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expo

 

Remember when Steve Jobs announced the coming of the iPhone in January 2007? We only mention it here so you can imagine the palpable excitement that ran through the auditorium that day and compare it to the polite applause that met Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller’s announcements during the Mac Expo 2009. Phil gave cool demos of the updates in iLife and iWork ’09 and surprised no one by announcing the 17-inch unibody MacBook Pro. But when the lights came up and everyone filed out of the auditorium, the Applesphere remained largely unrevolutionized.

That’s the short version. The truth is, the improvements in iLife, iWork, and iTunes that Phil told us about may not be felt for months. Unlike the arrival of a single, sleek, wondrous gadget like the iPhone, Apple’s updated consumer suites and eco-friendly big-screen portable Mac will take a while to work their way into the Mac-using universe in a way that’s deeply felt.

If your first reaction when you read about the keynote announcements was, “That’s it?” you’re not alone. We admit it—it was tricky coming up with a sexy angle on the story for this issue. But have a little patience: iLife and iWork ’09 have a lot of potential, and Apple seemed to promise that there’d be way more cool stuff to come when it invited legendary crooner Tony Bennett to the stage to sing “The Best Is Yet to Come” after the Philnote.

We don’t know what’s coming from Cupertino in the future, but we can only guess that as long as Steve Jobs is around, it will continue to wow Mac fans and the world at large.Here’s a look at what the Apple’s Mac Expo announcements mean to Mac users everywhere.

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iLife '09

In 2009 and beyond, the consumer creative suite may just be the bait Apple needs to lure thousands more switchers to abandon their Windows PCs.

FUELED BY DREAMS, POWERED BY IMAGINATION. Matt Groening meant to satirize Steve Jobs and Apple in the “Mapple Store” episode of The Simpsons, but when Homer becomes mesmerized by the glowing MyCubes that are “fueled by dreams and powered by imagination,” the sales dude might as well have been talking about iLife ’09, which features the same creativity apps you already know about and which still ships free on every new Mac. The improvements seem engineering-intensive enough to make us wonder how Apple could ever recoup its R&D costs by selling upgrades for a “mere” $79. (And for anyone who rushed out to buy a brand-new 17-inch MacBook Pro in early January after Phil Schiller announced their release at this year’s Expo, you can upgrade to iLife ’09 from iLife ’08 for $9.95 plus tax.

The only conclusion we can draw from the effort Apple poured into iLife is that the company hopes to lure bazillions of new Mac buyers with the promise of the mind-blowingly cool projects they can create with the software suite.

In case you haven’t heard, the additions and improvements to the primary iLife apps (iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand) are pretty major, especially in the case of iPhoto and GarageBand, and to a smaller degree in iMovie, which was totally rebuilt for the iLife ’08 update. The changes in iPhoto and GarageBand represent an interesting mix of advanced technology applied to a consumer product (in the case of iPhoto) and a quite visionary goal to teach every GarageBand user how to play an actual musical instrument (more on that later), in addition to bringing sound editing made simple to nonmusic pros.

 

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Your photo library could look like this in iPhoto ’09--so go out and get yourself some prettier friends!

FACES AND PLACES

iPhoto ’09’s most important improvements are two smart, fun ways to catalog a personal photo collection: by faces (using face detection and face recognition technology) and by places (using geotags). If you only take the occasional snapshot of your dog or your drinking buddies, and if you rarely travel farther than your place of residence or business, iPhoto ’09 is about as useful to you as a frequent-flier mile program membership and a set of Louis Vuitton luggage. But for a certain swath of Mac users, Faces and Places represent a significantly more efficient--not to mention technically whizzy--way to catalog your snaps.

