Macworld Expo Keynote: Software Yes; Hardware No

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Now we know the real reason that Steve Jobs skipped out of this year's Macworld Expo keynote. He didn't want to give a presentation where the major announcement was a non-removable battery. Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe, once he decided to pass on the keynote (for whatever reasons), he took all the major hardware announcements off the table, saving them for a future media "special event." Either way, the result is the same: The most disappointing keynote in a decade. And it had nothing to do with Phil Schiller, who did a fine job of standing in for Steve.

Software

OK. I need to qualify that statement a bit.

The new '09 versions of iLife and iWork were certainly newsworthy, sometimes even exciting. I haven't had time to digest it all yet, but the improvements to iPhoto and iMovie put them up there with best iLife upgrades of the past several years. As if Apple needed much help here, these new versions should get even more converts to switch to a Mac.

The face recognition feature alone is enough for me to rush out to pre-order my copy of iLife '09. In fact, I had expressed a desire for exactly this feature in a previous article here at The Mac Observer. Assuming it works as well as it did in the demo, this capability is a startling advance. You can can now have iPhoto sort your photos based on the people in your pictures. iPhoto doe it all for you -- automatically.  (Hmm, I wonder if it works with pets too.) Throw in the new geotagging options, FaceBook and Flickr support and the much more elaborate slideshow themes -- and you have a terrific new package.

The new precision editing features in iMovie '09 look like they address most, if not all, of the complaints launched against the previous version -- which was a great version only if your goal was to stimulate sales of Final Cut Express.

As an interesting side-note, Apple appears to have formally dropped iTunes from iLife. iLife now consists of only iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb and iDVD. This sort of makes sense, as iTunes was the only one of the iLife applications that has been separately available for free.

As for iWork '09, the new transitions features in Keynote, especially the Magic Move feature that automatically creates elaborate animated transitions between slides, are a worthy addition. More minor upgrades in Pages and Numbers, complete the picture.

iLife and iWork '09 remain at same basic price as prior versions. Actually, there are new ways to get them for even less, such as the new Mac Box Set, which combines a copy of Leopard with iLife and iWork for a price that is only $40 more than a stand-alone version of Leopard (which makes sense given that you need Leopard to run iLife and iWork '09).

This is hardly a complete inventory of what's new. My point here is simply to establish that these announcements delivered the goods that attendees have come to expect at a Macworld Expo keynote.

Pay to play

There was a somewhat darker side to all the software announcements, one that Apple did not play up as much -- yet may loom large in Apple's future. Included with the new iLife and iWork are new ways for Apple to generate income. I'm not sure I tracked all of them, but they include: the Learn to Play and Artist Lessons in GarageBand (as sold through the new Lesson Store), the Keynote Remote iPhone app (selling for $0.99), and iWork.com (currently a free beta, but to be fee-based when finally released). There's also the expanded iTunes Plus, with an increased push to get users to pay to upgrade their music Libraries. Increasingly, it seems that buying iLife or iWork is only the start of what Apple hopes you will ultimately pay to use them.

Hardware

After the software section of the keynote was finished, all of the air in the keynote balloon was gone. For hardware, there was only one new product: an upgraded 17" MacBook Pro. As it is mainly a 17" inch version of its already released smaller siblings, this was far from an earthshaking announcement. In fact, there were only two things, other than its size, that distinguished it in any way from the smaller models.

First, Apple is offering the 17" notebook with an anti-glare screen option. Given that I (and many others) have expressed a strong desire to see this on all MacBooks, seeing it only on the 17" model was more a disappointment than a welcome addition.

It gets worse. The new 17" MacBook Pro comes with a non-removable battery. You heard correctly. Apple tried to paint this as an asset (by touting that it will last as much as 3 hours longer than the prior model's battery). They even produced a video to highlight how wonderful it is. In the end, it's still a non-removable battery. The 17" MacBook Pro now shares the same feature that has annoyed iPod and iPhone users for the past several years. This is a step back, not forward.

And that was it.

There was no new Mac mini, even though at least one company has issued a press release noting the "New Apple Mac Mini Hardware." It's clear this product is coming. But not today. Similarly, Apple is already on record as saying that its next generation of iMacs and Mac Pros will support the Mini DisplayPort. But not today. How long does Apple plan to sell Mac Pros that cannot even use the latest Cinema Display?

My current guess is that all of these products are ready or almost ready to go -- and will be announced within the next couple of months, at a time and place of Apple's choosing. Not showing any of them here and now, not announcing even one significant new hardware product, made for an unnecessarily lackluster keynote. It amounts to a final poke in the eye to Macworld Expo as Apple says goodbye.

Comments

deasys

“The 17” MacBook Pro now shares the same feature that has annoyed iPod and iPhone users for the past several years. This is a step back, not forward”

That “step backward” allowed tripling cycle life, 50% longer charge life, a slight slimming of the computer, no weight increase, and greater reliability.

