01. 15. 2008
Macworld Keynote: Mac Air, iPhone update, and iTunes movie rentals
Steve Jobs just gave his annual keynote at the Macworld Expo, and this time, the rumors proved to be mostly accurate. The big news was the ultra lightweight notebook, the Mac Air, but the expected movie rentals have come to iTunes, and there's a substantial software update coming to the iPhone.
The newest iPhone firmware upgrade will bring some notable changes. Most exciting for me are the new features in the Maps application. Now, using cell towers and wifi information, Maps works as a sort of pseudo-GPS device. Your iPhone will try to find your location, so when you search for a location, you can use your "current location" as a start point without having to figure out where you are by looking for street signs and numbers. As an aside here, is it me, or is it getting increasingly difficult to find street numbers? You can walk for blocks in New York City without seeing a street address. So far, my results for using the locator (you just click on the little compass icon in the Maps app) have been somewhat mixed- perhaps it's because I'm not close to any cell tower, but it keeps finding me somewhere a couple of miles off. I'm still hopeful that it will be more helpful in locations with better cell coverage.
You will also now be able to customize your iPhone Home screen. This is great for me because I'm stupidly infuriated by the Stocks icon because it just keeps reminding me that I don't own stock in anything, and I just don't want to have to see it. While you can't delete the main icons, you can now move them anywhere you want, or move them off to a new page. You can now have up to six screens of Home pages, because now you can add "web clips" or bookmarks really, to your homescreen, to easily access either favorite web pages, or Safari-based web-apps. Also, now that Apple has opened up development, there could be new native apps fairly soon which won't have to be run from Safari, and you'll be able to put icons for them on your Home screen. To customize the home screen you press down any of the icons for a couple of seconds and they all start to quiver, and that means you can maneuver them into their new places, including the dock (where the phone, mail, safari, and iPod buttons are now). A little tip- to get the icons to stop dancing around like nervous chihuahuas and stay put, you have to press the home key.
You can now also send SMS messages to multiple recipients, which is a great time saver when you have to apologize to a whole group of people for running late because your iPhone couldn't figure out where you were. Another new feature: ability to navigate through chapters in purchased or rented movies, and you can enable subtitles.
To get the new iPhone update, which is available now, I had to download the new 7.6 iTunes and then check for the upgrade, which then took a few minutes to download and install. The upgrade should be available through 7.5 as well, but no reason not to get 7.6, which they'll be pushing anyway.
The MacBook Air. Sigh.... It's a beauty. I want to resist, but these MacBooks keep getting thinner and prettier and smarter, like a supermodel with an advanced degree. It's the thinnest notebook computer yet, at just .76 inches at its fattest point. It's 3 lbs. but with a big, beautiful 13.3" LED backlit screen. The full-sized keyboard is also backlit, making it so much easier to compute in the night without needing an external light. There's an extra-large trackpad which has the multi-touch feature that iPhone users have become so used to: you can pinch in and out to zoom in and out of pages to enlarge small text and images.
Mac Air comes with 2 GB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive, or an optional 64 GB ultra-stable solid state drive. There's a built-in iSight camera for web-conferencing. And battery life? Apple promises about 5 hours, even while using wifi.
The downside to all this thinness is that there is no built-in optical drive, which is a mixed bag, as far as I'm concerned. It seems that with most notebook computers, especially ultra-portables with thin casing, the optical drive is the first thing to malfunction. But adding software, playing games and DVDs becomes a bit harder when you need to attach an external drive. But Apple has made it a little easier with a SuperDrive built especially for the MacAir. It weights just over a pound, and has a built in USB cable for easy travel. It's an optional accessory but costs just $99 and doesn't need a separate power adapter. It can run whether the MacAir is using external power or the battery, although it will certainly decrease battery time by at least a couple of hours.
The MacBook Air will start shipping in 2-3 weeks. The 1.6 GHz version with 80 GB hard drive is $1799 and the 1.8 GHz model with 64 GB SSD drive is a hefty $3098.
As expected, the iTunes movie rental service was announced. New releases are $3.99 and older movies are $2.99. You can watch on your computer or iPod/iPhone for up to 30 days and then the file, poof, disappears. All the major Hollywood studios have deals, so the selection should be pretty good. The rentals should be available soon - when I just checked in iTunes 7.6, they hadn't yet appeared.