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Series: Macworld SF 2005
Article 1 of 5 in series
There has long been an air of the 97-pound weakling in Apple Computer; the sense that no matter how well-designed, reliable, and downright elegant the company's products, an ill-mannered beefer like Dell would come along to kick sand in Apple's faceShow full article
There has long been an air of the 97-pound weakling in Apple Computer; the sense that no matter how well-designed, reliable, and downright elegant the company's products, an ill-mannered beefer like Dell would come along to kick sand in Apple's face. Even Apple's mockingly talky Switchers ads, no matter how successful or necessary they may have been, tried to be persuasive, convincing. "The Mac is better," they said, "so you should really think about switching."
But Apple's announcements of the iPod shuffle and the Mac mini (despite their annoying lack of capitalization) mark a sea change in Apple's demeanor. You could sense the glee in Steve Jobs's voice as he introduced the iPod shuffle by showing first the iPod's market share in 2003 (about 31 percent, compared to the 62 percent share of the less-expensive flash-based MP3 players), and then the iPod's market share today (about 65 percent, compared to the 29 percent share of the flash-based MP3 players). In short, the iPod's market share doubled in 2004, almost entirely at the expense of the flash-based MP3 players, and with the iPod shuffle, Apple is basically saying, "The rest of the MP3 player market? We'll be taking that next." Apple's employee benefit plan must have gotten a bulk discount on the Charles Atlas muscle-building course from the back of an old comic book.
Apple's desire to own the MP3 player market may be tough talk, but it's not false bravado, given that the iPod sold 4.5 million units in the last three months of 2004 alone, not far from half of the total of 10 million iPods sold so far. That's an insanely steep growth curve (and if Apple had trouble producing enough for the holiday season, they can be excused some small timidity in not predicting the need for that kind of inventory).
Though Jobs introduced the Mac mini before the iPod shuffle during his Macworld keynote, and despite the fact that he spent a surprisingly small amount of time presenting it to the audience, seen in context of the iPod sales numbers, the Mac mini is clearly Apple testing its new-found muscle. Only occasionally in the history of the company has Apple seriously attempted to compete with PC vendors on price, and those attempts were at best half-hearted, weak-willed efforts that resulted in such abominations as the Power Mac 4400, possibly the worst Macintosh ever built. With the $500 Mac mini, which is $100 cheaper than a 60 GB iPhoto photo, Apple is again entering the low-cost market.
But I've used a Power Mac 4400, and the Mac mini is no Power Mac 4400. Despite the professional skepticism of a journalist, I can quibble seriously with only one configuration choice - the decision to equip the base configuration with only 256 MB of RAM, a laughably small amount that hobbles Mac OS X. Otherwise, the Mac mini makes only the kind of compromises that were required by its form factor and the desire to keep the price down. As such, AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth are available only as build-to-order options, and even RAM isn't easily user-installable. Interestingly, although using a 2.5-inch laptop drive might have seemed unnecessarily expensive, the word is that by the time Apple calculated the total cost of the less-expensive but larger 3.5-inch drives, the diminutive laptop drives turned out to be an overall cheaper approach. Apple also reportedly chose, when picking components, to avoid the least expensive ones because the cost of component failure ends up being greater than the extra component cost (not to mention that customers end up happier).
For a truly amusing thought, check out Robert X. Cringely's 2005 predictions column, in which he suggests that Apple use some of its $6 billion in cash to lose - intentionally - lots of money on the Mac mini as a way of selling millions upon millions of the little boxes. It's just crazy enough that it makes some sense.
The Floor Effect -- Overall, Apple's new demeanor and overall success spilled over to the Macworld Expo show floor. IDG World Expo wisely chose to use only the South Hall of the Moscone Convention Center this year, in contrast to last year, when booths in both the South and North Halls were surrounded by tightly drawn-in curtains that hid the cavernous empty spaces... at least if you were at ground level. Looking down on the show last year from the mezzanine was downright depressing, given the amount of unused floor space. By filling the South Hall entirely this year, IDG World Expo eliminated that sense of deception ("Pay no attention to those acres of bare concrete behind the curtain!"). According to the company, this year also saw 20 more exhibitors (280 versus 260 last year) and the amount of occupied floor space was greater than last year as well. Last year's attendance numbers, which were among the first to be counted correctly and audited by an outside firm, were 32,409, and although it will take several months for the auditing process this year, IDG World Expo is predicting a strong increase, with estimates I heard in the 35,000 to 40,000 range.
