The Addendum

What the heck is Egg Saver Shipping?
— 11:25 PM on February 19, 2009

I'm a big fan of Newegg. As one of the biggest online retailers for PC components and accessories, it's received my business for six years now. The prices are some of the best around, the customer service is friendly, and thanks to my close proximity to their Southern California location, I generally receive things pretty quickly—at least, I used to. But we'll get to that shortly.

When I first started using Newegg some time in 2003, I thought I had found the greatest online retailer in existence. Not only could I get a good deal on PC hardware, but thanks to its FedEx Super Saver default shipping method, I'd generally receive my purchases within a day—two at the most. When picking between online stores at the time, Newegg was an easy choice.

Just a couple of years later, Newegg made a change to their baseline shipping option. UPS Ground became the default carrier, and while many immediately noticed a difference, my propinquity to Newegg's warehouse ensured that I still received my orders in a timely manner. My only real complaint about UPS is that it didn't handle packages with as much care as FedEx. Boxes were usually delivered in a slightly more abused state than I was used to, but the contents were still fine. I never had reason to complain. Newegg would generally use far more packing materials than necessary (even for very small purchases) resulting in boxes that could seemingly be crushed by a truck and still have the product inside escape unscathed.

Unfortunately, Newegg recently switched to a new standard shipping method. It's called Egg Saver Shipping, and I've already sworn not to use it again. To explain why I'm frustrated with the service, I need to retrace the journey of a recent order.

A few weeks ago, I needed to make a purchase from Newegg—4GB  of notebook RAM, to be specific. Having not used Egg Saver Shipping before, and never being concerned about Newegg's shipping options in the past, I didn't give the method a second thought. I placed my order on Sunday evening, expecting my package would be picked up on Monday morning, sorted that evening, and put on a truck for delivery on Tuesday. After all, it's only a 30-mile journey from Newegg's warehouse to my front door.

However, Wednesday night soon rolled around, and I still didn't have my RAM. Like any curious customer, I went to Newegg's website and pulled up my tracking number, only to become even more confused. On Monday, the product was picked up from Newegg's warehouse by DHL, and by that evening it was at DHL's sorting center. I initially thought that odd, as I was under the impression that DHL suspended all domestic operations.

On Tuesday morning, my RAM was driven in the opposite direction of my house to the U.S. Postal Service in Carson, California. On Wednesday night, I still had no update on the tracking number. My purchase was somewhere in the USPS' army of mail carriers—that's all I knew. Thankfully, I received the RAM on Thursday afternoon, after traveling more than double the distance of the direct path between myself and Newegg. What happened? It turns out that Egg Saver shipping relies on two different parcel carriers: DHL and USPS. DHL picks up outgoing packages from Newegg, and transports them to an appropriate USPS sorting center. Afterward, it's at the mercy of USPS until it gets to your front door. The package changing hands added at least a day to the delivery in my case, and USPS is just generally slow.

Of course, 4 days is right within the 3-5 days that Egg Saver Shipping quoted me for my order. So why am I complaining? Maybe I've been spoiled by receiving items so quickly, despite using only the least expensive shipping option. But for me at least, that was one of Newegg's primary appeals. If I've got to start paying more to receive packages in a timely manner, I might as well hop in my car and drive 20 minutes to my closest Fry's, or start buying from other retailers that might have slightly higher prices but better shipping methods.

I also took issue with the disappointing manner in which my order was packed. The two sticks of RAM were simply tossed in a media mailer envelope and handed to DHL—very much unlike the carefully packed orders I used to receive from Newegg. All right, maybe it isn't efficient to pack a couple sticks of RAM in a box with a mountain of styrofoam peanuts like they did in the past, but at least I knew my purchases were safe. I have no doubt that simply stepping on the envelope would have been enough to damage the RAM, and I have to wonder what other products are getting shipped in the same way.

If you think I'm being unfair to Newegg, simply put "egg saver shipping" into Google, and you'll find that I'm not the first person to take issue with the service. Some customers report DHL transporting packages well past the destination in order to get to a distribution center, only for USPS to backtrack for delivery—sometimes across multiple state lines.

Why is Newegg employing a method that requires packages to change hands, anyway? Why can't USPS pick up orders from Newegg directly, instead of relying on DHL to ferry the package from Newegg's dock to a USPS sorting center? How does adding another carrier to the mix make it any easier for the involved parties—merchant, shippers, or customers?

