Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Air Just Got Pricier

I was talking to my brother earlier about this morning's Mac World keynote and he was really impressed. After keeping up with this stuff for over 4 years now, I know better. This keynote was underwhelming, and the investors seemed to agree. I guess the MacBook Air wasn't enough for them. If you want to read all the hairy details of the keynote, there's the Engadget live blog. If you have 90 minutes to spare, you can watch the whole thing. I'll give you the gist of it though and some of my thoughts. The big deal was this thing to the left here: the MacBook Air. You can see the details here and specs here. At it's thickest it's less than 0.8 inches thick and at its thinnest it's less than 0.2 inches thick. It's absolutely ridiculous. Not necessarily bad ridiculous, it just is. You can even see a video of it here. You can count the ports it has on one hand (includes headphone jack, DVI, MagSafe power, and USB) and it doesn't come with an optical drive of any sort, it costs $100 if you really want it (Steve thinks you're done with CDs). It has a great 13.3-inch screen, it comes with an 80 GB HD, it has one of the lower speed Core 2 Duos, it's 802.11n wireless and comes with Bluetooth, it has a backlit screen and keyboard, and it's fairly environmentally friendly. This can all be yours for the low low price of one arm and half your leg: just $1800. The trackpad also supports multi-touch, like on the iPhone, for pictures and I'm not sure what else.

There are a number of issues with this device. Anything Jobs presents, including this laptop, looks like gold on stage. The reality is a number of things. The battery isn't replaceable, and if you've owned a laptop then you know what a horrible relationship people have with their laptop batteries. It doesn't have a CD-ROM drive, so you have to already have a computer in your household (Mac or PC) on a network so you can connect to it to install remote disk, which allows you to install software you have on that remote computer. When it comes down to it, this is a really expensive, really thin, stripped-down laptop. For the form factor, you need to sacrifice things, and so I can accept that, but I just don't see the need for a super-thin laptop. Do people really want this? I'm not saying they don't, but besides the glamor of being so thin, what do you really get out of this? So you can carry around a manila envelope instead of a laptop case? I was impressed initially, but not so much anymore. It's a good laptop, but not better than the old MacBook or MacBook Pro lines.

The next biggest announcement, in my mind, was the Apple TV Take 2, which is a free software upgrade for the Apple TV that allows you to rent movies and download iTunes content directly to your Apple TV without the middle man of your Mac. Oh, yeah, renting movies is new, too, but it was leaked a while ago. You have 30 days to watch it, and 24 hours once you start watching it to watch it. Pretty standard pricing: $3 for old, $4 for new, and a buck more for each for HD-quality. Anyway, back to the Apple TV: they're dropping the price to $229 with this new software as well included. So this is a big step in the right direction, because you can see photos on it as well and browse Flickr from it and all that good stuff. However, it's not enough. Apple could dominate if they come out this summer with a fully featured home media Mac. It needs all the stuff it already has, plus DVR -like features and possibly another version with a Blu-ray player built-in as well. I feel like they're still not bringing the living room entirely together, but I do like the price drop. They may be able to save the Apple TV yet. There is a catch: if you rent movies on your Apple TV then you can't watch it later on your Mac or iPod, but the reverse is true (if you buy on your Mac you can watch it anywhere). Oh, and the HD-quality video is for the Apple TV only, and it doesn't come with Dolby 5.1. Plus, the Apple TV hardware isn't changing so you're limited to 1280x720 resolution. Ouch.

The last big thing is the iPhone/iPod Touch updates: you can customize your home screen (in a cute way, too), you get simulated GPS in Google Maps to find your location (triangulation from WiFi and cell phone towers), Google Maps now has hybrid view, you can SMS multiple people at once, movie rentals are supported, lyrics are supported, you can change the movie's language (if it has another language track), and you can save web clips to your home screen. Oh, and the SDK is still on track for release next month, it appears. What's lame is that the updates will cost you $20 on the iPod Touch, except that you get mail, weather, stocks, and maps now as well (though I don't think you get the SMS). Also, I don't think the GPS locator thing means that you can get driving directions in real-time, which would've been cool. So these are nice things, yes, but not as impressive as he was trying to make them out to be. It's nothing terribly innovative or exciting: the map stuff isn't new nor is the SMS thing. Only rentals and lyrics are new, as far as I know, for phones/mp3 players in general. Google improved a number of things for the iPhone as well though: faster Gmail, iGoogle gadgets, a quicker calendar, and more.