(As an aside, until the last few years, IDG World Expo used a commonplace counting mechanism that exaggerated wildly the actual attendance by counting people every time they entered the show floor. That strategy increased attendance numbers hugely for those of us who attend on multiple days, and particularly for those who come and go multiple times throughout the day. All such nonsense is gone, and the new head of IDG World Expo has insisted on an accurate count of the number of individuals who actually attended, whether for one day or four days.)
If there was a downside on the Macworld Expo show floor to the iPod's success and Apple's newfound aggressiveness, it came in the form of a ludicrous number of iPod accessory vendors. Walking the floor, I counted 14 companies selling iPod cases, another 13 selling some sort of audio- or speaker-released accessory (like kits to install an iPod in your car or living room wall), and 5 more whose iPod accessories didn't fit either of the previous two categories. That's 32 companies total, most of whom didn't make Macintosh products at all, from a total of 280. So, more than 10 percent of the exhibitors at Macworld weren't even selling Macintosh products. If we set aside for now the people who feel the need to coordinate their iPod cases with their outfits, the number of different cases available for sale bordered on the ridiculous. I jokingly commented to Dan Frakes, who writes for Mac Publishing's Playlist magazine, that I hadn't seen a hand-carved wooden case yet, only to have him tell me that although he hadn't seen one yet, there were hand-carved wooden iPod dock covers available. (Dan and Chris Breen, also of Playlist magazine, had been to the CES electronics show the previous week, where iPod accessories were equally preponderant.) In the Expo wrap-up panel I did with Macworld Editor-in-Chief Jason Snell on Shawn King's Your Mac Life radio show, Jason proposed the possibility that next year could bring so many iPod vendors that the North Hall would be dedicated to iPod vendors, with Macintosh vendors retaining the South Hall.
But aside from thoroughly botched logistics that relegated many people in the media to an overflow room during Steve Jobs's keynote, and that nit-picking complaint about feeling overwhelmed by nearly identical iPod accessories, Macworld Expo this year was a success. Attendance was high, vendors were happy with both the number of people they saw and with sales, attendees were buzzing with energy, and there were plenty of new and interesting products to see. (For that, read our traditional Macworld Superlatives article later in this issue.)
The remaining question is, "Whither Macworld Boston?" Last year's return to Boston was successful on many levels, but the numbers of exhibitors and attendees were both far below this show, making Boston's show roughly a quarter the size of this one. It's possible that Macworld Boston will grow back towards being a full-fledged sibling to Macworld San Francisco, but it's also possible that IDG World Expo will take the opposite direction. The company is developing "Macworld On Tour," a series of smaller, shorter shows held in a variety of cities throughout the country. Such an approach could work better for attracting people in those areas who would happily attend for a day or so, but for whom a week-long trip to San Francisco is unlikely. It's a nice idea for attendees, though there may be backlash from exhibitors who would feel pressured to keep employees constantly on the road.
Article 2 of 5 in series
The latest Macintosh, the Mac mini, is hardly bigger than the CDs and DVDs that it plays, but its size is as remarkable as its tiny price: either $500 or $600, based on processor speed and hard disk storageShow full article
The latest Macintosh, the Mac mini, is hardly bigger than the CDs and DVDs that it plays, but its size is as remarkable as its tiny price: either $500 or $600, based on processor speed and hard disk storage. This is the lowest price I can ever recall seeing on any Macintosh ever shipped. Even the cheapest CRT-based iMac was at least $100 more.
Apple achieved this price by sticking to the PowerPC G4 for its CPU and not including a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. The Mac mini does have a full complement of entry-level connectors found in the eMac, iMac, and iBook models: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, modem, one FireWire 400 port, audio line out, and two USB 2.0 ports. It also has a DVI connector (with an included VGA adapter and an optional S-video/composite adapter available if needed), a critical addition to the usual array to make this unit stand out as a home or home entertainment device. The internal graphics card is an ATI Radeon 9200 with 32 MB of video memory.
The anodized aluminum and polycarbonate plastic case, now found across many Mac models (but rarely both materials in one product), measures 2.5 inches tall by 6.5 inches square (or 5 cm by 16.5 cm square). It weighs just 2.9 pounds (1.3 kg).
