MWSF: Comments Not Optional

Apparently, if you write anything at all about Apple in public, not writing about Macworld Expo San Francisco, the signature Macintosh event, is not an option. Even though I didn’t attend the event in person, and despite a “minor delay” of little more than a month, here are a few paragraph’s worth of musings on what Steve Jobs talked about during his keynote speech last January.

iTMS

Bringing more diverse media beyond just music to Internet stores is the logical next step for the iTunes Music Store, and so it did not come as much of a surprise to see further content added in the form of TV shows and a bit of sports coverage. A nice extra if you live in the US, but, unfortunately, it points at Jobs’s rather narrow US-focused perspective, as there is not a single TV show available in Europe so far.

But there’s more to it, as this is yet another example of how the media companies do not “get” the Internet: being offered TV shows just from the US is not such a big deal; however, being offered these shows only in the US is a different matter. I’d love to pay a few bucks for the odd episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” or “Monk”, one of my current TV show favorites, especially since they come in a handy, completely ad-free, non-German-dialog-overdubbed package. But I can’t because I don’t have a “spare” US address. I wish, Apple, with Jobs’s help, could get this licensing problem tackled by offering “The One Global iTMS”. Well, one can always dream, right?

As for seeing feature movies appear on iTMS? Even though that “other software company from far up North” seems to work on offering full-length feature movies on their online store, I doubt that this will be anywhere near as important as offering TV content. First, movie files would be considerably bigger than those of TV shows, and I am just not sure if the majority of potential buyers have sufficiently fast Internet access to download those files in a reasonable amount of time. And second, while watching a bit of a TV show during a commute on a small iPod screen may be nice, watching a “real” movie in the same environment is just not the same. You’d expect immersive pictures on a big screen with the resolution required for that screen, and you’d also want to feel immersed by putting aside the time to enjoy the full movie without too many interruptions, and maybe have some drinks and snacks on the side, too. Personally, I just don’t see how that atmosphere could be generated on any portable device, even if it were possible technically.

iPod

Where Jobs covers iTMS, iPod can’t be too far away. However, I was surprised that only a single new iPod-related product was presented during the keynote: a little radio-cum-remote that plugs into the iPod’s dock connector. Its added benefit as a remote and the beautiful design of the user interface do make me want to buy one, though.

Though not an actual product, next up was something I have been waiting for for quite some time now: an iPod commercial featuring an artist that appeals to folks beyond the age of 25. For a Jazz nut like me, the Wynton Marsalis silhouette ad is just grand!

iLife

With a “version number” indicating the year of its release, a new version of the iLife and iWork packages were in order, and it’s probably a very safe bet to expect one each January. Let’s go over the apps in the iLife package real quick:

  • iPhoto: numerous smaller improvements, but, most importantly, higher speed and nice full-screen editing features taken from Aperture.

  • iMovie and iDVD: I haven’t used these, so I can hardly comment on the new features. But we are considering building a kiosk-like self-running info terminal for our business, and that may provide a good opportunity to check out these two apps, as well.

  • GarageBand: adding the podcasting studio is a great move. Using a pro app like Logic for recording a podcast would be overkill, but the fine-tuned custom environment in GarageBand is perfect for this task. By also throwing in tight integration with iChat for recording discussions with multiple participants, and with .Mac for publishing your podcasts, we will definitely see a lot of folks starting their own podcasts who would have considered this too daunting a task with other software.

  • iWeb: With recent incarnations of iLife, you could manage basically all of your media content. With iWeb, you can now publish that content online in a stylish layout based on the same “your content, our templates” concept found in the other iLife and iWork applications.

iLife has been a solid media handling software package “for the rest of us” right from its first incarnation. With the addition of iWeb and the podcasting features in GarageBand, as well as the overall improvements and tweaks, iLife ’06 is bound to maintains its lead. There simply is no other software suite that provides this much value for money.