In addition to the Events category in iPhoto, Faces and Places sort your image library based on the people in them and the locations where they were taken, respectively. iPhoto ’09 wasn’t yet shipping as we went to press, but it will be by the time you read this, and we spent quite a bit of time commandeering the attention of Apple booth workers at Mac Expo, having them demo Faces and Places on demand--using Apple’s preloaded iPhoto libraries of gorgeous, happy people enjoying good times with their gorgeous, happy friends and families in exotic locales. If your photo collection has at least 200 images in it and/or if it spans more than two years, it’s a good bet you’re going to get a thrill from and save quite a bit of time with Faces, which creates a snapshot for each person you’ve entered as a face, then stacks all the photos of that person underneath it automatically, essentially sorting your photo collection by person faster you could ever do it manually.

Places, meanwhile, automatically takes in photos’ geotags if they have them, or lets you type in a photo’s location. More fun, perhaps, are the ways iPhoto uses location info, allowing you to add maps to your printed and digital photo albums and slide shows, and letting you sort your entire photo library by location, displaying this info in a Google Maps–esque view.

Yes, it’s tough to get excited about Places if you don’t travel, but even so, we were impressed by the effort of the iLife dev team to boost iPhoto’s usefulness. Since its photo-editing abilities can only be described as underwhelming--and those features didn’t change in iLife ’09--iPhoto ’09 now has the potential to be the best consumer photo-cataloging app in existence (for photo editing, we prefer the $99 Adobe Photoshop Elements, www.adobe.com).


roxanne
HI, I’M STING…

New to GarageBand ’09 is a feature we can’t say we predicted--but then, Apple doesn’t tend to do the predictable thing. According to Phil, Apple brass tasked the GarageBand team to provide a fun, fast, easy way for users to learn to play the piano or guitar--really learn it. To that end, GarageBand now includes music lessons, presented by no-name musicians with pleasant demeanors and nonthreatening names like Tim, as well as artist lessons from famous musicians like John Fogerty, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, and others.

Each celeb introduces him- or herself in a friendly, warm voice, as if you’re meeting each other at a party or over a cup of coffee. You get a video lesson from the artist complete with onscreen finger-placement hints and musical notation. GarageBand ’09 comes with a starter kit of preloaded basic lessons; artist lessons are sold separately for $4.99 each in the new GarageBand Lesson Store from within the app.

 

tim
This is Tim. He’s not famous, but he’s really nice and wants you to learn to play the guitar.

We’re not quite sure where Apple got the idea that users wanted GarageBand to teach them to play an instrument, but it may well pay off when it comes to Mac sales, and will no doubt help Apple keep flogging the notion that Macs are for creative, adventurous types who want to learn new things, while Windows PCs are for those who’d rather stick to what they already know.

iMovie made smarter. iMovie got some improvements too, which we’ll go into in more detail in a future review. Suffice it to say here that it seems clear that Apple heard user complaints that iMovie ’08 was fast and easy but just too amateur-oriented. Features like the Precision Editor and automatic image stabilization will come in handy for people who know their way around a video-editing timeline but aren’t ready to step up to Final Cut just yet.

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iWork ’09

Work usually isn’t fun or sexy—and it’s not always easy, but iWork ’09 can help make word processing, spreadsheet wrangling, and presentation-building a little more of all those good things.

iWork ’09, adds more features for everyday Mac folks as well as “pro” users who need to create sophisticated business or academic documents and presentations. These advancements—along with the iWork.com online sharing site—should entice more people to consider Apple’s suite over something less elegant like Sun’s OpenOffice (free) or something more expensive like Microsoft Office ($399.95).

Across the whole iWork suite, which includes spreadsheet app Numbers ’09, word processor Pages ’09, and presentation app Keynote ’09, toolbar buttons let you upload your documents to iWork.com, which is still in beta--meaning it’s free for now, but eventually will become a paid service. From there, you invite others (by email) to view your documents in their browser, where they can also add comments and download their own copies as iWork, PDF, or Microsoft Office files.