The standard optical drive is a Combo Drive that reads DVD formats and reads and writes CDs at 16x (CD-RW) and 24x (CD-R). The $500 model includes a 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 processor and a 40 GB hard drive; the $600 model runs at 1.42 GHz with 80 GB of storage. The drives are relatively slow 4200 rpm 2.5-inch laptop mechanisms.
Apple Skimps on RAM, Again -- Both configurations ship with just 256 MB of RAM, which is a bit of a joke to run Mac OS X effectively, though that amount is enough to play iTunes, CDs, DVDs, and handle other common home duties such as exploring the Web and checking email.
Build-to-order options include adding up to 1 GB of RAM; a SuperDrive that reads and writes both CDs and DVDs ($100); and AirPort Extreme ($80) and Bluetooth ($50). The $500 model can also be equipped with an 80 GB drive for an extra $50. Apple says RAM upgrades and post-purchase wireless modules require an Apple Authorized Service Provider, though replacing the RAM yourself apparently won't void the Mac mini's warranty. However, the case isn't designed to be easily accessed - the opposite of Apple's iMac G5, where nearly every component can be replaced by the owner.
Apple's fee for 512 MB of RAM runs not quite double that of similar brand-name RAM ($75 versus about $40), but their $425 asking price for a single 1 GB DIMM is a pretty steep markup. I'd look into buying compatible 1 GB RAM elsewhere, paying an Apple dealer to swap it in for $30 to $50, and then reselling the 256 MB that comes out of the machine. It's also possible that we'll see special case-cracking tools appear shortly.
Not a Squashed Cube -- The Mac mini has a number of similarities with the doomed G4 Cube, of which I was a happy buyer and still own (it's about to become a home entertainment console.) I posted a table on my personal weblog with a head-to-head comparison of specs, and they're eerily alike.
The Cube failed in promising a kind of design perfection that the manufacturing process was often unable to meet, and in having a premium price over the simultaneously introduced Power Mac models that offered more performance, expandability, and familiarity.
The Mac mini suffers from none of these defects. The 1.25 and 1.42 GHz processors are more than enough for all home tasks, and they create much less heat than the PowerPC G5, making such a small form factor possible.
People who have longed for a Mac and could neither afford a Power Mac nor wanted the compromise in design and flexibility of an eMac can now slap either a cheap CRT or an incredibly expensive digital LCD onto a Mac mini and have a perfectly excellent computer.
Article 3 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
In his Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs announced the long-rumored newest member of the iPod family: a flash memory-based version of the iPod called the iPod shuffle. Flash memory is analogous to RAM; the advantage is that there are no moving parts, unlike a regular iPod that contains a hard drive and is subject to skipping if shaken (and to expensive damage if dropped), making the regular iPod a poor candidate for jogging and other vigorous exerciseShow full article
In his Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs announced the long-rumored newest member of the iPod family: a flash memory-based version of the iPod called the iPod shuffle.
Flash memory is analogous to RAM; the advantage is that there are no moving parts, unlike a regular iPod that contains a hard drive and is subject to skipping if shaken (and to expensive damage if dropped), making the regular iPod a poor candidate for jogging and other vigorous exercise. The disadvantage of flash memory has traditionally been the cost, but Apple has chosen an impressive and surprising strategy of undercutting the competition on price: a 512 MB model is just $100, and a 1 GB model is just $150.
Physically, the iPod shuffle (the small initial letter in "shuffle" is deliberate; perhaps it's an attempt on Apple's part to make reportage less legible) looks like a white cigarette lighter: it's a little over three inches long and one inch wide (76 mm by 25 mm), and weighs less than one ounce (28 g). It has a headphone jack at one end and a USB connector at the other (covered by a cap), so although it can be used with a dock (available as a $30 accessory), it can itself be plugged directly into your Mac (or your PC if you swing that way). It sports a version of the typical circular iPod Click Wheel controller (without the scrolling wheel technology), but, in a strikingly original move designed to cut costs, it has no display: instead, an LED indicates status. There is also a battery indicator light to show the level of the rechargeable battery; the battery, said to play for 12 hours (though we shall have to see how long it lasts in practice) charges directly from the USB port of your computer, and Apple also sells a $30 power adapter that allows you plug it directly into the wall instead. A full charge is said to require about four hours, with two hours enough to get you to 80 percent capacity.
