My Thoughts and Reactions to the Macworld 2008 Keynote

16 January 2008

The biggest surprise from this year’s Macworld Keynote was that there were no surprises. It’s actually quite a conundrum we have here. On the one hand, we all love to hear rumors, predictions and so-called leaked information from Cupertino; but on the other, we love being surprised by announcements we didn’t see coming. I wonder, sometimes, if part of the latter love stems from a passive, sinister desire to see people proven wrong. Nevertheless, the lid on Apple HQ has been compromised as of late.

That said, I’m still impressed with how well Steve Jobs presents – even when we know what’s coming. If the company is to out-live the man, they must find someone to replace the man, not the position.

But this article is about the products, not Steve.

Time Capsule

Time Capsule looks to be the best product no one will buy. The idea is right, I just think it lacks the simplistic appeal that it needs. The concept behind Time Machine is making the inherently inconvenient and difficult seem easy (and even fun). Look no further than Time Machine’s quirky interface to see how Apple is trying to appeal to the average consumer.

But Time Capsule doesn’t appeal to the average consumer. The people who spend $300 to $500 on a backup solution are already passed “easy”. They’re the guys who’ve setup scheduled backups and drive redundancy.

I’m sure they’ll sell plenty of units. I just don’t think they’re sell them to Average Joe; at least not at $300 each.

I hope I’m wrong, though. I can’t stress enough how important backing up is. If Apple gets my mom to backup, praise the Lord!

iPhone and iPod Touch software updates

The iPhone software update had a bunch of new mini-features that probably all deserve some sort of attention and review, but the one that I was most excited about was multiple-recipient SMS.

Isn’t that sad?

It took 5 months for Apple to finally address this. I literally had a “what am I thinking?” moment yesterday as I realized every other mobile phone on the market, from freebies to smartphones, could do what I was so excited I could finally do. Now if we could just get MMS on the thing …

As for the iPod Touch update, my father in-law had the best response: “I can’t believe I have to pay for software updates for my iPod Touch! Where do I swipe?” Agreed.

It’s $20. It’s worth it. Get over it.

iTunes Movie Rentals and the Apple TV

I have little to say about the iTunes Movie Rentals and Apple TV announcements; though they’re arguably the highlight of this year’s keynote. When Apple first introduced TV shows, I knew it was too early. When movies came out, it still felt early. Now? Well, I think we might be getting there.

My wife and I haven’t rented a movie in months, but we will now. And I’ve wanted to want an Apple TV since it was introduced last year, but just couldn’t. Now, though … ? Maybe so.

Both items are awesome. I anticipate both succeeding.

MacBook Air

Two years ago when I said Apple had missed a niche market by introducing the MacBook, I had in mind a sub-notebook for the professional, mobile user – someone like me, who prefers to work outside the office. On the surface the MacBook Air looks like it fits that niche.

The product tagline is “Thinnovation”, and how fitting it is. Still, with no intention of demeaning the genius engineers who worked on it, I will say this: It appears more innovation was put into making the MacBook Air thin than anything else. In fact, except for the thinness, the dimensions of the MacBook Air hardly reflect “sub-notebook” standards. (The thick bezel around the 13.3-inch display doesn’t help the illusion, either.)

But then again, maybe the MacBook Air isn’t meant to be a sub-notebook. Actually, I didn’t hear or see one reference of “sub-notebook” during the keynote – everything was “thin notebook”.

So did Apple miss the niche again? Maybe.

When Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, he heralded Apple’s refusal to compromise in several areas: thinness, display size, keyboard size, and processor speed. While they succeeded in delivering on all of those areas, the processor speed is most certainly a compromise. The MacBook Air peaks at a 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo, nearly half a configurable MacBook Pro. Think about that. Half the speed.

Another head-tilting decision Apple made with the MacBook Air is the hard drive capacity. Why not offer a 160GB model? After all, what is a MacBook Air owner to do with all the TV shows they download from the iTunes Store after they view them? They can’t burn them to a CD or DVD! I, for example, can’t even fit my iPhoto library on my 80GB internal PowerBook hard drive. I keep it on an external firewire drive. How would I manage a library this size on a MacBook Air?

More criticism for the MacBook Air abounds; most of which is just typical industry feedback and nearsightedness. Some, though, has validity: the MacBook Air’s memory capacity, lack of swappable battery, lack of ethernet port, and lack of FireWire ports. What was that you were saying about not compromising, Steve?

The fact is, Apple did compromise on the MacBook Air. It would be impossible not to. Laptops and consumer electronics are all about compromise. The trick is finding the right tension in the manufacturing side versus the consumer side of compromise. Remember, consumers have to make compromises, too.

The 12-inch PowerBook G4 seemed to break the rules, though. It shared all the major features of its big brothers, the 15- and 17-inch models; but it still had smaller dimensions. The compromises were minimal: no back-lit keyboard, less USB ports, no native DVI port. I guess I sort of expected a resurrected 12-inch PowerBook G4. Instead, the MacBook Air feels like a dumbed- albeit slimmed-down version of the MacBook … last year’s MacBook.

So I’m torn when it comes to the MacBook Air. It’s like buying shoes that will be too tight: if you can pull it off, not harm yourself while wearing them, and still get your job done, then do it. Just be sure you bring along a shoe-horn (aka USB hub).