Regardless of the explanation, there's really only one lesson to take away from Newegg's Egg Saver Shipping: pay more for a better option, or be prepared to wait. Perhaps the best tactic is to keep an eye on products that include free UPS Ground shipping and include one in your order. You might find it's less expensive than paying for the upgrade to UPS Ground for your entire order.

87 comments — Last by chingichongs at 11:29 PM on 05/16/10

Downloadable content done right
— 3:24 PM on February 6, 2009

Many gamers probably didn't notice, but Burnout Paradise came out this week for PC in the form of the Ultimate Box. Why should you care? Put simply, Burnout Paradise has become one of the best examples of downloadable content done right. I never imagined that I'd still be talking about the game over a year after its console release, but here we are.

Downloadable content is a tricky issue with both game publishers and developers. Some just don't want to touch the idea, while others have embraced it to the point of exploitation. Case in point: Namco, or as some gamers affectionately call it, Scamco. That firm will crank out any little piece of bonus content just to score a couple of extra bucks off of customers.

Now, I'm not arguing that all DLC should be free—far from it. But here's an example of Namco's despicable DLC habits: Beautiful Katamari was released for the Xbox 360 in late 2007, and almost immediately afterward, four bonus levels (priced at $2.50 each) went up on the Xbox Live Marketplace. It turns out that these pieces of bonus content were only 384KB in size, meaning the levels were already on the disc, and you were really only buying an unlock code for that extra content. To add insult to injury, one of Beautiful Katamari's achievements required purchasing these bonus stages. Essentially, Namco just decided to lock away the last few levels of the game and sell them to gamers who had already paid $60 for the title.

There have been countless other DLC flubs, from Oblivion's much publicized "horse armor" to premium characters in the Tiger Woods series, which people could use in online play as effective paid-for cheat codes. Those examples are all from several years ago, however, when publishers were still figuring out how to make DLC serve both their interests and those of customers. Since then, publishers like EA have cleaned up their acts and begun offering truly compelling downloadable content, both as free and so-called premium (purchased) content packs. After all, Burnout Paradise is an Electronic Arts title.

So, what makes Burnout Paradise's DLC worthy of praise? Criterion Games, with EA's support, has released several content updates over the last 13 months to help extend the life of this arcade racer. The first update brought bug fixes, but Criterion quickly started delivering additional multiplayer modes, challenges, and even a new class of vehicles—motorcycles. And all of it has been free. This week will see the largest update for the game yet, introducing several community-requested features and a built-in content browser for future DLC. This new browser can't come soon enough, either, because Burnout Paradise will soon receive several premium additions, including new vehicles and possibly the much desired pursuit mode.

Burnout Paradise isn't the first game to do DLC so well that it needs its own built-in store; the Rock Band series has become one of the most successful DLC vehicles of all time. By the latest official count, Harmonix and EA have sold more than 28 million songs through digital means, and considering songs cost $1.99 a pop, that's a sizable chunk of change. With hundreds of available songs and new additions coming every week, the game continues to stay relevant without quarterly installations like the Guitar Hero series.

Of course, PC gamers are accustomed to this sort of treatment—official and user-created additions have built upon PC games for decades now. Team Fortress 2 might be the best example of DLC support on the PC in recent history, since Valve has stayed committed to expanding TF2's gameplay free of charge from day one. Though the initial offering was arguably a bit on the light side, it came as part of The Orange Box, so it was tough to criticize for a shortage of maps. Since its release, the title has grown thanks to new gameplay modes, new maps, and additions to existing classes.

Updates for the Xbox 360 version of TF2 have yet to come, and though Valve would like to publish them for free, Microsoft won't allow it. Instead, Valve plans to publish new content packs for the Xbox 360 as inexpensively as possible, ensuring that Xbox 360 customers don't have to pay too much for the additions. Talk about rewarding your clientele. And of course, Valve's other popular multiplayer shooter, Left 4 Dead, had its first downloadable content pack announced today (we'll have to see if it's free for PC users).

Some of the holiday season's biggest hits will receive their own premium updates in the coming months, as well, with digital expansion packs due for both Ubisoft's Prince of Persia and Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. MMORPGs are equally privileged, with Mythic to launch the first "live-expansion" for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning in the coming months. Now that companies like Valve and EA are leading the way and making DLC a viable alternative to a constant stream of sequels, the outlook for digital distribution looks better and better each day. What's your take on it? Would you rather buy one $60 sequel every year or dole out $5 a month to expand an already released game? I'm personally sold on the latter concept, as my Xbox Live account can attest.

