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  • The Expo Report #1: Do You Prefer Tony Bennett to Steve Jobs?

    January 6th, 2009

    Let’s put it this way: Few were anticipating much from Apple VP Philip Schiller when he delivered Apple’s final Macworld Expo keynote. But there were a few essentials that were widely anticipated when it comes to hardware that just weren’t quite realized.

    First let’s explore what actually occurred. As rumored, Apple announced a 17-inch unibody version of the MacBook Pro. At $2,799 you get the full package, with 4GB of RAM. But you can upgrade to 8GB and, unlike the lesser models, have it recognize every last bit of memory. The standard Intel Core 2 Duo processor is 2.66GHz, with an upgrade to 2.93GHz for an extra $300.

    As with the other MacBook Pros, there are two graphic chips from NVIDIA, including the integrated 9400M and the more powerful 9600M GT with 512MB of memory.

    That’s where the resemblances end. You see the 17-inch model also has an optional “antiglare display,” meaning matte instead of glossy. That will satisfy those for whom glossy is a non-starter. But the biggest change is a built-in lithium-polymer battery with a claimed life of up to eight hours on a single charge.

    By “built-in,” Apple means that, as was mentioned in the pre-keynote speculation, you can’t remove it easily, which puts it in the same class as the battery in the MacBook Air.

    As far as Mac hardware is concerned, that’s all folks. No new Mac mini or revised iMac, though the year is still young. There were no announcements about the status of the next version of Snow Leopard either, not even a demonstration to whet your appetite or any revisions in the anticipated shipping date.

    Now since Apple is the largest music retailer on the planet, it was inevitable that they’d forge new agreements with the industry to make additional DRM-free songs available. As of today, some eight million tracks, 80% of their existing library, will be available without digital copy protection in 256kbps AAC encoding. While still not exactly CD quality, it comes, as with the previous iTunes Plus selections, much closer to that ideal.

    The next bit of news, also anticipated, is Apple’s decision to abandon its one-price-fits-all model, clearly a concession to the music companies in exchange for getting more DRM-free product. Effective in April, the new price package has three tiers, from 69 cents for older catalog, 99 cents for recent stuff, and $1.29 for current hits. Of course, when you consider the increase in the cost of living since the iTunes store first premiered, the highest point really doesn’t represent that much of an increase.

    Further, you can now download the very same tunes on your iPhone 3G, via a 3G network connection, and pay the very same price. That should put the kibosh on the wireless industry’s attempts to charge at least twice as much for music downloads that use their bandwidth.

    On the software front, iWork ’09 made its debut, along with news about iWork.com, an online document collaboration capability for the new suite that’s reminiscent of Google Apps. The $79 package retains its current lineup, consisting of Pages for word processing and desktop publishing, Keynote for presentations and Numbers for spreadsheets. That’s right, folks, still no database or dedicated illustration components.

    Typical for version upgrades of this sort, there are a smattering of new features but little that seems earthshaking or trendsetting. Apple remains far behind the broad scope of Microsoft Office and maybe that’s deliberate, although iWork ’09’s feature set is probably more than sufficient for most people.

    Oh yes, there’s an iLife ’09 as well. Again, the enhancements are simply evolutionary, the sort of things you expect in an annual software update. I am, however, curious about the extra image editing capability in the new iPhoto. No, it’s not going to take away any business from Adobe, either for Photoshop or Elements, but for the intended audience of regular people who don’t aspire to become professional photographers, it’ll do just fine.

    Under normal circumstances, most of these announcements could have been made with simple press releases. Even the 17-inch MacBook Pro is, which is so similar to the smaller version, except for the built-in longer life battery, matte screen option and a few other minor things. After all, the unibody form factor has already received its share of coverage.

    Even expected improvements to the iPhone remain in the land of hopes and dreams. The firmware is still 2.2, and the promised push notification capability has disappeared from the list of promised features, evidently. Published reports of developer releases of the Apple software don’t even mention it anymore.

    If there was anything particularly interested about the keynote, it came at the end. There was no Jobs cameo, or anything approaching a “one more thing.” Instead, there was a musical presentation from veteran crooner Tony Bennett. But the keynote was, despite his presence, still a huge disappointment. No wonder Jobs didn’t want to go.



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    9 Responses to “The Expo Report #1: Do You Prefer Tony Bennett to Steve Jobs?”

