Macworld Expo Coverage

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Apple introduces MacBook Air

During his Macworld Expo keynote address on Tuesday morning, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air Tuesday, a computer that the company billed as the world's thinnest notebook -- small enough to fit inside an interoffice mailing envelope. It's priced starting at $1,799 and will be available within two weeks.

Sporting a silvery finish, the MacBook Air features a 13.3-inch LED-backlit widescreen display that has a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. The backlighting saves power and provides "instant on" response from the moment you turn it on, according to Jobs. The device has a slightly wedge-shaped profile. It weighs about 3 pounds, and sports a thickness of 0.16-0.76 inches. It's 12.8 inches wide and 8.95 inches deep.

Steve Jobs introduced Apple's new Macbook Air at MacWorld Tuesday in SanFrancisco.

The MacBook Air also features a built-in iSight webcam and a full sized MacBook-style black keyboard. The keyboard is backlit, similar to MacBook Pros, and has an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts brightness. The trackpad is also capable of recognizing multi-touch gestures, similar to using an iPhone or iPod touch. As a result, the MacBook Air's trackpad is disproportionately large, compared to the size of trackpads found on the MacBook or MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air features a 1.8-inch hard disk drive with 80GB of storage capacity standard. A 64GB solid-state disk (SSD) drive is an option. The hard drive is a Parallel ATA (PATA) model that operates at 4200 RPM.

The laptop is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo chip running at 1.6GHz, with 1.8GHz available as an option. Jobs noted that Intel was willing to engineer a new version of the Core 2 Duo specifically to Apple's specifications -- it's 60 percent smaller than others. The chip operates with 4MB of on-chip shared L2 cache running at full processor speed, and uses an 800MHz frontside bus. 2GB of 667MH DDR2 SDRAM is also included.

Like the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air features a slimmed down MagSafe connector for power. It comes with a 45 watt power adapter. A flip-down door on one side reveals USB 2.0, Micro-DVI (to connect an external display) and a headphone jack. The MacBook Air also includes 802.11n-based wireless networking support and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.

Apple estimates that with wireless networking turned on, the MacBook Air can get about 5 hours of battery life.

No internal optical drive is included, but Apple will offer a $99 USB 2.0-based add-on SuperDrive for users who need it. For users that opt not to get the optical drive, Apple is offering a new software feature on this machine called Remote Disk; it enables you to "borrow" the optical drive of another Mac or PC on the same network as the MacBook Air, to use for installing software, for example.

Apple's frequently been in the crosshairs of environmental group Greenpeace in recent years. Jobs offered information about the environmental goals behind the MacBook Air -- it has a fully recyclable aluminum case, and is "the first" to have a mercury-free display with arsenic-free glass. All the circuit boards are BFR-free and PVC-free, and the retail packaging uses 56 percent less material than the MacBook packaging.

Apple introduces iTunes Movie Rentals

Apple on Tuesday introduces iTunes Movie Rentals, a new feature of the iTunes Store that enables users to download movies and watch them for a short time rather than having to buy them. Movie rentals will be priced at $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older films. High Definition (HD) movies will be downloadable only via Apple TV and will cost $4.99 for new releases and $3.99 for older films.

The new feature is dependent on iTunes 7.6, a new release of Apple's jukebox, music, TV and movie software that's available for download from Apple's Web site. It also requires an update to QuickTime, version 7.4. That update is accessible through the Software Update system preference.

Apple's managed to get the support of all the major movie studios, including Fox, WB, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony, along with Touchstone, Miramax, MGM, New Line and Lions Gate. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the new service will launch shortly, and by the end of February will contain over 1,000 movies. Movies will become available for rental on iTunes 30 days after they are released on DVD.

iTunes Movie Rentals are tied to the Digital Rights Management technology used by Apple for other content purchased from the iTunes store. You can download movies and watch them from a Mac, PC or Apple TV. Movies downloaded on a Mac or PC can be transferred to an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. And Jobs indicated that you can transfer movies downloaded on Macs or PCs to other devices while you're in the middle of watching it, letting you pick up where you left off.

Movies downloaded directly via Apple TV, in contrast, will only be playable on Apple TV. Apple VP Greg Joswiak described standard-definition Apple TV movie rentals as "DVD quality," while non-Apple TV rentals are downloaded in a "near-DVD quality" format compatible with Macs, PCs, iPods, and iPhones. High-definition rentals are full 720p films with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

According to Jobs, after downloading a movie rental you have up to 30 days to start watching the movie. Once you begin watching, you have 24 hours to watch the film as many times as you want. Jobs said that users with modern Internet connections will be able to begin watching rentals within 30 seconds of initiating the rental download.

The new service is being offered as a free update for iTunes users in the United States beginning today. Jobs said that Apple is "dying" to get this feature to an international audience, with that release due "later this year."

Apple TV untethers from Mac, price dropped

On Tuesday Apple revamped its Apple TV media-playback device, lowering its price and completely changing its interface and adding numerous new features, most notably the ability to rent movies and purchase music and TV shows directly via the device.

During his Macworld Expo keynote address, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the new and improved Apple TV software will be available in about two weeks as a free update to existing Apple TV devices. The entry-level 40GB model had its price dropped to $229, while the 160GB version now costs $329, a $70 price reduction for both.

In presenting the new software, Jobs showed a remarkable amount of humility about the product's first iteration, though he did suggest that Apple is not alone in having failed to solve the issue of providing digital downloads to the living room.