With reference to the speed improvements in iPhoto, Jobs claimed that iPhoto now “scrolls like butter,” which he later corrected to “scrolls like a hot knife through butter.” Naturally, a lot of commentators have pointed out this glitch, but there’s a more interesting one later on during the intro of iWeb. What he wanted to say was “…and when you’re done creating a website…,” but he said something slightly different. Judging from a few giggles in the audience, I’m not the only one who noticed. What he did say? Watch the scene about 48:55 minutes into the video stream to find out (it helps if you’re familiar with British expletives) …

iWork

If it weren’t so sluggish on older Macs, iWork would be a great alternative to the feature-bloated office packages for a lot of business users. Therefore, it was really surprising that Jobs only spent very few minutes on presenting the new release of iWork. Were there any plans for additional features or an additional application for iWork that did not make it into the software in time for Macworld Expo? What, exactly, is the status of iWork within Apple: do they see it as a strategic product for style-aware worker bees? Or is it Steve’s personal productivity suite, and now that it does what he needs, they will put it onto the maintenance back-burner?

The new features — like better searching in documents, photo editing right inside Pages and Keynote, review notes, and calculations in tables — are welcome feature additions. But they cannot hide the fact that a true spreadsheet is an absolute requirement if any MS Office user is supposed to be lured over.

MacIntels

Who else but Steve Jobs could make a high-profile industry figure like Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, walk on stage in a clean-room bunny suit?

Jobs’s feel for good publicity stunts aside, during the short dialog between Jobs and Otellini, the latter made an interesting commment: about 1,000 people at Intel are working on supporting Apple with development of their Intel-based Macs. One thousand? It does make you wonder just how much of the new logic board’s design was still done in-house at Apple, and how much was outsourced to Intel.

Regarding the actual machine that was introduced as the first Intel-based Mac, the iMac is as good a choice as any. More important than the actual model they chose is the fact that the machine looks exactly the same as its PowerPC predecessor. That way, there is no disconnect in experiencing this machine as a Macintosh. Unless you actually know what processor is inside the box, you couldn’t tell by the outer shell. It’s what you see on the monitor and how you work with the computer, that makes the Macintosh experience — and not the chip the powers it all behind the scenes.

Consequently, even if the margin by which the Intel machines are faster than their PowerPC equivalents is nowhere near the 2..3x that Apple claims, it’s much more important for the machines’ future success in the market that — thanks to a software emulation layer called Rosetta — older software runs without any major hiccups, so the promise that what looks like a Mac from the outside will indeed function like a Mac on the inside is kept.

One more thing…

Why, oh why, do we have to sit through more than an hour’s worth of mildly interesting sales figures and product announcements, when all we really want to see is the final 15 minutes, or so, of the keynote that starts with Jobs’s now-famous “Oh, and there’s one more thing…” quote?

And what a weird product, at least by name, that one more thing was! The MacBook Pro. Judging from the first reactions all over the net, that name is not all that popular. But the product itself is: not a revolutionary machine, the MacBook Pro makes for a very enticing package overall with lots of nice features — including built-in camera, ExpressCard I/O, IR-remote etc. — and a great price-performance ratio.

By the way, I wonder what it must have been like for Phil Schiller, who demoed the new laptop’s built-in iSight camera in a short iChat session with Jobs via WLAN right from within the audience, to have that MacBook Pro under his seat all the time during the keynote…

So What’s Next?

As with all the other announcements of this year’s keynote, the MacBook Pro qualifies as “solid evolution.” Which is odd: there was nothing really earth shaking announced this year, and it wasn’t just me who thought that something was missing from the show. Rumors about this abound, but then there’s Apple’s 30th birthday coming up on April 1st. And, who knows, maybe there was something missing from the keynote, and these extra four months will give Apple plenty of time to complete whatever it is.

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  1. FJ

    Hi there!

    A very interesting and complete summary, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    FJ