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Macworld 2007: 1984 All Over Again

by Daniel H. Steinberg
01/12/2007

A few minutes on the Mac, a few more on the iPod, and a quick summary of the iTunes music store. This was not a typical Macworld keynote. There was no mention of Leopard, iLife 07, or iWork 07. There were no new displays announced and no new Macs. Thousands of people sat with their credit cards standing by, ready to purchase whatever Apple CEO Steve Jobs would announce. Except for the Apple TV, they left the keynote with nothing to buy--at least until June.

But this was the keynote that Apple insiders had been saying Jobs was excited about. You could see it onstage. He was a different man than he'd been at the last two keynotes. The preshow music played and people chatted. The last song in the set, "I feel good" by the late James Brown, finished, the lights dimmed, and the party began. Jobs looked healthy. He hadn't looked so good at his keynote addresses at last year's Macworld Expo or the August WorldWide Developers Conference.

No Mac News at Macworld

Jobs smiled at the audience and said, "We're going to make some history together today." Less than five minutes later he was done saying everything he had to say about the Macintosh.

He reviewed the past year and the transition to Intel processors. He said that over all of the channels, more than half of all purchases of a Mac are by people who have never had one before. He finished with a jab at Microsoft's new Vista operating system and showed the new television ad featuring the Mac and PC guys talking about the dread of a Vista upgrade.

After the commercial the lights came back up and Jobs said, "2007 is going to be a great year for the Mac." He paused and said, "that's all we're going to talk about the Mac today." Say what you like about Steve Jobs, but he is a great storyteller. By not saying a word about Leopard or any Mac hardware that was on the way, he set the stage for having much more to talk about.

I sighed. It looks like the smaller ultra-thin Mac wouldn't be announced this year. My long-shot prediction had been the tablet. No tablet this year. I'd also been sure that Jobs would spend some portion of the keynote previewing the Leopard look and feel. The Macintosh User Interface is due for a change and this just seemed like the right time.

Not Much to Report on the Music Business

Jobs spent a little more time on the iTunes Music Store and the iPod than he did on the Mac. He said that despite reports that people weren't buying as much music from the iTunes music store as they had in the past, Apple had crossed the two-billion-songs-sold mark. It had taken them a little more than three years to sell the first billion and they sold the second billion in about ten months. Apple is selling around five million songs a day and has passed Amazon to become the fourth-leading reseller of music behind Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target.

In addition, Jobs reported, Apple has sold fifty million television episodes on iTunes and in the four months since the launch it has sold more than one million movies. He announced that Paramount has now agreed to sell movies on iTunes, which brings the number of movies offered to 250.

As for what Jobs calls "the music players," the Zune was introduced in November. In that first month the Zune had 2 percent of market share while the iPod had 62 percent. The numbers were not yet available for the pre-Christmas buying in December. After screening two new iPod ads, Jobs returned to the stage and announced, "That is the update on the music business."

What? Where's the new video iPod we've been hearing about for so long? There's supposed to be a new iPod with a bigger screen where you touch the screen to navigate through the menus. Nothing. And why does he insist on calling this thing a "music player"? It plays movies and television shows. And why hasn't the iTunes music store been renamed? You can buy a lot more than music. For that matter, why is iTunes still called iTunes?

The New iPod

For the most part, the iPods have gotten smaller over time. They are thinner and lighter. From the standard iPod to the nano to the shuffle, they've consistently gotten smaller. Until now. The Apple TV is the biggest iPod that Apple has released.

The Apple TV is a $300 iPod that won't fit in your pocket and doesn't even ship with its own display. You provide the screen and it provides the networking and controls.

Fifty million television shows have sold already on iTunes for display on a screen that can fit in the palm of your hand. But what happens to sales once you can display video on a regular television screen? This is also the piece of the puzzle that makes iTunes a more compelling distribution channel for movies. You just download a movie to your Mac or PC and play it on your television set--so much easier than running out to Blockbuster or waiting a couple of days for the mail to bring your latest movie from NetFlix. Without moving from your couch, you can choose and order a movie.

You can also show off your photos as you would on the iPod, but Jobs told the crowd that although "Apple TV is primarily for video...a lot of people will buy it for music." You can navigate through your audio playlist. All of a sudden the digital hub moves to your living room. Your Mac is still the hub, but Apple TV allows your television and stereo to become active spokes that are controllable from the room in which you are watching or listening.

You can sync Apple TV from one of your computers. The hard drive allows you to store a copy of what is on the synced computer on the Apple TV. You can stream from up to five computers without storing the media locally. You can also stream media such as movie trailers from Apple's site.

In a way, Apple has been market-testing the Apple TV under the guise of Front Row. For about a year most of the Macs have supported a remote control that allows users to sit back from their computers and control their media. Now Apple has moved this app into a different setting.

The New Mac

I use my Mac laptop for everything. But, I suppose, most of the time I am just answering email, IMing my colleagues, catching up on my newsfeeds, performing an online search, using Skype to make a call, and maybe figuring out how to get somewhere or what's close by with Google Maps. It sure would be nice to have a smaller and lighter Mac to do all that when I travel or just when I'm not at home.

