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Wednesday, 16 January 2008 03:43

Shock: Apple's new crop a bit of a yawner...

The Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld 2008 has come and gone, and there’s no 3G iPhone, no MacBook Tablet, MacBook Nano or iPhone Pro, no Blu-ray drives and no iPhone notes synching. So what did Steve Jobs bring down the mountain?
The Macworld 2008 keynote has come and gone - and what do we get? A really thin new MacBook, new iPod Touch software existing owners have to pay for, and a movie rentals service that only iTunes and iPhone owners in the US can experience. Yawn... Apple’s clearly saving ‘the good stuff’ for later this year, or Macworld 2009.

“Thinnovation”, boasts Apple of their MacBook Air, the ultra thin portable Mac, which changes in ‘thinness’ from 0.4cm to 1.94cm (or 0.16 to 0.76-inches), has a larger touch-pad to allow easier ‘multi-touch’ gesturing, built-in 802.11 b/g/n and the option of a 64GB SSD hard drive.

But it still has a 13.3-inch screen, meaning it’s really the same size as the existing MacBook. For anyone, including myself, wanting a MacBook with a smaller screen for increased portability, going thin is certainly an impressive feat, but it’s not the MacBook innovation that many were expecting.

The 13.3-inch screen is glossy too, infuriating anyone who just doesn’t like a glossy screen’s ability to be highly reflective. It’s great for watching movies but not so great when doing actual work, at least for some users. Why can't there be a matte option?!

This whole ‘thin’ thing is hardly new, either – plenty of Japanese notebook manufacturers have ultra-thin notebooks, and have had them for years. Apple’s is now a tiny bit thinner than theirs – but so what?

If you’re already a MacBook owner, the MacBook thin definitely isn’t a ‘must-have upgrade’, but if you haven’t decided to switch to the Mac platform yet, at least you have the thinnest new Mac as an upgrade option.

Wow, I'm clearly really not impressed by the otherwise impressive MacBook Air... what else just seems to make no sense in this "thinstrosity"? The gory details are on page 2...

I’m not done with the MacBook Air yet. First up, it ships with one – count it – one USB port. Couldn’t at least two USB ports have been squeezed in? There’s also a Mini-DVI port, and thankfully there’s a mini-DVI to VGA cable in the box.

There’s also a single audio-out port – if you have an older headset microphone with twin 3.5mm sockets, one for headphones, one for the microphone – you can’t use the microphone portion anymore and will need to buy a new USB headset.

Sure, there’s an inbuilt microphone so you can make ‘speakerphone’ voice and video calls through programs such as iChat or Skype, but this is not very useful if you’re in a coffee shop, at work in an open plan office or anywhere where you might want some simple privacy when communicating with others.

The lack of ports might make the machine sleek, but for some, it’s torture. And the 5 hour battery life? Apple used to have double or triple the battery life of PC notebooks. Now Apple’s 5 hour battery life seems short compared to competing PC/Windows models that promise hours more, albeit in thicker packaging.

Then there’s the multi-touch glidepad. Ok, so this is nice – Apple says the multi-touch gesture support lets users can pinch, rotate and swipe.

But given that existing MacBooks and MacBook Pros have a multi-touch glidepads, letting you place two fingers on the touch pad to scroll through long documents or websites, or to activate the right click menu, the big question for me is – will existing MacBook owners be able to download an update that allows them to enjoy the multi-touch goodness?

Or is it something that only MacBook Air owners will get to enjoy?

What else did Apple launch today, and why is some of it likewise less than impressive? Please read onto the conclusion on page 3....

So, what else did Macworld 2008 and Steve Jobs unveil? Well, we now have an iTunes movie rental store. With only 1000 movies available, it’s a pretty weak line up to start with.

You can download movies right to your Apple TV, if you have one, without your PC or Mac getting involved. You can download them to your iTunes enabled computer. And you can even download them to your Wi-Fi connected iPhone, and presumably iPod Touch.

But it’s a rental thing, you don’t get to keep the file. And if you don’t live in the US, then the sheer greed of the movie studios wanting ‘region zones’ and the like on DVDs and Blu-ray discs guarantees one thing: this feature is something you will not get access to, not until the studios decide to let us rent their damned movies online in other countries.

This ridiculous scenario must really annoy Apple and result in lots of lost global profits – only the US gets all the good stuff on iTunes. Every other country can just wait. Some countries don’t even have iTunes yet! Thanks for nothing, Apple.

An iPod Touch update gets the iPhone apps that were missing – but if you’re an existing iPod Touch owner, the update isn’t free – no, you’ll have to pay US $19.99 – or AUD $24.99 for Aussies.

At least iPhone owners can upgrade to the 1.1.3 firmware free-of-charge, with all those 1.1.3 firmware rumours panning out, meaning GPS-like location through cell phone towers and Wi-Fi for the updated Google Maps app, the ability to place web shortcuts on the iPhone’s main screen, etc etc.

Apple has launched a wireless storage solution for Leopard’s Time Machine, but this isn’t leading either – wireless storage devices have been around for years. Now you can buy one from Apple – but let’s hope it doesn’t go the way of the iPod Hi-Fi, which has been discontinued thanks to so much competition offering better value for money.

Look, what Apple has launched is still amazing. But it’s not leading edge, cutting edge, never-seen-it-before stuff – like the iPhone was last year.

This year we didn’t get a revolution, we have an evolution instead.

Evolution is good – just ask Charles Darwin. But this year’s crop, so far, doesn’t scream MUST HAVE.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Apple’s stuff, I love my iPhone and iPod Touch.

But I – and plenty of others – wanted a Mac tablet of some kind, not a thinner version of the same size MacBook already available. Honestly, what's the point of that? So I can send my MacBook in an envelope to someone? I know Jobs says it fits into a large envelope, as per the keynote...

I'm sure I'll love it when I see it, but I don't want to buy it - the ASUS Eee PC is still on the top of my 'must have' list - and it's thousands of dollars cheaper to boot.

Oh well. In theory, a Mac Tablet, 3G iPhone and everything else is still coming - maybe we'll see it at Macworld... in 2009!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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