As one would expect from a member of the iPod family, the iPod shuffle can play music in MP3, AAC, and Audible formats. It apparently cannot play Apple Lossless files, but curiously it can play WAVs, which are completely uncompressed. You can, of course, drag individual songs from iTunes into your iPod shuffle, or purchase an album at the iTunes Store and download it directly into your iPod shuffle; but Apple is also touting the new Autofill feature, which lets iTunes create and upload a random playlist for you, either from specific iTunes playlists or from your entire library. On the iPod shuffle itself, a large slider lets you toggle between playing your tunes sequentially or in random order; the invitation to live dangerously by listening to unknown music in an unknown order is a major element of Apple's explicit consumer message. (Apple must imagine its customers have a peculiarly low danger threshold.) The iPod shuffle can also accept data files, so it doubles as a USB "keychain drive"; a setting in iTunes lets you dictate how much of the drive's space is allocated for music and data. Many people at the show commented that the USB drive capability of the iPod shuffle made it an easy purchasing decision, given that a 512 MB USB drive by itself costs about $50.
Other accessories are advertised at Apple's site, including an armband - the default body attachment is a rather dorky-looking lanyard that hangs the iPod around your neck like the Ancient Mariner's albatross - a protective sport case that will also prevent thieves from snatching your iPod shuffle from the lanyard, and an external battery pack for two AAA batteries, adding an extra 20 hours of playing time. Most of the accessories are slated for arrival at the Apple Store in the coming weeks, but the iPod shuffle is available right now, with estimated shipping times of 1 to 2 weeks.
Article 4 of 5 in series
At last week's Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs unveiled a new version of iLife, its suite of media creativity tools, and replaced the venerable AppleWorks with iWork '05, a new productivity suite that includes Pages, a new word processor/page layout application, and Keynote 2, the latest version of Apple's presentation softwareShow full article
At last week's Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs unveiled a new version of iLife, its suite of media creativity tools, and replaced the venerable AppleWorks with iWork '05, a new productivity suite that includes Pages, a new word processor/page layout application, and Keynote 2, the latest version of Apple's presentation software. He also briefly introduced Final Cut Express HD, the company's single nod during the show toward more advanced Mac users.
All-New iWork Sports Pages and Keynote -- iWork marks the debut of Pages, a new word-processing application that includes 40 document themes, extended templates with multiple types of page designs in many of them. Pages allows for freeform arrangements of text, graphics, photos, tables, and charts, so it should readily serve as a basic desktop publishing tool for those who don't need the power of QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign. It's also a fairly basic word processor; we don't expect Pages will compete with the likes of Microsoft Word for power wordsmiths, or with BBEdit on the other end of the spectrum for coders. Pages does import AppleWorks documents, and imports and exports Word documents, in addition to supporting the all-important PDF.
Keynote 2 is a new version of the presentation software Apple originally developed for Steve Jobs to use during his keynotes, with 10 new themes, animated text, a useful presenter display that puts notes and the next slide on a second monitor, and even a kiosk slideshow mode. Keynote imports and exports PowerPoint presentations, and adds the capability to export presentations as Macromedia Flash, in addition to the existing PDF and QuickTime export options.
iWork replaces AppleWorks in Apple's software arsenal, but leaves out the anemic spreadsheet and database features of the former office suite. Apple no doubt figures these are power user features, and those users will head to Microsoft Office. It's also possible we'll see programs with these features in future releases of iWork. Note that if "iWork" sounds familiar, you may be thinking about IGG Software's time management software, recently renamed iBiz.
Apple says iWork features an integrated iLife media browser, allowing users to import images from iPhoto, sound from iTunes, and video from iMovie directly into documents, much as recent versions of the iLife applications allow seamless importing from the other tools. The software, which requires Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later running on a Mac with a minimum 500 MHz G3, G4, or G5 processor, will cost $80 when it's available on 22-Jan-05 in the US and 29-Jan-05 worldwide. The software comes on a DVD, requiring a DVD reader like a Combo Drive or SuperDrive for installation.
