can handle HD camcorders now and stream a production from the camcorder with a feature called Magic iMovie that creates titles, inserts transitions and chapter markers and adds a soundtrack;
• iDVD, with new themes and a new OneStep DVD feature that burns a finished DVD directly from a video source; and
• Garage Band, which can now adjust timing and pitch, handle eight tracks at a time, lock tracks and display music notation in real time. John Mayer demonstrated to the delight of the crowd.
iLife '05, which ships with all new Macs (making the Mac mini even a better deal), will be available for $79 on Jan. 27.
Jobs observed that AppleWorks predates OS X and iLife, but that productivity suite's upgrade, called iWork, is non other than Keynote bifurcated into a page layout program. You get Keynote 2 and Pages, presentation software for either your screen or your printer.
Pages ships with 40 templates that promise to make page layout as easy as DVD authoring in iDVD. Pages was, even in the demo, a bit disappointing to us (longtime Quark and recent InDesign immortals). Page layout profits enormously from attention to detail; templates discourage that.
And where's the Excel killer? Forget it. There are still some things AppleWorks does that even iWork can't.
Just between you and us, so to speak, we received an intriguing request from old Ed the other day (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-indx.html and look for "Ed" if you don't know who we're talking about). He liked the DVD we sent him over the holidays and wanted to convert 24 hours of VHS into DVDs.
He tried a pilot project of his own, converting one two-hour tape on his 500-MHz Pentium III. I took 26 hours.
He ordered a new PC from lpower.com ("The kids tell me this is the best computing value for the dollar," he wrote) and we haven't heard from him since.
Imagine if he had grabbed a $499 Mac mini with iLife '05. All his problems would have been solved.
Somehow the Windows solution is alway the brute strength of faster hardware. You may have noticed all the software improvements we've noted today have not referred to hardware requirements.
In fact, we can think of one other compelling reason PC users give the Mac mini a try. Security.
Just after talking to Ed, we got a call from our nephew, home from college on Christmas break, who was trying to rescue his mother's business PC. She'd finally tossed her dial-up connection for DSL, but didn't protect her computer with a firewall. Within a few days of installation, she couldn't run anything on her system without getting popup ads for services she had no interest in, let's say.
She paid a brutal price when her son had to reformat her hard drive and spend the rest of the day reinstalling an operating system and her applications. Her data was lost. At one point, she considered running down to the store to buy a new PC.
The current version of XP works a little harder to warn you of problems like hers, but it still won't ask for authorization by user name when installing new software. We imagine there are plenty of PC users tired of being vulnerable, who would be happy to plug their keyboard and monitor into a Mac mini for a change.
LOOKING FOR SIGNS
We found security to be heavier than ever this year and were more than a little surprised to find such a media crush to cover the keynote. For a platform that's been dead for years (according to some long-lived analysts), that level of interest was surprising.
|Our Idea of an iPod|
Playing a mean Auld Lang Syne
We'd wondered yesterday if the traditional changing of the posters in the nearby kiosks had been preempted by a fairly tame iPod poster. But we shouldn't have worried. The new posters for the Shuffle were on display when we came out of the building. "Life is random," said one. "Give change a chance," said another.
|Changing of the Guard, er, Posters|
We wandered over to the Apple store a few blocks away to discover a crowd cleaning out the place. All the 512-KB Shuffles had already been sold by noon (the store didn't have any 1-GB models).
|Sold Out Before the Sign Is Up|
A store employee stood outside the front door, announcing the bad news to the arriving hoards and suggesting they check back later. Audible groans and slumping shoulders responded to the news. Signs indeed.
Continue with our Expo Coverage.