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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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