26 comments — Last by Mumrik at 4:14 AM on 02/24/09

The beta craze
— 6:41 PM on January 29, 2009

Like many PC gamers in the last week, I recently fired up the new Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II beta on Steam to see what all the fuss was about. While my thoughts on the game itself are best left for another day, it got me thinking about the current use of betas in PC gaming and their overall effect on the market. Primarily, when did "beta" become a new buzzword for "demo"?

Dawn of War II has gone gold—it's done. So, why is something that amounts to a multiplayer demo instead branded as a beta? Is Relic really going to make changes for a much-dreaded day-one patch based on what they find from this experiment, or is it just another attempt to drum up interest? The game seems stable, and the network code has been remarkably good, which is impressive considering Relic's track record with online gaming. You won't find placeholder assets or gimped features, and the firm even managed to include an assortment of start-up movies, complete with the ever popular "Nvidia - The Way It's Meant To Be Played" splash. It sure doesn't feel like a beta to me.

A decade ago, mainstream gamers didn't even know the word "beta," but now it seems like every high-profile game has to have one. It once implied an unfinished product, code that was otherwise not yet ready for public consumption. Now, it's little more than a clever marketing ploy. Somewhere along the line, a smart marketing rep realized that consumers are in love with the concept of a beta. But what's the appeal? Why do gamers clamor at the mere thought of a game getting a public beta?

"Beta" implies something exclusive, almost secretive. When a title gets a beta release (legitimate or not), gamers flock to the source and go to great lengths to be part of the in-crowd. Remember the Internet hullabaloo when Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 had their respective leaks? At the time, you were the coolest kid on the block if you could load up a broken level of Doom 3 and show how it made your PC beg for mercy. Marketers have played off of that "gotta have it" attitude and simply renamed demos to betas. Not only is it a great way to generate interest with little to no more work, but it can also make the quality assurance process much easier.

Studios that don't simply use betas as marketing tools get access to valuable player feedback before the title ships. Those developers can cut down on the resources dedicated to internal QA departments (much to the chagrin of game design students everywhere), and they also get to gauge audience reaction from its most vocal fans. Quick design modifications, particularly those related to controls, can benefit greatly from last-minute suggestions. Who knows? Changes stemming from a beta could even end up netting the game slightly higher review scores, which seem to be gaining more importance with sites like Metacritic and GameRankings. But the benefits of a public beta don't end with the development—it's also becoming an attractive secondary revenue stream.

Whether it's through pre-orders or co-branding, game publishers have realized that gamers will not only jump at the opportunity to play unfinished code, they'll pay to do it. Imagine that. Very few high-profile betas have been truly public as of late, and they require a golden ticket of sorts to get access. Some are just mere lotteries, but the extremely clever publishers will find ways to make you fork over cash to participate. Halo 3's beta required you to buy Crackdown. Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix's beta required you to buy Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 (memo to Capcom: come up with shorter game titles). The list goes on and on. If it's not a game that you're forced to purchase, it's a pre-order, or even worse, a subscription to distribution sites like FilePlanet. It seems like every other month FilePlanet has a new exclusive beta for its members, and the fact that people will pay to be guinea pigs for broken games just baffles me. Publishers should be paying you!

There's one final reason the beta has become such a favored preview method for consumers: critics are far less vocal. Gamers can encounter issues that would otherwise be deal-breakers, but if the experience doesn't represent final code, the hope for improvement remains. Forum discussion dedicated to beta software is often littered with the "it's just a beta" excuse. Maybe that's why Google seems so keen on leaving some of its products perpetually in beta.

There's no denying it: the beta is now mainstream. Many of the most notable games in recent memory (Killzone 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Playstation Home, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King) are on board, but where will it stop? I expect publishers will continue to find new ways to make money off of it, and the only uncertainty is whether gamers will play along. Movie-goers don't pay to see unfinished cuts of films—they have to beg you to do it on your way out of the theater. Why should gamers pay to play unfinished games?

46 comments — Last by kamikaziechameleon at 5:47 PM on 03/03/09

Geek gaming gone low-tech
— 1:00 AM on January 23, 2009

What do nerds do for fun? A few weeks back, I wrote some tips on how to throw a successful LAN party, a favorite activity for my friends and me. However, in recent months, my get-togethers have taken on a decidedly more old-school focus, and in the process reignited a childhood passion of mine: board gaming.