Apple Unveils iLife '05 -- Apple also took the wraps off a major update to its iLife suite of digital media applications: iLife '05 includes iPhoto 5, iMovie HD, iDVD 5, GarageBand 2, and iTunes 4.7 (iTunes remains free from Apple, even though it's included in the iLife suite). The new suite will be available 22-Jan-05 for $80 and will require a DVD drive and Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later for installation. It will also begin shipping on all new Macs shortly. People who purchased iLife '04 or a new Mac after 11-Jan-05 can upgrade to iLife '05 for $20 through Apple's iLife Up-To-Date program through 25-March-05. Also, a $100 iLife '05 Family Pack is available for installing the suite on up to five computers.
Apple's digital image cataloging application iPhoto 5 gains new advanced editing tools that enable users to control color saturation, white balance, contrast, exposure, and more, along with impressive cropping and rotation tools for slightly adjusting an image's orientation (just to make sure those walls and doorways are upright and horizons are level). iPhoto 5 also sports hierarchical folders for storing multiple picture albums (a feature we've been craving since iPhoto's debut - now if only iTunes offered hierarchical playlists!), an iTunes-like search field, and a calendar view for finding photos by day, week, month, or year.
The application also now supports the RAW image format (used by some higher-end digital cameras), and can catalog video clips from digital still cameras. For folks who can't get enough of their pictures, iPhoto 5's high-quality slideshow capabilities are heavily customizable, sport 12 transitions, and enable users to sync photos with music, including adjusting the duration, effects, and transitions for individual slides. Users can also customize and adjust slideshows without changing the underlying album. And, if printed pictures are your thing, Apple is offering three new formats of photo books (along with new themes), and has cut the price of 4" by 6" prints to 19 cents each, 10 cents less for single quantities than Shutterfly and Kodak's Ofoto service.
iMovie HD can edit and import high-definition video (HDV) format offered by higher-end camcorders, offers new editing tools which can directly re-arrange clips in iMovie's timeline, and adds a new Magic iMovie feature that automatically creates a movie directly from a FireWire video camera: just plug in the camera and Magic iMovie imports the video, places the clips in the Timeline with scene breaks, inserts transitions, creates titles and chapter markers, selects a soundtrack, and sends the project off to iDVD... all while you're off getting a sandwich. iMovie HD also supports MPEG-4 video, the 16:9 ratio of SD DV, and can import video directly from Apple's iSight camera. The program also comes with new sound effects and transitions, and integrates directly with iPhoto to import still images into your movies.
Like Magic iMovie, iDVD 5 offers a new feature called OneStep DVD, which can move your unedited movie directly from a camcorder to DVD. New drop zones enable DVD authors to add still images or video as DVD menu backgrounds or as parts of buttons or motion menus: iDVD 5 ships with 15 new themes which incorporate dynamic drop zones. iDVD also supports the same new video formats as iMovie 5 (MPEG-4, 16:9 widescreen, Apple's iSight, and HDV, though HDV is sampled down to 16:9 when burned to a DVD disc, so you won't see full HD resolution when playing the DVD on an HD television), and integrates even more directly with other iLife applications than before, making it simple to include images from iPhoto or music from iTunes or GarageBand. iDVD 5 can also now burn to DVD+R, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW discs, as well as DVD-R; some newer Macs can also support burning to DVD+/-RW discs. More important, even though iDVD 5 still does not support burning discs directly using third party external drives, it does appear to add the capability to save projects to disk images - meaning that you can then burn the image using the Finder or Toast on an external drive.
GarageBand 2 gets a major update in iLife '05, offering support for recording up to eight simultaneous tracks of audio (although to do so, you'll need a third-party audio interface), a real-time music notation display for MIDI and GarageBand's software instruments, and basic pitch correction features for adjusting out-of-tune single-note tracks like vocals. GarageBand 2 also features an integrated tuner, and the capability to save your favorite grooves and riffs as Apple Loops you can re-use in other GarageBand projects or in other Apple products such as Soundtrack.
Finally, Apple's ubiquitous music jukebox application iTunes gets a minor tweak to support AutoFill, a new method of loading tunes onto Apple's iPod Shuffle. Apple also announced enhancements to the Essentials area of the iTunes Music Store. An 8.6 MB update to iTunes 4.7.1 is available via Software Update and claims to offer unspecified performance improvements as well as support for the iPod shuffle.