    1. Karl says:

      For sure this keynote was a bit of disappointment. But if that is what they are going to be then I’m glad this is the last one.

    2. Andrew says:

      I didn’t find it dissappointing at all. On the contrary, the introduction of a matte screen 17″ MacBook Pro suggests at least the possibility of that same option being made available on 15″ and even 13″ models. As a fan of matte screens, I may even consider moving up to the 17″ when I buy my next laptop, admittedly in two years or so as I just bought an outgoing 15″ MBP, if Apple doesn’t move the matte option to the smaller models.

      I’m kind of locked in MS Office for compatibility reasons, but the changes to iWork look interesting, and the new garage band may finally motivate me to learn how to play that beautiful Fender Telecaster I bought 12-years-ago.

    3. rwahrens says:

      I agree, it was NOT disappointing, although it illustrates quite well why Apple wanted to dump these things.

      If Phil Shiller can do as good a job as he did, yet people can be so disappointed over what DIDN’T happen, it really points out that Apple was right to dump this dog and pony show.

    4. Karl says:

      Disappointments are relative to expectations. At MacWorld, MOST people (but not everyone) have the expectation that Apple has to hit a “home run” at every show. I was actually expecting more with this being the last show but it was a lot less then I expected, hence the disappointment (read… no home run for me). But in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal.

      Being disappointed isn’t a knock on Phil. He did a fine job with the keynote. I don’t think there are many people who will fault him for the delivery.

      I am in agreement. Apple dropping MacWorld is the right thing to do. Trade shows are becoming an ineffective way to communicate to the customer, but they have always been a dog-and-pony show and if Apple can’t/won’t come to hit a home run, or if incremental upgrades to iWork, iLife and a MacBook Pro is their home run, they should stay way.

    5. Richard says:

      My first impression was “where’s the beef”? Then I thought of Peggy Lee singing “if that’s all there is…”

      Ultimately, the lack of notable introductions at MW is probably an indication of the positive aspect of Apple dropping out: Release a product when it is ready, not on some artificial schedule that has little to do with your business. On the other hand, Apple very much needs to improve its ability to bring new/revised products to market when the market cycle is important, such as the back-to-school and holiday cycles, without foregoing the incremental improvements that other manufacturers seem to handle without particular problem.

      Nevertheless, it is disappointing that Apple did not have the rumored hardware ready for introduction.

    6. Degrees of Truth says:

      The comments I’ve seen about the built-in battery in the 17-inch MacBook Pro — many, if not most, negative — overlook what I think is at least as disappointing: unlike the current generation MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro, RAM and hard-drive are not user-accessible. The original MacBook introduced the design where RAM and hard drive are easily accessed through the battery bay, and upgrading either component could be done in minutes.

      Also, to add perspective on an earlier topic, note that people will presumably be willing to pay $300 for a 10% faster CPU, but are quite grumpy about the prospect of paying $129 for Snow Leopard because it only will provide performance enhancements.

    7. Bill in NC says:

      A nearly $3,000 laptop in the midst of the worst recession since WWII?

      What about the $599 Mini?

      Or fixing the iMac’s issues to avoid another class-action lawsuit? (vertical lines on the display)

    8. adam says:

      I am only disappointed in the lack of an update on Snow Leopard and a lack of a new mini. That machine becomes very viable for me if it moves to the new graphics card, display port and mag-safe of the unibody portables.

    9. Richard says:

      The test, I think, will be when and how Apple introduces all the “missing things” that were expected to be either introduced, updated, or discussed (such as Snow Leopard).

      If Apple wait for some other artificial event, such as the WWDC, the lesson will not have been learned. If the there is a presentation at the mothership when it is ready, and not waiting until there is a build up of things to make “an event”, perhaps the lesson will have taken.

      Even with the paucity of new items at MacWorld, the few which were introduced raised as many questions as they answered. If Apple has this “new battery technology”, why isn’t it being offered for the other laptops. What about the matte screen option? There was no discussion that I heard about CUDA implementation (yea, I know Apple calls it something different), for the Nvidia GPUs. Bye the bye, where are the new Intel CPUs??? All the other manufacturers are announcing their introduction. Apple had been among the first to get the “new stuff” out. Now it looks like they will be tail end Charlie.

      If Steve is stepping back to take care of his health, which I hope he is, and allowing his “lieutenants” to step forward and show that they can carry his vision forward as well as actually make specific products come to market, it will be interesting to watch what happens in the next few months.

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