Sure, the games have changed. Sorry! and The Game of Life are out, instead replaced by the likes of Settlers of Catan and Risk, but the fundamental experience is the same. There's just something incredibly pure about gathering a few friends around a table, matching wits for hours, and cursing over dice rolls. But what makes that different from competing through video games? Why have I chosen cardboard pieces and plastic tokens over headshots and rocket-jumps?

Put simply, LAN parties have lost their luster. In their heyday, LAN parties offered a completely unique experience: playing video games with a large group of friends. Dial-up connections weren't exactly suited for large-scale online gaming, and many of my friends were lucky if they had even that. Getting a bunch of friends together for a chance at 6v6 Quake 3: Team Arena was a rare treat, and one that was worth all of the equipment and setup time.

Nowadays, with the mass adoption of broadband and enhanced matchmaking services, spending an hour fragging your friends can be a nightly occurrence. Services like Steam, Xbox Live, and Xfire make it easy to maintain a list of your buddies, keep tabs on what they're playing, and use a mic and webcam to communicate obscenities without even resorting to emoticons. What an age we live in.

Attendees don't need to pack up their desktop PCs—let alone own one—to play board games. Forget everyone needing a copy of each video game along with all of the necessary patches, drivers, and other easily overlooked things that can throw a wrench in the works. Just have the board games and a table to play them on, and then all you need are people. They don't even need to know the rules: teaching and learning new games is half the fun, and an integral part of the experience.

The whole scenario is actually somewhat odd, if you think about it. The LAN party seems like the natural evolution of the board game night, almost an electronic version of the same event. Now, the LAN party finds itself being rendered obsolete by more robust online capabilities, leaving its predecessor as the best activity for nerd gatherings. Although some of my friends have dismissed the activity as too juvenile, trust me: don't judge a book by its cover. What may appear simple in passing can turn out to be an incredibly rewarding experience, with hours of gameplay to offer.

Take Munchkin, for example; one of my favorite discoveries in recent months. On the surface, it's a straightforward game: two big decks of cards that play like a watered-down version of Dungeons & Dragons. In reality, though, Munchkin is a parody of D&D and board gaming as a whole, and it simultaneously manages to be a well-designed and enjoyable experience on its own. Players set out on a journey to be the first character to level 10, along the way encountering fearsome monsters like the Shrieking Geek, Plutonium Dragon, and the Gelatinous Octahedron (a less-than-subtle play on the famous D&D monster, the Gelatinous Cube). The game's sense of humor goes beyond curiously named creatures and extends into the gameplay itself. Unfortunate players can be cursed with such maladies as the Hungry Backpack, which forces them to roll a die at the end of each turn to discover how many of their items their knapsack consumes.

Not content to be a simple parody of other hero-quest games, Munchkin adds a layer of complexity by allowing players not only to help, but also to hinder each other. You can jump into combat with an ally, coming to their rescue in their most desperate time of need, or throw buffs on a monster to ensure your fellow adventurer's utter demise. Invariably, Munchkin ends up becoming a game of politics, and one simple rule becomes clear: no one forgets a grudge. Combined with the intentionally poorly written rules, replete with loopholes and gray areas, the age-old board gaming tradition of arguing always ensues. Truthfully, I can't ever help but laugh. The game's designers have no doubt spent countless hours around sticklers in D&D games, so creating a rule-set that intentionally angers those kinds of players, while still retaining its appeal for everyone else, is truly impressive. Munchkin succeeds in mocking almost every aspect of traditional gaming—it is the ultimate troll for people who take games like Dungeons & Dragons too seriously, which is probably why I love it.

German-style board games have become increasingly popular in recent years, too, with creations like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne as standard-bearers for the genre. It's easy to understand the appeal: they're quick to learn, quick to play, and offer a variety of strategies to win. It also helps that they're generally non-elimination games, meaning you won't get knocked out 30 minutes into the game and wait for two hours while the remaining players fight over Park Place and Baltic Avenue. The genre looks ready to grow even further, with both of these titles gaining success in digital forms on Xbox Live Arcade, and several more German-style games on the way.

If you've got an Xbox 360 and a few spare bucks, do yourself a favor and pick up one (or both) of these titles—I could always use more random players to challenge. Who knows? You might find yourself liking them so much that you'll shell out the extra cash for the board game versions, as I did. All it takes is one or two games to start hosting your very own board game night. Before you know it, you'll have a library complete with Talisman, Shadows over Camelot, Puerto Rico, Dominion, Risk, Axis & Allies, Race for the Galaxy, Ticket to Ride, and Blood Bowl.