This is a great idea, but it’s hardly new. Microsoft’s Office Live Workspace (workspace.officelive.com) does the same thing, with the addition of versioning tools missing from iWork.com, but it only supports Office formats, and until Office 2008 for Mac gets an update, only Windows users with Microsoft Office 2007 can send documents to Office Live Workspace directly from their Office applications. Google Docs (docs.google.com) lets you create or upload documents for others to view, edit, or download, but it doesn’t support native iWork formats at all, just PDF, Microsoft Office, and Open Office. Still, both of those services are free, while iWork.com will cost money to use once it’s out of beta. iWork ’09 does have built-in options to save documents as PDF or Office formats, and to email iWork, Office, or PDF documents directly from the iWork apps.

 

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Among the new templates are a whole host of personal-finance documents in Numbers.

Each iWork app includes more templates to jump-start creativity and make it one-click simple to give your documents a polished look. Pages adds power with an outline view, support for MathType equations and EndNote citations, plus a distraction-killing full-screen view, a critically acclaimed feature of creative-writing-focused Mac apps like Scrivener, WriteRoom, and CopyWrite. In Numbers ’09, only the second version of the app, the improved formula builder and copious examples in the Help menus make it much easier for novices to wrangle the 250-plus included functions, while power users get advanced charting options (trend lines, error bars, and the ability to mix chart types) and AppleScript support. Keynote adds snazzy text and object transitions, plus a neat Magic Move feature: If you use the same objects on consecutive slides, the app will auto-animate a transition from one slide to the next. iPhone and iPod touch owners can use the 99-cent Keynote Remote app to control their presentation wirelessly, although a Wi-Fi network is required, since the iPod touch doesn’t have Bluetooth.

iWork is available now for $79 or $49 when purchased preloaded on a new Mac. Since it requires Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, Apple is also offering the Mac Box Set (starting in late January when iLife ’09 is available), bundling iWork ’09, iLife ’09, and Leopard for $169, a savings of $118 off buying them separately.

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Glossy-screen haters can replace the display with an antiglare one for $50 extra.

17-inch Unibody MacBook Pro

An ultrathin MacBook pro with a ginormous screen and non-user-removable battery for $2,799? Creative pros, be our guests; we’ll wait until the reviews come in to drop our own cash on one.

When Phil Schiller told the crowd at Apple’s keynote that he had three things to talk about, we hoped he really meant “three things...in addition to the completely no-brainer announcement of an updated 17-inch MacBook Pro.” Because after Apple’s October 14, 2008, event introducing the latest MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro in their sleek, slim, unibody aluminum enclosures, the eventual arrival of a matching 17-inch MacBook Pro seemed inevitable. The only question was how much the 17-incher would differ from its 15-inch li’l sib.

Now we have our answer: not much, except for that battery. And the 17-inch MBP’s battery situation—it features an ultrathin non-user-removable long-life battery—could be a huge advancement or a disaster, although we won’t know for sure until long after the machines start shipping to customers in late January.

But first, the specs. In the “duh” column are the 17-inch MacBook’s recyclable aluminum unibody, plus its mercury- and arsenic-free glass, LED-backlit display, integrated and discrete graphics chips, Mini DisplayPort, and multitouch trackpad. All of that is already featured on the newest 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Even the speed bumps are unsensational. The 17-inch machine can take up to 8GB of RAM (the 15-incher tops out at 4GB). Buyers can upgrade to a 2.93GHz processor on the 17-incher, the fastest ever in a Mac laptop (the 15-incher’s fastest is a 2.8GHz chip), and/or a 256GB solid-state hard drive (the 15-incher’s biggest SSD is 128GB). You can choose a $50 “antiglare” screen option instead of the standard glossy display, which at least proves that Apple heard the complaints from image pros. Oh, and the 17-inch Mac has three USB 2.0 ports instead of the 15-inch model’s measly two. Still awake?

That leaves the battery—and only the battery—as the truly big news. In order to keep the 17-inch MacBook Pro less than 1 inch thick, Apple had to nix the removable battery found on every Mac laptop except the MacBook Air, the explanation being that the removal mechanism and user-accessible housing just take up too much space.

