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  • Expo Update #2: Everything is Not Coming Up Roses!

    January 16th, 2008

    When you depart from a Steve Jobs keynote, it’s usually hard to keep from smiling, and the same holds true, in large part, when you watch the QuickTime playback stream, although you aren’t sharing the “reality distortion field” experience with thousands of fellow Mac users and tech pundits.

    Either way, you will probably come down to Earth soon enough, though, and then you begin to pick apart the nagging elements of the keynote and the new products that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Sure, you might understand the reasoning behind the decisions, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

    Take the MacBook Air — please! I can see where it may be fun to have a mostly-functional note-book computer that’ll fit comfortably into a manila envelope and all. It’s also nice to know that Apple has discovered “green,” and this ultra-thin gadget is appropriately recyclable and all.

    However, I am not completely enamored with the way it all turned out. All right, I can understand why Apple ditched the built-in optical drive, Ethernet and FireWire. You can replace the first two, separately, with external USB add-ons. But the battery? Maybe — just maybe — it makes sense to have it sealed up in an iPod or an iPhone. I’m not thoroughly convinced of that either, but I’ll accept the argument that the sleek looks might suffer. But a note-book computer? If you’re designing a product for the committed road warrior, what about the concept of having a second battery in your carrying bag?

    Sure, five hours battery life, assuming the Air actually fulfills that promise, is pretty decent and all. But what are you to do when it runs out of power? Do you look for an available power outlet, or get a power converter for your car, so you can charge it via the lighter socket?

    I’m particularly concerned about such matters because, early on, I had to get a replacement battery for my first-generation 17-inch MacBook Pro. The original unit would die after an hour of use, even though it was supposedly fully charged. Popping in a replacement took 30 seconds. With a MacBook Air, if I had a defective battery, the whole computer would have to be returned to Apple and, according to the current claims about such matters, I’d have to wait five business days for it to be fixed and returned.

    What do I do in the meantime? Postpone the business trip, rent or borrow another computer? Does Apple have any accommodation for the possibility of a defective battery? What say you, Steve?

    Maybe I’m just nit-picking, but bear with me. You see, I’m only getting started.

    Let’s take a look at the iTunes movie rental feature. Right now, I use Netflix. I pay a fixed amount every month and I can keep up to three DVDs at a time for as long as I want, and as they are returned, I get new ones. Other plans range from one to four DVDs. I can start watching a flick on a Monday, and finish on a Friday. There’s no danger of the disc automatically self-destructing, and no late fees.

    While Apple isn’t unique in this regard, when you download a rental movie, you have 30 days to start watching, but only 24 hours once you click the play button. You may want to check a few seconds of the movie out of paranoia just to see if the file came through uncorrupted. But the clock has already started ticking, and there are 24 hours remaining before the file is vanquished.

    Sure, you can just rent it all over again, but that would get unreasonably expensive and it’s certainly inconvenient.

    In fairness to Apple, they had to make concessions to get all the major movie studios on board, and this egregious DRM scheme is standard operating procedure. Sure, Steve put a friendly spin on his ability to corral the studios to make deals with Apple, but at what cost?

    Now nobody forces you to rent a movie from iTunes now or ever, and I can see where most of you will have little difficulty completing the movie within the 24-hour timeframe.

    I do wonder, though, why the film industry is so paranoid about online sales and rentals. DVD sales are flattening and, in some instances, declining. They should take advantage of new revenue streams, but why cripple the product so severely? If the thing doesn’t take off, even in Apple’s hands, where does the blame lie?

    Do I have to tell you?

    The other concern is minor. Time Capsule is a sensible way to package a Wi-Fi router and a backup drive in a single box. The price is sensible too, assuming these are truly high-grade mechanisms. However, I wonder if this signals the restoration of the promised Leopard feature to be able to backup via Time Machine to a drive by way of a wireless connection. That capability was pulled at the last minute before 10.5 was released, but you clearly need it for Time Capsule to function. No, I don’t want to subscribe to the conspiracy theory that wireless backups of this sort will be limited to this single device. I’d prefer to think there’s a Leopard update in the wings that’ll address this shortcoming.

    Now it’s your turn, gentle reader, to tell me what irritated you about Apple’s new product announcements and, of course, what you really liked? Do you plan to buy a MacBook Air?

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