Ted Landau's User Friendly View - Macworld Keynote: Apple...Redefined

January 11th, 2007

This is my twentieth year attending Macworld Expo. To put it another way, I have attended over thirty Macworld keynotes. As I try to place yesterday's keynote in the context of all the others I have seen, I'd have to say that this one was the...I am not sure the word I want to use here, but I'll go with...weirdest.

First things first. Steve Jobs' demo of the forthcoming iPhone was very impressive. Paraphrasing a quote I heard Oprah use the other day, its coolness is so bright that it makes my eyes hurt. I have no quibble with Steve's assertion that it is a ground-breaking device, one that redefines what a mobile phone can be. As Steve marched through the list of the iPhone's features, I kept thinking that the makers of other mobile phones must be getting very nervous. The wide screen touch screen, the built-in Mac OS X software, the Google maps, the full featured Web browser and email, and all the rest. "Impressive" may be an understatement. Oh, and by the way, even if it wasn't a phone, it would be the absolute best iPod that Apple has yet to produce. I assume you already know most of the iPhone's details by now, so I won't bore you by reiterating them here. Suffice it to say that whether you want a new video iPod or a new Internet-capable mobile phone, you want this device. Assuming you can afford it, get ready to buy it.

That said, I was still surprised that Steve spent almost the entire keynote extolling the virtues of the iPhone, often repeating his talking points multiple times, to the exclusion of almost everything else. In fact, it was only about five or ten minutes into the keynote, after showing a new "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ad, that Steve announced "That's all I'll be saying about Macs today." What? I pulled my program guide out of my backpack and checked the cover. Yup. It said MACworld. I had not been mistaken. What kind of Macworld keynote doesn't talk about Macs? What Macworld keynote doesn't introduce any new Mac software or new hardware peripherals? What sort of Macworld keynote doesn't mention a single new product that starts shipping at the Expo (AppleTV, originally announced several months ago, doesn't ship until February; the iPhone is delayed until June)?

It's not as if Steve's only choice was to talk just about AppleTV (briefly) and iPhone. For starters, there was another new product announced at the Expo: a redesigned AirPort Extreme, featuring 802.11n capability. Clearly, it is designed to work with the 802.11n capable AppleTV. Steve could have at least made passing mention of the new device. But he did not.

Steve might also have included a brief update on the status of Mac OS X Leopard (first announced at the WWDC and scheduled for shipment by June). Nope. The word "Leopard" would not even appear in a transcript of the Keynote. How about touting the speed benefits of the new Core 2 Duo MacBooks and MacBook Pros (released only a couple of months ago)? Nada again.

Then there are the products that haven't been released yet but are almost certainly waiting in the wings. For the past several years, Apple has announced a new version of iLife at each Expo. It's not an accident that the year is actually part of the name of the product. iWork now seems to be following the same pattern. It was thus a more than reasonable expectation that iLife '07 and iWork '07 would make their debut yesterday. At the very least, based on the transition effects in Steve's presentation, it seemed that a new version of Keynote might already be on Steve's hard drive. But this expectation was not met. No '07 products were announced.

Apple quietly dropped the stand-alone iSight camera from the Apple Store last month. This led to the reports that a new line of Cinema Displays were in the works, ones that included built-in iSight cameras. Such displays would mean that a stand-alone iSight was no longer needed for any currently shipping Mac, thus explaining the demise of the product. It all makes sense. Still, no new displays were announced.

Finally, it would not have been completely wacko to presume that Apple might announce a significant upgrade of at least one Mac model (the rumor money was on either the Mac Pro or the iMac). But it was not to be.

Steve did not even have a "one more thing" to conclude the keynote. There was pretty much only the one thing, the iPhone.

I fully expect that we will see many of these products rolled out in the next month or two, either via quiet online announcements or perhaps via a special press event. Still, the point is that Steve chose not mention any of the recently-announced or soon-to-be-announed products at the keynote. Why? I see two related reasons.

First, Steve believes the iPhone to be such an important product for the future of Apple that he did not want to dilute the impact of its announcement by muddying the waters with news of other lesser products. At the very least, Steve was sending a message that he wanted to be heard above the din of the crowds at CES in Las Vegas.

The second reason is a bit more subtle. But you get a hint of it from the announcement, at the end of the keynote, that Apple is changing its name from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc. You can get another hint by visiting the Apple booth on the Expo floor. Here you'll find a section of the booth devoted to AppleTV, a couple of small display of the iPhone, and a couple of rows of machines featuring mainly iPods, iTunes, iLife 06, iWork '06, and Aperture. Unless I missed it somewhere, there is no section devoted explicitly to the Macs themselves, such as a section featuring the Core 2 Duo lineup of laptops. A third hint is that all three newly announced products (AppleTV, AirPort Extreme, and iPhone) work with both with Macs and PCs.

The bottom line here is that Apple continues to distance itself from its image as a company that primarily makes computers, Instead, it wants to morph into a more general consumer electronics company. No, this doesn't mean Apple intends to abandon the Mac. I am confident that the Mac still has a prominent place in Apple's future. At the same time, I believe that Apple expects the Mac to be a smaller and smaller part of its overall revenue in the years ahead. Steve emphasized this in a graph that popped up near the end of the keynote, showing that the market for mobile phones is bigger than the markets for computers and MP3 players combined. The implication was that a successful iPhone could easily become Apple's most important product.

If this trend continues, within a couple of years, we may see Apple pressuring Macworld Expo to change its name to AppleWorld Expo.

Personally, I would have preferred a more traditional Mac-centric keynote. Macs remain the core of my interest in Apple. But Steve doesn't consult me before putting his keynote together.

Finally, returning briefly to the iPhone, many many questions about this device remain unanswered: Will you be able to add your own widgets to the phone, or otherwise modify the phone's software? How will the software be updated to fix bugs and add new features? What exactly is this new version of Mac OS X that has been designed to run on the iPhone? Can you print from the version of Safari included on the iPhone? When will there be a version of the widescreen iPod that does not include a phone (replacing the existing iPod with video). Will there be a version of the iPhone that does not include an iPod? And on it goes.

This Expo is turning out to be a bit like recent episodes of Lost, revealing some intriguing details of the big picture, but frustratingly leaving much of the picture still shrouded in mystery. But take heart. I fully expect that Apple's picture will clear up considerably before the year is over. As for Lost...that's another story.

Ted Landau is the founder of MacFixit, and the author of Mac OS X Help Line, Tiger Edition and other Mac help books.

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