Macworld Expo Blog Bits (Part 2)

Here is the second installment of my notes and observations gathered over the course of the 5 days of Macworld Expo. This entry digs deeper, looking at unreleased software from Intuit, Apple's reply on why only they can display the iPhone screen via a projector, and a dilemma involving otherwise great products for the iPhone.

Financial Life. At last year's Macworld Expo, Intuit was showing off a demo of Financial Life. This is their forthcoming total replacement for Quicken, rewritten from the ground up just for Mac OS X. Last year, they estimated it would ship by September 2008. That boat never arrived. As of last week's Expo, they had progressed to the point of a limited beta version (which they were handing out for free at their booth).

Intuit now expects to ship Financial Life by this summer. Why the unexpected delay? A rep at the Intuit booth candidly admitted that Intuit has had a rocky relationship with Mac users and that this was probably their last chance to get it right. They didn't want to screw it up. So rather than ship a product before it was ready, just to meet a self-imposed deadline, they decided it was more prudent to wait until the product was truly ready for the scrutiny of skeptical Mac users.

From my brief tour of the beta version, I can confirm that it is completely different from Quicken. It borrows the iTunes interface, with choices in a left-hand column and the resulting displays to the right. I can't yet tell if the product will be the winner that Intuit is hoping for. But it's definitely worth keeping on your radar.

iPhone display on a Mac. Apple did it again. In their booth in the South Hall, they had a continuous set of demo sessions in their theater. One was about iPhone apps. And there, plain as day, the presenter was tapping away on an iPhone, while his every action was reflected on the giant iPhone image on the theater screen. The fact that only Apple has the technology to do this has long been a pet peeve of mine (see this previous entry). So I had to ask. Specifically, I asked a couple of the many many Apple staff hanging around the booth when the rest of us could expect to join this party.

One staff member was reasonably forthcoming. His initial reply was that the product was a handmade kludge of wires and that there were only a few of these cables in existence. When I queried about whether Apple had plans to turn this into a consumer product, he replied no, because it would be "too difficult" (although he wouldn't specify exactly where this difficulty lay). Finally, I speculated that a third-party vendor might be able to duplicate this feat. If so, would Apple give its approval to the product? At this point, his eyes became glassy and there was no answer worth repeating here. He essentially shut down, indicating either that he had no further information or that he was not permitted to divulge what he knew. I gave up and walked away.

iPhone: The battle between cases and other accessories. I have been using my iPhone 3G without a case since I bought it. Why? Because I believe that the iPhone looks great just as it is -- and it is sturdy enough to survive without needing a case that would mainly serve to detract from its appearance.

However, two cases at the Expo particularly intrigued me: The iFrogz Luxe and the Contour Design Flick. Both are hard shell cases that are nearly invisible when viewed from the front. Viewed from any angle, they manage to almost enhance rather than detract from the overall look of the iPhone. I especially like the Luxe, with its metallic colors and a case material that feels halfway between ordinary plastic and silicone (the ads describe it as a "velvety soft touch").

No sooner had I put a Luxe on my iPhone than I was confronted with a common dilemma: Many iPhone accessories do not accommodate an iPhone with a case, even ones as thin as the Luxe and Flick. Both of these cases try their best to help. The Flick, as its name suggests, has a bottom part that flicks up, permitting you to place the iPhone in a dock that would otherwise be too narrow for an iPhone+case to fit. The Luxe's solution is a bottom section that can be temporarily removed entirely; it's not as convenient as the Flick approach, but it works.

Still, even these solutions are not sufficient for all accessories. Case in point is the JustMobile Xtand. When an iPhone is mounted in this stand, you can view the display at a convenient angle hands-free. It's perfect for watching a movie on your iPhone. Unfortunately, it grips the iPhone in all four corners. This meant there was no way I could get my iPhone into the stand without taking the iPhone's case completely off -- something I would not want to do on a regular basis. Ultimately, I had to decide between a case or the Xtand. I decided to give up on the Xtand -- at least for now. I can only hope that designers of products such as the Xtand eventually give more thought to how to accommodate iPhones with cases -- so users can have their cake here and eat it too.

By the way, most cases include a film that you can place over the iPhone screen, offering protection while still allowing the touch screen to work. It's been my experience that these invisible shield's are not all equally good. In particular, some films install easily without leaving air bubbles, while others force you to play an unwanted game of Whac-a-Mole as you repeatedly try to get the last air bubbles out. The films from Power Support have consistently worked the best for me. As a bonus, if you don't like the iPhone's glossy display, you go with their alternative anti-glare film. Even if your case comes with a film, it's worth considering getting one from Power Support instead.

To be continued.

[Note: Overcoming my concerns about how much of a time-sucker it can be, I am now actively posting and following others on Twitter. You can follow me @tedlandau.]