Some “step backward…”

Dean Lewis

A few steps forward and a step or two back then. smile

Did Phil mention something about the battery replacement policy? I thought he did, but I was reading several feeds and not actually there to hear. They should allow for free on-the-spot replacement at any Apple Store after purchase of a new battery. Or ensure overnight service either onsite or by shipping. Extended time without a system due to a battery and not actual hardware trouble is just an extra pain.

jimmyjazz

Is it any wonder Apple don’t want to attend Macword Expo any more? Immense pressure to announce home-run crowd pleasing products directly after the holiday season. Were apple pleased about the products they had to announce today? Probably not, but they had absolutely no say in the scheduling of the event. Apple needs time to be Apple. If that means announcing amazing products when they’re ready rather than rushing them out (I’m looking at you MobileMe) or spreading them thin as happened today then I’m right behind them.

dahlenu

If Apple wanted less pressure, move Macworld to August/September. They almost always have back-to-school announcements. Or, in any case, don’t withdraw completely; skip the keynote but be present. They could re-locate an Apple store to the expo floor for four days. It’s not much to ask. But I fear Apple doesn’t want to talk to their most loyal customers any more or participate in a community event, they only want to sell stuff. I’m starting to dislike this new, greedy Apple.

Chas

Battery:  It’s been over 10 years since I bought a second battery for a laptop.  Is this REALLY a concern?  If this laptop truly gets even 5 hours instead of the 7 advertised, then this is great!  I’m used to *2* hours, tops.  And in a few years, if I can get away with only paying for a new battery vs. a whole new laptop, that’s a lot of $$ saved.
.                                                                . 
Mini: I suspect the mini upgrade will be announced very quietly.  I’m guessing that Steve despises the mini and would kill that line in a heartbeat if Apple didn’t sell so many - not enough profit.  I’ll bet the profit margin for the 17” MBP is close the the entire price of the low-end mini.

Bregalad

Macworld SF has always been a bizarre time of year for a consumer oriented company like Apple. Ruin Christmas for all your employees by making them work on new products and then ruin Christmas for all your customers by making their shiny new gifts out-of-date.

The new software looks nice, but most of the Mac users I know outside of the tech world aren’t running the current version of anything. They won’t be in any rush to get iWhatever ‘09 when they never bothered with ‘08.

It’s clear Apple wanted to break the tie between January and new hardware announcements even at the cost of delaying much needed desktop updates.

I’m skeptical about a new battery that promises so much. Based on my experiences with PowerBook, iBook and MacBook Pro batteries, they rarely yield more than 75% of the predicted life when brand new and barely half the advertised run time by the time they’re a year old. I could understand that if I was a power user, but I keep my screen brightness low and when I’m wireless all that’s usually running is Mail and Safari or Mail, iChat, Text Edit and Word.

Bregalad

Chas wrote: “Mini: I suspect the mini upgrade will be announced very quietly.  I?m guessing that Steve despises the mini and would kill that line in a heartbeat if Apple didn?t sell so many - not enough profit.  I?ll bet the profit margin for the 17? MBP is close the the entire price of the low-end mini.”

You’re probably right on all accounts. However there aren’t many people who can afford and justify a 17” MBP. The potential market for minis is probably 100 times larger. In addition, the current mini is 17 months old and was already using mostly outdated parts back in August 2007 when it was last updated. Today everything inside the mini is two or three generations old and should be costing Apple virtually nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the current mini has a profit margin exceeding 60%.

Intruder

@Dahlenu:
Apple doesn’t control when Macworld is held. That is one of the reasons why they are pulling out. Also, the expense of being a major display at a trade show is tremendous. Pulling out is probably a pretty significant savings ($1M+). Trade shows like MW are a dying breed.

rjackb

I could care less about the iLife enhancements (I use Aperture and Final Cut Express and never use iWeb or GarageBand). The iWork enhancements are nice but not that exciting.

I am, however, very interested in the 17” MacBook Pro. The two biggest things to me were the 8GB of supported memory and the anti-glare option. I thought it absurd that the late 2008 MacBook Pros still only support 4GB while this machine supports twice as much memory as any other MacBook Pro. The unibody construction and new keyboard are great additions as well. Since I currently own a 3 or so year old 17” MacBook Pro and have been considering an upgrade to the late 2008 15” MacBook Pro, this was a nice announcement for me and definitely changes my plans.

Ben

I was on the verge of buying a brand spanking new Mac Pro with the expected Dunnington Xeon chips. Waited more than six months for the announcement to be made at Macworld.

Nothing, niks, nada, rien…. extremely disappointing. I’m wondering if Apple is serious about serving the professional market segment. They really do need to be a leader in the game, ahead of the curve instead of lagging behind.

Very disappointed….

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