Keynote Roundup

Miscellaneous thoughts and observations from yesterday’s Macworld Expo keynote:

Office 2008

I was interested to see whether Microsoft would get some demo time during the keynote to show Office 2008. The Mac BU hasn’t always gotten stage time, but, I think, they have always gotten stage time in keynotes when they have a brand-new major version of Office. Not this year.

Jobs did mention the Office 2008 release, but there was no demo, and, in fact, much of what Jobs actually said about Office was negative — emphasizing that they were “finally” native for Intel, and that they were the last of the major developers to do so, even later than Adobe.

Maybe it’s a result of competition in the office software space with Apple’s own iWork. Maybe it’s resentment over the time it took for Office to go Intel-native. Maybe it’s a sense, by Jobs, that Apple is no longer in a position where it needs to reassure the press and its own customers that Microsoft supports the Mac. I think it’s a little bit of all those things.

‘Four Things Today’

Jobs actually talked about more than four things; what he did, really, was break the keynote into four sections. The third “thing”, for example, included both iTunes movie rentals and the new Apple TV 2.0. I think the “four things” idea was a great framework for the keynote, though, and a subtle change from Jobs’s traditional keynote structure.

Time Capsule

I love the idea of Time Capsule, and, assuming it works as billed, it’s going to accomplish something awesome: it will save data that would otherwise have been lost, because there will now be more people backing up their data regularly. I think you can really make an argument that Time Machine is the most important feature Apple has added to Mac OS X in years, maybe ever, and support for doing it over the network makes it better.

But, when I predicted something like this would be announced, I assumed it would coincide with the restoration of being able to back up to any USB hard drive attached to an AirPort base station. That capability was billed as a feature of Leopard and Time Machine right up until mid-October, and was present in developer seeds of Leopard.

The word I heard was that very late in the beta testing of Leopard, Apple discovered some sort of bug or security problem with the feature, and that while it was pulled from 10.5.0 (because it couldn’t be fixed in time), it was scheduled to come back in a future Leopard update.

But so now Time Capsule is here, and there’s no word from Apple about backing up to hard drives attached to base stations. Which in turn is leading to the suspicion that perhaps the reason hard drive/base station Time Machine backups were pulled from Leopard was to make the feature exclusive to Apple’s own Time Capsule hardware. Check the comment thread on this article at Macworld to see some angry customers — people who bought hard drives and base stations in advance of Leopard specifically in anticipation of this feature.

Again, I think Time Capsule is a great idea and a great product. But if Apple has pulled support for hard drive/base station backups to eliminate Time Capsule competition, that’s shitty, pure and simple. To be clear, though, it’s still an “if” at this point.

4 Million iPhones, 4 Billion Songs

Those are big numbers. Assuming sales continue to grow, and that Apple will release new iPhones with lower prices for next year’s holiday season, their stated goal of selling 10 million phones in 2008 looks like a sure thing.

As I expected, there was no word on DRM-free music from the other three major music labels. But I think Jobs’s aside that they sold 20 million songs on Christmas day alone was sort of a message that iTunes music sales are still growing strong. Even at just 10 or 15 cents profit per song, when you’re talking billions, that’s a lot of money.

The $20 iPod Touch Update

There were audible groans in the keynote hall when Jobs announced that the iPod Touch update costs $20. That’s an interesting difference between the Touch and the iPhone. One reason, I think, is that unlike with iPhones, Apple is not accounting for iPod Touches on a subscription basis — so they have to charge something to add features in order to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. But they could charge something less than $20. I wonder how frequently Apple plans to offer $20 feature upgrades to Touch owners.

But, on the other hand, if Apple is charging for the iPod Touch upgrade to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, why is the Apple TV upgrade free? As far as I know, they’re not accounting for Apple TV sales on a subscription basis. I’m left with the feeling that they’re charging $20 for the iPod Touch upgrade simply because they can.

Update: I was wrong, Apple is accounting for Apple TV on a subscription basis, just like with the iPhone. That explains the free upgrade.

Cost aside, it’s an utterly compelling upgrade for the Touch; it’s hard to imagine any Touch owner not wanting it. But it seems weird to pay $20 for a bunch of apps that already existed. Apparently the apps are already there on the 1.1.3 Touch OS, because the upgrade itself weighs in at just 9 kilobytes.

Apple TV 2.0

There’s an old saying about Microsoft that, historically, their products always have terrible 1.0 releases, better 2.0’s, and then finally succeed at 3.0. The idea being that they stick with a product idea for years and don’t give up after early failures.

I think Apple is taking this sort of dogged, determined approach to Apple TV. The big problem Apple faces with Apple TV isn’t technical — it’s content. They’re constrained by what the TV networks and movie studios will allow them to do. The most obvious limitation is the way that they’re forbidden from ripping movies from DVDs the way iTunes rips music from CDs.

The movie rentals at the iTunes Store should do as much to sell Apple TVs as any of the actual changes to Apple TV itself in the new software. But the software update is very nice — the UI is improved, and the Flickr photo integration (even though the demo crapped out on-stage during the keynote) is very nice.

Cutting the price to $229 strikes me as a little strange for Apple. They usually stick to nice, round $50 price increments — most everything they sell has a price that ends in 99 or 49. My only guess is that they’ve cut the price as low as they can to help the product gain traction — that if Apple TV were selling better, the new price would be $249.

Multi-Touch Gestures With MacBook Air Trackpad

It’ll be interesting to see how useful this is in practice. The only apps that support it out of the box are Apple’s own — iPhoto and Preview for image zooming and rotation; Safari for text scaling. To take advantage of this, apps need to handle new event notifications. Something more or less like “the user is pinching at these coordinates”. No existing apps other than Apple’s handle these events yet. It’ll be interesting to see when (or if?) the other MacBooks get similar trackpads.

The UI for the gesture-related settings in System Preferences is really quite clever: big QuickTime movies showing exactly how to perform the gestures and what effect they cause. I’ve never seen a prefs UI like that before, but I think it’s very appropriate — it’s a lot easier to explain them visually than with words. It’s a clever way to allow the UI to serve as documentation.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman’s keynote-capping scathing anti-Bush administration song was quite a thing. I loved it, and it seemed like everyone around me in the press section was enjoying it thoroughly. But, quite obviously, for humorless Bush supporters, it must have been infuriating. The song is chock full of “I can’t believe he just said that” lines.

It’s certainly hard to imagine any other major corporation in the U.S. that would invite Randy Newman on stage to perform a song like that.