The video Apple showed (see it online at www.apple.com/macbookpro/17inch-battery/) about its “breakthrough” new technology explained how the totally reengineered battery will last up to 8 hours per charge and have a life span up to 3 times as long. Apple’s Adaptive Charging advancement adjusts the current used to charge individual battery cells, which should reduce wear and tear on the battery as a whole, so the battery retains 80 percent of its capacity through 1,000 charge cycles, instead of the 300 charge cycles a typical notebook battery will get. And the battery gets 8 hours per charge by using lithium-polymer cells—since they’re thinner than lithium-ion cells, Apple can cram more cells into a smaller space.

This all sounds nifty, but every technology buyer realizes that companies’ battery-life claims should be taken with a grain of salt. As of this writing, we have no way of knowing how accurate Apple’s claims are, and even after the 17-inch MacBook Pros start shipping, it’ll take quite some time for the early adopters to reach 1,000 charge cycles and report back. On-the-go pros, who rely on switching out their machine’s battery with a spare, might want to let others play guinea pig for now. Apple’s decided that you’d rather have a sub-1-inch-thick laptop than a spare battery—like it or not.

itunes
At press time, many albums were already 256kbps and DRM-free. By the end of March, all 10 million songs in the store will follow suit.

More Music Choices in iTunes

Witness DRM’s death on iTunes, and get ready for sweeter-sounding tunes at prices to fit all budgets.

The iTunes news Phil Schiller shared with the crowd on Jan. 6 may be the sleeper hit of the Expo this year. Apple’s been in the DRM-free camp for a long time, and Steve really threw down the gauntlet in 2007 with his Thoughts on Music anti-DRM screed. But even if you couldn’t care less about copy-protection hassles, the fact that everything in the iTunes Music Store is getting bumped to higher bit rates is good news for everyone who listens to digital music.

Transitioning to 256kbps files means a better sound quality. And you don’t need to be a golden-eared audiophile with an $80,000 stereo to hear the difference. With a decent set of earbuds, the difference between older 128kbps files and higher-bit-rate versions becomes apparent pretty quickly. The new tracks offer a much better experience for listeners, and also better ease-of-use, particularly for households with more than a single Mac.

What is DRM? The digital rights management protection on older tracks from the iTunes Store is what keeps you from using your music on more than five computers and limits the number of times you can burn a specific playlist to a disc. It’s also what keeps thieves and other assorted jerks—who feel they ought to get paid for going to work but that musicians don’t deserve the same—from putting iTunes tracks up on BitTorrent sites, since they wouldn’t play on other machines anyway.

But pirates, be warned. Just because DRM is dead on iTunes, you can’t start torrenting all your Britney albums from iTunes. The files still have your information—including your name and account info—attached to them. Privacy-geeks may balk, but in our minds, it’s a small price to pay for files that we can use anywhere we want, any time. Besides, if you really want to steal music, you’ve probably already done it. In less than five minutes, we found all of iTunes current top 10 albums available illegally elsewhere on the Internet. Despite all the record industry’s protestations, DRM isn’t doing anything to prevent piracy.

Apple has long been a fan of uniform pricing. Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” has traditionally cost the same 99 cents as the latest Kanye jam. But to negotiate DRM-free tracks, Apple had to compromise, letting the labels introduce variable pricing. Starting in April, they’ll be able to capitalize on popular songs, charging $1.29, while older catalog tracks will be available for 69 cents and 99 cents. Phil assured us that there will be more songs available for 69 cents than $1.29, but that’s a bit of a red herring. By definition, the cheaper tunes won’t be the ones most people are buying. Still, we love the new better-sounding, easier-to-manage iTunes tracks, and in fact, we’ve returned to iTunes after defecting to Amazon’s MP3 Store a year or so ago for music downloads. The variable pricing is lame, but overall we’re excited to be returning to Apple to feed our music addiction. Navigating the Amazon store always kind of sucked, and we prefer AAC files to MP3 anyway.

 

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