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Macworld 2007: 1984 All Over Again

by Daniel H. Steinberg

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.

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