62 comments — Last by thermistor at 11:59 PM on 01/30/09

CES 2009: a pictorial
— 4:51 PM on January 15, 2009

Every year I get sick after CES. It's inevitable. Thankfully, I'm already starting to recover from whatever nasty bug I brought home this year, which means it's time to get back to work and provide some insight on the show. Scott already shared his thoughts in the most recent podcast, and of course he, Geoff, and Cyril posted a flurry of news updates on all of the most important revelations.

Thanks to my less hectic schedule, I got to spend a bit more time wandering the show floor on the hunt for interesting finds. If you listened to the podcast, you'll know the show was definitely a bit more low-key than in previous years, but that didn't stop me from finding cool stuff hidden across the 2.7 million square feet of convention space.

When I saw a full-tower desktop PC with 84 USB flash drives plugged into the front, light dancing across the front as their LED activity indicators constantly flipped on and off, I couldn't help but stop and take a photo. While I'm not sure how many fields will find practical applications for high-volume flash duplication, the technology is nonetheless interesting and fun to watch in action.

If a full-tower PC (with the ability to duplicate up to 147 devices at once) is overkill for your needs, the FlashCopier.com folks also offer smaller copiers that connect to a host PC via USB and support up to 21 devices—sort of like USB hubs on steroids. PR interns who make a living by duplicating electronic press kits had best find a new forte.

I love the Taser booth, too. It seems like every year I manage to talk another one of my friends into getting electrocuted on the first day of CES. It's become something of a late Christmas gift for me, trekking across the CES floor on the hunt for my first stop of the show. And boy do the Taser guys ever love it. Look at the face of quiet content on the dude to the right as my poor friend Chris howls out in pain.

A small crowd invariably huddles around to watch someone get electrocuted, and it actually serves as rather positive marketing for the company. The use of stun guns has garnered a growing amount of negative press in recent years, and for regular consumers to walk up, get tased, and simply walk away 10 seconds later with nothing bad to say about the experience other than "I just couldn't move" helps validate the device's role as an incapacitating tool, rather than a painful weapon used for excessive force.

 

Going to studio tapings for television shows is a heck of a lot of fun. Living in Southern California, it's an experience I've had the opportunity to enjoy several times, but for the thousands of CES attendees who had never been on a soundstage before, seeing the Jeopardy! set in full effect was a treat. Just in case you're not a regular viewer of the program, Jeopardy! filmed a handful of episodes from the show floor using a dedicated stage and audience area offset from the Sony booth.

While the show wasn't taping, attendees were free to wander around the filming area and take photos of the stage. Sadly, my dreams of writing Turd Ferguson on one of the podiums were dashed by numerous security guards and tightly-wound producers who looked ready to beat me with their clipboards if I tried anything funny.

 

It's too bad the International Commerce Center doesn't get more attention at CES. Tucked away in the Hilton's convention halls, a couple of blocks north of CES proper, is where you'll find the ICC. You know that little kiosk at the mall that sells cell phone faceplates, LED antennas, and otherwise generally useless crap? Take that kiosk, and amplify it by about a billion—that's the International Commerce Center. I guarantee you've never heard of any of the companies that have booths there, and many of them have names I can't even pronounce.

The hall is made even more interesting by the segregation of booths based on nationality. Companies from China have their booths in the China Pavilion, Korean companies in the Korea Pavilion, etc. So you not only get information about the product that the booth is selling, but also a spiel laden with nationalistic pride and examples of why their products are far superior to their foreign competitors'. In effect, these booths are not only pitching a product, but their country's entire industry. In fact, for large countries like China, you'll find booths dedicated to individual provinces, designed to promote new business in specific areas.

The photo above is a perfect example of what you generally find at an International Commerce Center booth: plenty of posters, maybe a product in a glass case, some poorly-handwritten signs, a laptop, and a lone employee who is just aching for someone to talk to. The booth employees are always extremely courteous and fun to talk to, so I make sure to stop and say hello to the ones that look especially bored—unless of course they're asleep, which happens from time to time. The icing on the cake for this booth was the product poster on the back wall. It's advertising some sort of mount for electronics in the car, but the photo of Mao Zedong hanging from the mirror is what stood out for me.

