Apple 2007: What a year!

In the history of Apple Computer, it is possible that there has been a better year than 2007. But you would be hard pressed to find it. Never mind that Appleis stock has soared (at least briefly) to over 190. Never mind that its Mac market share has apparently grown from around 2% to over 8%. Never mind that it continues to dominate the MP3 player and music/video download markets.

The biggest Apple story for 2007 is the phenomenal number of great products it released. Okay, perhaps not every product was great. But they were all still exciting and generated significant buzz. What other company can say that?

Hereis my look back at Appleis year. I offer my brief assessment of each new product?with the benefit of end-of-year hindsight.

iPhone. The invention of the year. The gadget of the year. The you-name-it of the year. Could this product possibly live up to all its hype? Yes. Definitely.

Of course, it is not perfect. Where is voice dialing and built-in GPS, for starters? And I am already salivating over the expected 3G iPhone 2.0 coming in 2008. But the 1.0 version is still as close to an out-of-the-park home run as anyone could wish for. For my money, itis the most ground-breaking product Apple has created since the original Mac in 1984. Itis already hard for me to imagine how I managed without one. Whether I am looking up a location in Maps, checking movie times in Safari, listening to my voicemail with the incredible ease of its visual interface, sending a quick email message, enjoying music (which I do more often now that I always have an iPod with me), or playing one of the games I added after hacking the device, it seems that I am always using my iPhone for something.

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. A mixed bag. Yes, it has some intriguing new features. I am especially fond of screen sharing and Back to My Mac. Time Machine is also a plus. But the more I use Leopard, the more I find that it actually offers very little in the way of "must have" features. Indeed, if I was forced to revert to Tiger tomorrow, I wouldnit object. Actually, I would welcome a return to the Dock in Tiger (with its hierarchical folder menus) or the firewall in Tiger (with its ability to turn individual ports on and off). Then there are the too numerous startup and login problems in Leopard (see my recent MacFixIt column for exactly what I mean here). I have the sense that, with all the other stuff Apple had going on in 2007, Leopard was not given the attention it needed. It may take until around version 10.5.3 before Leopard is truly a "finished" product.

Apple TV. I own one and I enjoy it. I have it connected to my home theater system in my living room. However, my major use of it is for playing music, not video. For streaming music from iTunes, it is a far better choice than the AirTunes component of an AirPort Express?because Apple TV offers a video interface and remote control. Even better, by syncing files to the Apple TVis hard drive, you can play music without having to be connected to a Mac at all.

For Apple TV to live up to its name and be really useful as a "TV," it needs a significant upgrade. An obvious starting point would be some sort of DVR-like capability.

AirPort Extreme. If you are thinking of upgrading to a new AirPort Extreme Base Station for the speed boost of the 802.11n network, you probably shouldnit bother. In particular, if you use your Wi-Fi network just for connecting to the Internet, your Internet speed is a bottleneck that will prevent you from seeing any overall speed gain as compared to 802.11g. Actually, the speed result can be even worse than no gain at all (as I detailed in the MacFixIt column months ago), due to problems with signal strength specific to "n" networks.

Still, the ability to add a networked hard drive to the Extreme is a plus. Of course, if you have no wireless router at all, the AirPort Extreme would make a worthwhile purchase.

iPod touch. I have done an almost 180 degree turn here, since the initial release of the iPod touch. My first reaction was: Great! Here is the iPhone-less iPhone that users have been clamoring for. Now you can have the iPhoneis touchscreen interface without having to pay for a two-year phone contract.

My more recent reaction, however, is closer to "Whatis the point?" I know I am showing my iPhone bias here but...the iPod touch does so much less than the iPhone that I keep feeling the touch is just a crippled iPhone. For $100 more in initial cost, you can have an iPhone with the same 8Gb of memory, all of its added features and save yourself having to carry around a second device as an iPod. If you are willing to go with AT&T as your mobile phone carrier, the iPhone is the way to go.

iPod nano. The new nano is a worthy successor to the previous generation nano. I was especially glad to see that it now plays video, even though I suspect most users will not be watching much video on it. On the downside, I am not a fan of the redesigned "fatter" shape.

iLife i08. I still have mixed feelings about iMovie. It is definitely easier to make a quick movie now. But I miss the timeline controls that I now need to upgrade to Final Cut Express to get. For iPhoto, its biggest new feature is Events. Personally, I donit have much use for it. Indeed, it sometimes gets in my way, creating events automatically that I would prefer not be created.

The improvements in GarageBand are cool. I had fun with Magic GarageBand. And the ability to easily make multiple takes of a recording is definitely helpful.

Overall, iLife i08, a bit similar to Leopard, is a worthwhile but not essential upgrade. Still, if you are upgrading to Leopard, youill probably want to upgrade here as well. Of course, if you buy a new Mac, you get the new iLife included.

iWork i08. Numbers gives iWork a spreadsheet. And itis an excellent one, with Appleis expected attention to visual appearance and interface details. Pages and Keynote have been nicely upgraded as well. The tracking feature in Pages is an especially big plus; animations in Keynote provide some fun new options. iWork i08 may not be ready to replace Office for most users, but it keeps getting better with each new version. If you donit absolutely need Office, iWork i08 is a great alternative.

Those Mac ads. Finally, a word about those "Iim a Mac; Iim a PC" ads. Some may find them a bit irritating. Some may claim they overstate the advantages of a Mac. Some may feel they have begun to wear out their welcome. Not me. I still find them to be one of Appleis best ever ad campaigns. I enjoy each new batch. I especially got a kick out of the special one that opened the WWDC this year (you can still see it here).

If nothing else, the ads are a fun way to feel good about the Mac. And why not? Itis been a great year for the Mac and all the rest of Apple. As I said at the outset, even if not every product was a complete success, you still have to be impressed by the sheer number of worthy products Apple put out. Itis hard to imagine Apple topping itself in 2008. But weill soon begin to see. Macworld Expo is just around the corner.