"All of us have tried," Jobs said. "We've all tried to figure out how to do movies, and you know what? We've all missed. No one has succeeded yet. We tried with Apple TV. Apple TV was designed to be an accessory for iTunes and your computer. It's not what people wanted. We learned what people really wanted was movies, movies movies. And we weren't delivering that. So we're back with Apple TV, take two."

The upgraded Apple TV operates as a standalone device. While it will still synchronize content with your computer, no computer is required to operate it. Once it's connected to your television and your computer network, you can rent movies directly on your widescreen TV, using Apple's new iTunes Movie Rentals feature, navigating using the Apple TV's remote. iTunes Movie Rentals cost $4.99 for new high-definition releases, $3.99 for older high-definition films and new standard-definition releases, and $2.99 for older standard-definition releases.

Apple said the high-definition films play at 720p resolution with many (but not all) available with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. According to Apple, more than 100 high-definition movies will be available at first, with more coming "quickly."

Standard-definition films purchased on the Apple TV are of "DVD quality," according to Apple VP Greg Joswiak, and will not play back on Macs, PCs, or iPods. However, the Apple TV is also able to play back rentals purchased on a Mac or PC, albeit at reduced "near-DVD quality."

The Apple TV can also now be used to directly purchase TV shows and music, which will also automatically sync back to a Mac or PC via iTunes. A new podcast browser allows users to browse Apple's podcast directory and pick certain podcasts as "favorites" for quick access at a later time.

In addition to adding features that don't require a computer, this new version of the Apple TV software attempts to simplify the playback of media that does reside on computers in your home. By default, the software eliminates the distinction between media stored on the Apple TV's hard drive and stored on remote systems. For example, a single "My TV Shows" menu item lists all the TV shows in your possession, be they stored locally or remotely. Though media can still be managed manually, by default the system intelligently evaluates what files are best stored on the Apple TV's built-in hard drive and what files are best streamed across your local network.

The Apple TV can also display photos from online photo-sharing site Flickr as well as Apple's .Mac photo-sharing site.

Apple introduces Time Machine companion hardware

Apple Tuesday unveiled Time Capsule, a new product designed as companion hardware to the Time Machine automatic backup feature that highlights OS X 10.5.

Introduced as part of the OS X Leopard upgrade last October, Time Machine automatically backs up the contents of your Mac to an external hard drive.

Time Capsule fits into the picture by combining an 802.11n network access point and a hard disk drive. The device is a “full AirPort Extreme base station”—it bears an uncanny resemblance to Apple’s wireless base station—combined with “a server-grade hard drive,” according to Jobs

With Time Capsule, users will be able to go back through archived backups to find lost files, photos, digital media, and other data. Once the missing file is found, users can restore it wireless from Time Capsule; they can also restore an entire system from a Time Machine backup stored on the device.

Time Capsule features dual-band antennas for 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequencies. It has one USB 2.0, one Gigabit Ethernet, and three Gigabit LAN ports. The device also has a built-in power supply and can connect to print wirelessly from a USB printer, according to Apple. In addition, Time Machine offers Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA-2), 128-bit WEP encryption, and a built-in NAAT firewall that support NAT-PMP for Leopard’s Back to My Mac feature.

Time Capsule ships in February in two capacities: a 500GB model for $299, and a 1TB version for $499.

More powerful maps, multi-person SMS lead new iPhone features

Apple expanded the iPhone's capabilities Tuesday with a free software update that adds a location finder to the Maps feature, customized home screens, multi-person SMS chats, and the ability to add Web sites to the home screen. In addition, video playback on the phone has been enhanced, with support for chapters, subtitles and languages, and lyrics support has been added for music tracks.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the latest iPhone features during his Macworld Expo keynote.

The Maps interface has been streamlined in the latest update, with Search and Directions buttons in the middle; a button in the bottom right that curls up your map to offer the option to drop a pin anywhere you want, show traffic, and view in map, satellite, and hybrid views; and a button in the bottom left that finds your location on a map. Apple worked with Google and Skyhook Wireless to create the location feature. Google uses technology that looks for cell phone towers to triangulate your location while Skyhook uses 23 million mapped Wi-Fi hotspots. When it finds your location, Maps overlays a blue circle that shows your approximate position.

The iPhone's new Webclips feature lets you bookmark a Web page as a button on the iPhone's home screen. In addition to saving the site's web address, the Webclip icon remembers the Safari browser's page location and zoom settings, allow you to bookmark not just a single page, but a particular location on a page. To create a Web click, you navigate to a Web page in the browser, then click the plus-symbol icon at the bottom of the screen. When you choose the new Add To Home Screen option, the iPhone allows you to give your Webclip a custom name and then adds it to your home screen.

Speaking of the home screen, you can now move the icons on the home screen and rearrange them as desired. Hold down your finger on an icon and all your buttons will begin to shimmy, showing they are ready to be dragged around. You can also have up to nine screens worth of buttons, so you can put all your Webclips on a separate screen or move unused programs out of the way.

Video playback has improved with this update. When watching a video, you can now click on a chapters button to open the Chapter Guide. It shows you all the chapters in a video, along with thumbnails and the time at which they begin. And you can now take advantage of alternate languages or subtitles that are included in video files.

"The iPhone is not standing still," Jobs said.

According to Jobs, Apple has sold 4 million iPhones to date, averaging sales of 20,000 phones per day. That gives the iPhone a 19.5-percent share of the U.S. smartphone market as of the September 2007 quarter according to figures Jobs quoted from market-research firm Gartner. The iPhone only trails BlackBerry maker RIM, which has a 39 percent market share.

What's more, Jobs said, the iPhone's market share is equal to the combined percentage of the next three largest companies—Palm, Motorola, and Nokia.