Final Cut Express HD -- Earlier in 2004, Apple continued its push into professional video editing by releasing Final Cut Pro HD. At Macworld Expo, Apple introduced Final Cut Express HD, bringing high-definition video support to its mid-level editing program. Slated for availability in February 2005, the $300 program will also include LiveType for creating animated titles, and Soundtrack (formerly a separate $300 program) for working with music and audio. Final Cut Express HD also boasts iMovie project import and project integration with Motion, Apple's motion-graphics software. Existing Final Cut Express owners can upgrade for $100.
Article 5 of 5 in series
Once you get past Apple's new hardware and software, the next question at Macworld Expo becomes, "What's cool?" Here are several things that caught our eyes, tickled our fancies, or otherwise made us go back for a second look. Get Stuck on Gooball -- I've been known to get lost in a good video game from time to time, particularly first-person shooters that allow me to become fully immersed in the game's environmentShow full article
Once you get past Apple's new hardware and software, the next question at Macworld Expo becomes, "What's cool?" Here are several things that caught our eyes, tickled our fancies, or otherwise made us go back for a second look.
Get Stuck on Gooball -- I've been known to get lost in a good video game from time to time, particularly first-person shooters that allow me to become fully immersed in the game's environment. However, that immersion can carry a cost: I'm not wild about going to bed and dreaming of storming the beaches of Normandy, for example. That's probably why I was particularly drawn to Ambrosia Software's Gooball, a game where you control the movements of a multi-eyed, limb-less alien (Goober) within a translucent sphere of goo.
The Goober can roll, jump, and stick to surfaces. The goal in Gooball is to get from one end of a level to another in order to advance to different worlds, accumulating gems on the way. You don't shoot anything, and nothing is trying to kill you. If you wanted to get esoteric, you could consider Gooball to be a comment on how one deals with one's unintentionally hostile environment, but really, you'll be having too much fun rolling and bouncing through Gooball's truly beautiful and brilliantly rendered worlds. (The images at the first URL are screen captures from earlier in the game's development; see the second URL for an example of how the game appeared at Macworld Expo.) Gooball is expected to ship within the next few weeks, according to representatives at the booth; a price has not been announced. [JLC]
SmartDeck: Cassette Adapter Done Right -- Several new methods of getting audio from your iPod to your car stereo were on display at Macworld Expo, several of which were accompanied by the cars themselves (people were probably more attracted to the two Mercedes models on display than the integrated audio feature). Our favorite, however, looked - on the outside, anyway - decidedly low-tech. Griffin Technology demonstrated SmartDeck, a cassette adapter that plugs into the iPod to deliver sound via a car's built-in tape player.
I've found cassette adapters to be the most reliable way of listening to my iPod in the car; the FM transmitters I've tried add too much static to the signal, and it can sometimes be hard to locate an open radio frequency. But cassette adapters are usually cheaply made and act only as dumb conduits for audio. The SmartDeck adds interactivity: pressing the car stereo's rewind or fast-forward controls switches between songs on the iPod, and turning off the stereo pauses the iPod's playback. According to the representative I talked to at the Griffin booth, the SmartDeck also automatically adjusts the volume on the iPod when it detects audio clipping to even out the stereo's volume level. The SmartDeck costs $25, but is not due to ship until the second quarter of 2005, according to Griffin's Web site. [JLC]
Doctor Mac Direct -- Now here's a good idea. Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus, one of the best-known Macintosh authors, has started Doctor Mac Direct, a service for remote troubleshooting, technical support, and training on Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 software (but not hardware; he's leaving that to Apple). Let's say you have a problem. You describe your problem on the Doctor Mac Direct Web site (or to a phone receptionist, if you can't or don't want to use the Web), and one of Doctor Mac Direct's experts, hand-picked by troubleshooting legend and MacFixIt founder Ted Landau, gives you a binding estimate of how long it will take to solve your issue. If the $120 per hour rate, billed in 15 minute increments of $30, is acceptable, the expert then calls you and, using Timbuktu-like screen sharing that works via a Web browser plug-in, solves your problem. You do need a broadband Internet connection for the screen sharing; it reportedly works over a modem, but is annoyingly slow (and thus expensive) for everyone. Resolution is guaranteed, so even if it takes longer than estimated to fix the problem, you pay no more than the estimate. The service should be opening in a few weeks, so check it out the next time you were wishing you knew a doctor who made mouse calls. [ACE]