Was Mac World really that underwhelming? I suppose I exaggerated that point a bit for dramatic effect. In reality, everyone expected too much. I kept my hype meter largely at bay, but I still thought we'd see something cooler today. In my opinion, the biggest deal was movie rentals and the Apple TV stuff. Though Amazon is kind of competing with rentals since Unbox can rent to your Tivo and Amazon is posing a new threat to iTunes, which Job obviously didn't want to discuss. Anyway, in most people's mind: the biggest deal was probably the new laptop. I have no idea what'll be more profitable to them. Or maybe they'll just sell more iPhones now because of the new updates (not likely, they've already sold 4 million so they're doing pretty damn well). Fortunately, I don't have to keep droning on about Apple so let me cover a couple of other things real quick before I hit the sack.

Netflix subscribers rejoice: you can now see Netflix flicks online as much as you want. Well, if you're on their cheap plan you have a limit, but the higher tiers get the all-you-can-eat plan. It's pretty awesome, I think. I don't know if this will hurt Netflix's business or help it, but I imagine that it will help people rationalize a subscription even though they won't use it a whole lot and so Netflix will just continue to do well.

A rumor has been substantiated that Facebook is planning on buying Plaxo
. Plaxo gives you kind of an easily shareable online business card and card holder because it links you with all your e-mail addresses and social sites (AIM and such) to have a huge database of contacts with birthdays and e-mails and all that stuff. I'm really interested to see what Facebook does with this, but I imagine this goes along with the very loose idea of an online desktop whereby Facebook will empower you to share and communicate with anyone you talk to on any other service straight from Facebook.

Why did Warner go Blu-ray? It turns out that it may be because Sony paid them and others off to do so. I personally feel like this is a kind of dirty technique, but I don't think this is illegal or uncommon for other consumer products. Retailers often get a rebate for giving items more shelf space or promotion. What amazes me is that Sony has all this money to give out. They keep creating failing products like rootkit-loaded CDs, a console that is not doing terribly well in sales, the minidisc, and a ridiculous competitor to the mp3, and yet they have vast amounts of money to throw around for Blu-ray support. Anyway, it's not over for HD-DVD yet, but given that everyone is writing them off they may lose support from everyone soon enough if they don't act quick.

I didn't have time to cover CES, and it has lost its luster in the past couple of years anyhow, but here's a good round-up of what we missed. The two things I like most on that list: 150-inch TV and Optimus keyboard (I need to eventually get me one of those). The shadiest item on that list is hands-down the FryeTV thing though. I Will people really buy that and leave it in their living room?


Tilly said...

I've been toying with the idea of getting a laptop for quite a while now Elton but as it would be my main home pc i'm not sure i'd be able to afford something that was able to take the abuse i throw at my trusty HP desktop. I say trusty but quite frankly my pc is way past its best- bought only a couple of years ago but reduced in price because it was end of the line -if i'd known then what i know now i'd either have waited a little while for something better or i'd have have lived on beans on toast to make extra funds for something much better ;Þ

Whilst i'm still toying with the idea of getting a laptop, in my heart i know that a better pc, defintiely with a flat screen monitor, is what i will end up buying (eventually) ..but still, it doesn't stop me looking around at what i most definitely can't afford (my friend just bought an iMac.. i am NOT jealous.. honest.. grrr LOL) or what i suppose would fall into the 'frivilous' catergory.

Your mention of the 'MacBook Air' made me think of a laptop i read about a couple of months back- the Asus Eee PC. I'm not sure if you've heard of it, i'm guessing you have but if not there is a great review of the machine here ..and i'd also recommend reading thro the comments as they give quite a bit more information on top of the article itself, plus sometimes it's nice to get 'real person' feedback on an item like this.

I won't go into too much about the specs of the laptop on the link but i do think regards portability this is a cheeky little thing and something that whilst i wouldn't want to pay out for one myself (the cheapest i've seen them selling for is £199.99) i'd certainly be happy to receive one as a gift =Þ

I hope you are well Elton- and thanks for the comments on my blog- i'm intending to share a little more regards the girls and their conditions, and whats what with me but its just about finding the time to write something worthwhile.

Tilly xx

Tilly said...

I like your rule of thumb Elton and i'm currently in that position- i keep seeing offers but i'm holding off til i'm ready to buy- no point getting something to 'put away' regardless of how tempting some of the bargains are.

Regards the Asus tho- it's not so much the fact its thin, but small- pocket sized but fully formed without exception- visually speaking anyway LOL

I can see a real market for them- for journo types, writers..people who want something they can literally throw in their bag.. the downside generally seems to be the life of the battery and i'm surprised with that considering the way technology is going with mobile phones but i do still think it's the neatest little (frivilous) thing i could buy right now :Þ

The more i think of the iMac the less it's troubling me- it's so impressive looking and i can understand the appeal (altho i did once comment when they first appeared that anyone who bought one was obviously making up for things in other departments *teehee) but the price tag does take quite a large amount of shine off it =/

When i buy it will be the right time for me and for now, my HP does me fine apart from the RAM -even the Asus in pokey form beats my desktop in that department *blushes*

On that note i'm off -stay fab Elton,
Love Tilly x