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.
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.
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.