Music Here, Music There, Music Everywhere -- It seems that you can never get speakers where you want them in a room without running unsightly cables across the floor, and the problem becomes worse when you want your music in multiple rooms. Since it's difficult to rewire a house, I was particularly intrigued by the Sonos Digital Music System, which comprises a $400 Sonos Controller and one or more $500 Sonos ZonePlayers. The Sonos Controller provides a small color LCD and an iPod-like scroll wheel controller for navigating through your digital music collection (read from iTunes), and music is played through the Sonos ZonePlayers, which are component-quality, 50-watt amplifiers that receive music via Ethernet or wirelessly (using a peer-to-peer wireless mesh network) and connect to a pair of normal speakers for output. You can easily play the same song via multiple ZonePlayers, or you can set each ZonePlayer to play different songs. Although Sonos currently has a bundle of the controller and two ZonePlayers for $1,200 ($200 off), there's no question the system isn't cheap... at least until you compare it with the cost of installing an in-wall system that wouldn't have as good an interface or be as flexible. The Sonos Digital Music System can't yet handle protected music, such as from the iTunes Music Store, but it's not difficult to convert such tracks to an unprotected format. [ACE]
Pan and Zoom Photos Better -- iMovie's Ken Burns Effect offers the capability to bestow motion on a still image by simulating the camera zooming and moving across the picture's surface. Photo to Movie, from LQ Graphics, zooms past the iMovie simulacrum of Ken Burns, enabling you to set multiple keyframes to control the camera along curved paths, specify parameters using specific values, and adjust the speed of easing into and out of the motion. The resulting QuickTime movie can be imported back into iMovie or iDVD, or you can just stick with Photo to Movie - the current version adds the capability to add titles and soundtracks, making it easy to create slideshows of multiple pictures that all contain motion. Photo to Movie costs $50; a free demo is available as a 2.3 MB download. [JLC]
High Density Video -- Open Door Networks managed to shoehorn a tremendous number of video presentation devices, ranging from a tiny iPod photo all the way up to a large, flat-screen television, into their minuscule Macworld booth. All the screens were showing pictures from Envision 1.1, the company's software for downloading and displaying images from Web sites - it's essentially a graphics-only Web browser for populating a digital picture frame. Envision 1.1 adds a neat montage mode for displaying multiple images on the screen at once, can save downloaded images to the Pictures folder for use with digital media center device, and has the capability of searching Google for images. It's $40 through the end of the month; you can try the demo version for free. [ACE]
Feed Your Obsessive-Compulsive Urges -- Who knew there were so many obsessive-compulsive computer users? Delicious Monster's utility Delicious Library taps into your need to know exactly what's on your bookshelf, and whether you've loaned titles out to your friends. Delicious Library stores books, music, movies, and games in one central database, wrapped in attractive wood-lined bookshelf visuals. In fact, Delicious Library was probably the nicest-looking application at the show. More impressive, however, is its capability to use an iSight as a barcode scanner to read the barcodes from your collection (you can also buy an optional $175 Bluetooth scanner). Adding a title to your library grabs its information from Amazon.com, including cover artwork, current pricing, and value information (for collectors). [JLC]
Tracking the Wine -- I've followed the various bar code scanning products from Intelli Innovations and Delicious Monster with some interest, but also some confusion. I can, of course, see uses for the products, ranging from tracking for insurance purposes to maintaining a small lending library. But the thought of scanning my hundreds of books and CDs strikes me as excessive. I remember what books I own, and simply alphabetizing them on the shelf helps me find them. And CDs are merely archival now that I rip everything to MP3. But Intelli Innovations has come up with a product that helps me track what I do, not just what I own - Wine Collector. Tonya and I enjoy drinking wine, but it's often difficult to remember which wines we've liked and which we haven't, and to translate that into appropriate buying habits. So although we don't have the contents of a wine cellar (or a cellar at all, for that matter) to track, being able to add a bottle of wine to a database by scanning its bar code, add tasting notes, and then take a printout to the store would be a great memory aid. Wine Collector costs $180 with a USB bar code scanner, or $280 with a Bluetooth wireless scanner; also available is the IntelliScanner Express bundle of Wine Collector, Auction Automator (for helping populate eBay auctions with bar code scanned data), and Media Collector (for tracking books, CDs, DVDs, and more) for $230 with the USB scanner or $330 with the Bluetooth scanner. [ACE]
Enigmatic Pressure Drop -- There's nothing quite like an AirPort Extreme base station mounted high on what looks like a lighted Space Needle to draw people to one's booth - especially when the device in question doesn't even do anything yet. Pressure Drop caught people's eyes with its intriguing industrial design that adds art to functional items, and functionality to what was once mundane.