I've heard rumors about a 10-inch Mac that's thinner and lighter, but I'd like something even smaller. Something I could put in my pocket. Something that I don't have to lug around everywhere.

Something like the iPhone.

Sure, it's called a phone, but this thing runs OS X. You can view your pictures on it and play your music on it. It could be an iPod. But it's got OS X on it.

I'm sure I got caught up in the rapture of being in the room, but you could almost hear the executives at a bunch of other companies saying "Oh $#&@*@#$" when they saw it. You know, the guys over at Microsoft who thought it would be a good idea to add wireless to their music player. "This will be so cool," they must have said. "Our users can beam music among one another. That's way more connectivity than the iPod has." Until the iPhone.

Folks who manufacture smart phones are taking another look at their product line. Not just the phones they are shipping today--they're looking at the shiny new phones they were planning to unveil in the fall with words like "revolutionary" and "ahead of its time." Suddenly, these phones don't look so hot.

Of course, their phones won't cost between $500 and $600 with a two-year commitment to Cingular. Then again, their phones won't be running OS X.

As Steve Jobs demo'd the various features of the phone, it was difficult not to buy into the idea completely. The interface seemed perfect. One button (how very Steve) that can only do one thing (take you to the home page). Everything else is accomplished by touching the screen.

The display looks great and the metaphors are well thought out. If you have a long list of names in your address book and want to scroll down the list quickly, you put your finger on the screen and move it as if you are grabbing what's on the screen and pushing it in one direction or another. If a picture is too small, you put two of your fingers on the screen over the picture and move your fingers apart. The image grows as you spread your fingers and shrinks as you pinch them together.

You can flip the phone from portrait to landscape mode and the screen display changes with you. There is a keyboard on the screen when you're using applications that need a keyboard. As your finger gets close to its target key, the key expands to make it easier to hit. As you type, word completion helps you go faster. Mail feels a lot like it does on your laptop. The Safari browser has been adapted for the form factor. You can even do a small device's version of tabbed browsing.

On the Mac, Expose is used to help you see all of your open windows so you can quickly navigate from one to the other. On the iPhone the same technology is used in reverse. You start with the smaller overview images and can quickly zoom in to read the text on a website.

Jobs paused to note that if you are going to build a phone, then making phone calls needs to be the killer app. The interface is well designed. You can still use the device as a computer while you are on a call, so that you could easily look things up on the Web or send attachments in email or take notes. If you bring the phone to your ear, the screen turns off so that you can't accidentally send inputs by pressing your face up against the screen.

You can check out Apple's site for a look at the phone and for the detailed specs. Jobs announced the plan to make the phone available in the U.S. in June, in Europe in the fourth quarter, and in Asia next year.

Developers are already complaining that the iPhone doesn't seem to be an open platform. The first thing they want to know is how they can write apps for the iPhone. But this, of course, is vintage Apple. The iPod was not an open platform. By controlling what goes on the phone, Apple can control the user experience at least until the iPhone is more widely adopted by consumers. Given the wide range of browser-based applications, there are plenty of third-party applications that work on the iPhone without requiring download and installation.

What's in a Name

Steve Jobs brought up a slide with all of Apple's product lines: the Mac, the iPod, Apple TV, and the iPhone. He explained that there's a computer inside of each. You might think that would explain the company name "Apple Computer, Inc." Not for Jobs. He explained that that's why the company is changing its name to "Apple, Inc."

Beatles music was featured during the keynote. Jobs listened to Sergeant Pepper on his Apple TV. Now that Apple is dropping the "Computer" from its name, has this longstanding disagreement been settled? Also, notice the subtle name change in the operating system itself. The version of Mac OS X that is being used on the iPhone is currently being called OS X.

What about the iPhone name for the new device? Cisco has filed suit against Apple for using the name without an agreement in place. Apple is reported to have negotiated with Cisco for the name. Early Cisco reaction after the iPhone announcement was speculation that Apple had agreed to its terms and would sign the agreement. Apple has said that Cisco's suit is just silly.

Apple has argued publicly that iPhone is a name that Apple could claim for this device without infringing. That might be true. But Apple doesn't tend to do things in pieces. Apple could be aiming for a completely different name. The iTV was rebranded the Apple TV right before the announcement. In fact, Jobs warned the audience that the name Apple TV was so close to the code name that he might mistakenly call it by its old name. Apple TV is actually written as an Apple logo and the letters "TV". The iPhone could easily become the Apple phone between now and the June release. That puts the name Apple right up front as part of the product.

2007 is likely to be a great year for the Mac. We still haven't heard anything this year about the Leopard version of Mac OS X. We don't know when it will be released or what it will look like. We can look forward to new computers and displays. We know there are new iPods on the way. With only one Macworld expo each year, it will be interesting to see the venues in which Apple chooses to roll these out.

Daniel H. Steinberg is the editor for the new series of Mac Developer titles for the Pragmatic Programmers. He writes feature articles for Apple's ADC web site and is a regular contributor to Mac Devcenter. He has presented at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, MacWorld, MacHack and other Mac developer conferences.


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