To be fair, though, I'm selling it a bit short; there are interesting things to find in the ICC besides idle banter. Not only is it a cool place to go on the last day of the show to haggle for knock-off electronics, but just about one out of every twenty booths there has some neat new technology that will invariably find success when it's copied by a larger company. Though there's usually not enough reason for the press to venture down to the ICC, I enjoy it every year thanks to the gracious booth workers and interesting stuff I unearth.

No single product category swept the show this year (netbooks came close), but Mobile Internet Devices powered by Intel's Atom processor were rather popular, and they even made their presence known in the ICC. This rather cool little number is a bit bigger than a Nintendo DS Lite and is loaded to the gills with features. The machine has a bright, 4.8" 1024x600 touchscreen, an Intel Atom processor running up to 1.33GHz, a single DDR2 SO-DIMM slot, up to 32GB of internal flash memory, a MicroSD slot, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.0. Still not impressed? How about support for digital over-the-air TV in Europe and Asia, and a slot for a SIM card for mobile broadband access. Where does it fall flat? Well for one, the name. For now, it's unoriginally called the UMID MID—yeah they've got to work on that. The glossy plastic body also felt rather cheap, almost like a Fisher-Price toy, although the system felt pretty sturdy overall.

Like most other products in the ICC, the UMID MID is still hunting for a distributor in the United States, so it may never see the light of day on these shores. With an expected MSRP of $500-700, I'm not convinced the device would have a market here, anyway. It's a bit too small for the kind of use a netbook would get, and a bit too big for a mobile device that can be replaced by an iPhone for half of the price. Regardless, it's a cool toy and a tribute to the versatility of Intel's Atom processor.

Not every photo deserves a caption, but be sure to take a look through the gallery below for some of my other CES photos.

10 comments — Last by lycium at 9:14 PM on 01/24/09

Blogger, or media?
— 12:46 PM on January 9, 2009

Day one of CES was filled with plenty of fun and a number of surprises, but none bigger than a revelation during registration: bloggers are now their own class of media. Instead of getting my usual orange badge with "Media" printed on the top, I was instead presented with a dull-gray "Blogger" badge. I also received a Blogger bag, blogger lunch coupons, and access to the Blogger Lounge. The Blogger Lounge turned out to be the Media Room-lite, with only a couple of PCs for Internet access and no sign of press kits. I wasn't brave enough to see what a blogger lunch entails, but there's always tomorrow. I'm not here to complain, though. In fact, the separation of bloggers from other media at trade shows is long overdue.

Trade show organizers have been combating the issue of unqualified attendees at industry-only events for years. E3 was the most notorious show of them all, having been inundated by tens of thousands of retail employees and just about anyone with a Blogspot account, making it incredibly frustrating for actual industry members to carry out business. In an effort to solve the problem, the Entertainment Software Association made an extreme change and turned E3 into an invitation-only event. The show once again felt like an industry event, although that introduced a number of new issues.

The glitz, glamor, and overall purpose of E3 changed. As a result, media support declined, game publisher interest dissipated, and the Entertainment Software Association eventually announced a reversal to the pre-2007 format. Still, publishers now seem more interested in private events held under controlled conditions, with attendee lists that they set. Did the restricted E3 format force them to change their MO, or did publishers suddenly realize that a booming convention center isn't the best environment to show new product? I'll go with a little of both.

Now the Consumer Electronics Association is trying its best to tighten up access to CES. While the show hasn't become invitation-only, registration for attendees (and particularly media) has become a bit more restrictive. Bloggers are now a separate class, and all other types of badges require proof of industry affiliation. Though it's not exactly difficult to print up bogus business cards, the extra hoops appear to be cutting down on the number of visitors who are merely prowling the show floor for swag.

It's slightly annoying to be separated from the rest of my online media cohorts, and it would be great to have access to the library of press kits, but I really can't take issue with the situation. After all, I still got into the show for free, complete with another awesome bag and four days worth of free food. Blogger or media—it doesn't matter. The CEA still knows how to take care of the press better than just about any other trade show organizer I've come across. Booth exhibitors still perk up at the sight of a canvas badge holder (which is exclusive to media and bloggers) regardless of the color, and as such, my treatment on the floor doesn't seem to have changed all that much.

Kudos to CEA for coming up with a solution that segregates bloggers from media without making us feel like second-class citizens. When the show's over, I'll simply add the Blogger badge to the drawer of Media badges and start planning for next year. Who knows what kind of badge I'll have by then?

29 comments — Last by Joel H. at 10:10 AM on 01/15/09

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.

83 comments — Last by konig at 4:05 PM on 01/17/09