Macworld 2009: I don't blame you, Steve


— 4:54 PM on January 6, 2009

So this is how Apple goes out from its last Macworld, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Steve Jobs chose not to deliver the keynote address at this year's show, once again causing rumors of his declining health to spread across the Internet. The responsibility instead fell upon Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller. Jobs addressed the rumors just yesterday, assuring everyone that his health hasn't affected his responsibilities. After this morning's Apple keynote, I'm inclined to believe him—I wouldn't have wanted to be on that stage this morning for any reason, either.

What does it say about an Apple keynote when the highlight of the event is MacRumors' blog getting hacked and subsequently spammed by 4chan users? That's how boring this morning's show was. It certainly wasn't a bad show, with no huge missteps by Apple and no on-stage disasters—it just wasn't very exciting. Cyril's already given us a rundown on the day's frivolities, but like the last Stevenote, I've got a thing or two to say about the event. Here are the major standouts from today's keynote in my eyes:

  • iLife '09 brings back the excitement after a lackluster showing in 2008. I'm not calling iLife '08 a bad product, but Events wasn't a must-have new feature for iPhoto, and iMovie '08 was so frustrating that Apple had to allow customers to downgrade to the previous version. iLife '09 brings focus back to the product by packing in several new features that users should actually care about. So how did they do it?

  • Facebook and Flickr are integrated into iPhoto '09. Apple is finally on board with some of the most popular social networking applications, bringing the ability to export from iPhoto directly to Facebook and Flickr, tags and all. The new facial recognition feature should also make tagging friends in photos a heck of a lot faster—just in time to start uploading all of those photos from the holidays. In addition to being able to sort through photos by Faces, iPhoto '09 also adds support for Places, which uses GPS geotagging to add location data to photos, assuming your camera supports it. Apple needed to hit a home run with iPhoto '09 (especially with yesterday's release of Google's Picasa for Mac) and it looks as though they delivered.

  • iMovie is back in form. The drag and drop editing system that worked so well in '08 is back, but with all of the other features we missed. Automatic image stabilization is a welcome addition, but there are plenty of fun new toys like cartoon effects and Indiana Jones-esque map animations.

  • GarageBand '09 rounds out the iLife '09 package by adding interactive lessons for aspiring musicians, with some even taught by musical celebrities like Sting, John Fogerty, and more. The application will come with a handful of lessons, while any further instruction with cost you $4.99 a pop from the iTunes Store. While I can't speak for the quality of the lessons, the novelty factor will no doubt be high for wannabe rock stars, and it's certainly more beneficial than twirling around an oversize Fisher Price-style guitar with Guitar Hero.

  • iWork '09 further obsoletes Office 2008 for Mac. God bless Microsoft for trying, but no matter how much it wants to make Office the premiere productivity suite on the Mac, Office for Mac seems destined to forever be a buggy, slow, and unstable software package. The only reasons it has any customers on the platform are its finicky file formats and grandfather status in office environments. Though iWork '09 doesn't add many standout features, numerous changes have been made and cross-application interaction looks much improved. The most exciting addition in Keynote '09 is the ability to use an iPhone or iPod Touch as a remote during presentations, letting you control the pace and glance at slides for notes.

  • iWork.com arrives, brought to you by the people who can't make MobileMe work properly. It's no secret that Apple's MobileMe data sync program was practically a fiasco at launch. After several months of updates, tweaks, and its fair share of outages, MobileMe is finally a product that Apple doesn't have to be embarrassed about—but will iWork.com share the same troubled development? For now, Apple will be launching the service as a free beta, with plans to eventually monetize iWork.com. Whether they can come up with a product that's better than the free Google Docs remains to be seen.

  • Apple introduces a new 17" MacBook Pro with matte display option, but nerds still find reason to rage. Nothing from Apple can ever be perfect, and sure enough, the Internet has found nits to be picked with the new 17" MBP. The new MacBook Pro utilizes a battery similar to the MacBook Air, offering extremely long life (touted as up to eight hours) with only a single caveat: it's not removable. Those who like to carry around multiple batteries for overseas trips are out of luck—fly an airline with power plugs at the seats. Those who find humor in Apple's pricing schemes will enjoy configuring the new MacBook Pro with a 2.93 GHz Core 2 Duo, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive for the small sum of $5,200. I'm still only slightly bitter that Apple doesn't include a Blu-ray drive.

  • More DRM-free music arrives on the iTunes Store. Eight million of the 10 million songs offered on Apple's music store are now being sold free of any digital-rights management, and Apple aims to have the entirety of the iTunes library available DRM-free in the coming months. Amazon's DRM-free music store no doubt lit a fire under Apple, and kudos to the music industry for allowing iTunes to offer music the way Apple originally hoped.

  • The iTunes Store becomes available over the air. I never really understood this limitation in the first place, unless AT&T really didn't want to deal with the increased network load. Regardless, the iTunes Store can now be accessed over an EDGE or 3G cellular connection, rather than just Wi-Fi.

  • Snow Leopard is a no-show. This is a big one, folks. While Apple's WWDC is a more appropriate event to demo the next revision of Mac OS X, just about everyone was expecting at least a small sneak preview of the operating system. As it stands now, we probably won't get a new look at OS X 10.6 until this summer at WWDC '09—let the delay rumors begin.

  • The Mac mini doesn't get an update. I write this with the caveat that Apple may silently update the Mac mini during the events of Macworld, as has happened with their other products in years past. However, as it stands right now, the Mac mini is still running on nearly 18-month old hardware without a word on the product's future from Apple. If nothing changes, expect several more months of "Mac mini discontinued" rumors leading up until Apple's next event.

  • No iPhone nano to be seen. Blogs were really in love with this rumor leading up to the keynote, offering photos of leaked cases and confirmations from "trusted sources." In the end, nothing came of it—not yet, at least. To be honest, I never really gave the rumors much credibility in the first place. An iPhone nano just doesn't make sense to me. Apple would have to make huge sacrifices in the iPhone's best feature: the UI. Not to mention the compatibility issues with all of the iPhone and iPod touch apps out there.

  • No megaton of any kind. There was no bombshell at all. Last year, we got the MacBook Air. 12 months before that, we got the iPhone. What a disappointing way for Apple to bow out of Macworld.

Truth be told, it wasn't a bad keynote. It was just a bit boring and certainly not an event that needed to be hosted by Mr. Jobs. Now it's back to the waiting game, and looking forward to Apple's WWDC this summer. Before that though, I've got to get back to packing for CES.

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