Pressure Drop showed off two products at the show, both of them FireWire/USB hubs. The TrestleHub is a swooping shelving structure to hold your digital devices and minimize cable clutter; it includes four FireWire 400 ports, four USB 2.0/1.1 ports, and is made of aluminum and glass. The PaperHub, by contrast, is a simple two-level paper tray that also includes 4 FireWire 400 ports and four USB 2.0/1.1 ports.
And the Space Needle-looking thing? Pressure Drop was soliciting ideas for what one would do with it. Adam's first suggestion was to make sure the LEDs ringing the base of the AirPort Extreme are individually addressable so that programmers can control them, but I'd rather see some flames jet out the bottom somehow and get that little white UFO into orbit! At least once, anyway. [JLC]
SecuriKey for the Rest of Us -- Many people travel with sensitive information on laptops, and I certainly hope such travellers take reasonable precautions in terms of using a secure password and requiring it at login and when coming out of sleep or the screensaver. But merely rebooting into FireWire Target Disk mode avoids the need for a password, and unless you've used FileVault, secure disk images, or PGP Personal, your data will be open for the taking. There's another option that provides "two-factor security," which relies on not just a password, but also a USB key that must be connected to your Mac before you can use the computer. It's truly simple. If the USB key is connected and you enter your login password, you can use the Mac. Without both the key and the password, you can't. And if you remove the key from the Mac (to go to lunch, say), it locks instantly. SecuriKey provides a pair of keys, so you can keep one in a safe place as a backup, and if you were to lose both, you can order more. In short, if your job would be on the line if your laptop was stolen, I'd recommend that you seriously consider using a SecuriKey. It costs $130 and you can buy additional keys for $50. Unfortunately, the keys don't double as USB flash drives; the guy at Macworld said they were looking into it, but it wasn't quite as simple as it seemed, given that the Mac would have to deal with the same USB device in two very different ways. [ACE]
Better Wireless Security for Small Offices -- Speaking of security, many people are concerned about the security of wireless networks, even with the industrial-strength WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) replacing the easily broken WEP. But WPA still has some downsides: everyone shares the same key, increasing the chance that the key could be stolen in a non-technical fashion, and creating secure keys requires long, difficult-to-type passwords. Corriente Networks aims to solve both problems with Elektron, a Mac OS X (and Windows) program that enables you to require users to provide their individual user names and passwords to access the network, in the process generating separate WPA encryption keys for each user. That way, even authorized users can't sniff each other's traffic. Elektron can use your users' existing Mac OS X login information, or you can set up separate network authentication credentials (Elektron has its own built-in user database you can turn to instead of Mac OS X accounts for each user). It supports all WPA Enterprise-compatible access points, including the Apple AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express, and gear from Linksys, D-Link, and Buffalo. Elektron costs $300; if you're concerned about the security of your small business network (it's overkill for a home network), check out the free 30-day demo. [ACE]
Best Booth Design -- The majority of booths at the show are more functional than innovative, possibly because the costs of securing a booth are probably high enough that most companies don't want to add the expense of designing something inventive. The folks at Crumpler Bags, however, managed to come up with an imaginative booth that doesn't appear to have cost much. With corners made out of brightly colored 55-gallon drums and walls made of chalkboard material, the booth not only invited people to come in and check out the assortment of laptop bags, but encouraged them to pick up chalk and add their own graffiti. [JLC]
One More Thing... TextWrangler 2.0 Is Free -- Bare Bones Software has just raised the bar for text editors with the release of TextWrangler 2.0, which brings the program into parity with BBEdit 8.0, the most recent release of the muscular text, HTML, and programmer's editor. TextWrangler 2.0 picks up numerous features from BBEdit, including an optional tabbed interface for editing multiple files, support for searching an arbitrary set of files, multi-threaded searches, SFTP support, and support for the Mac OS X system-level spell checker (though not with inline marking of misspelled words). Although TextWrangler 2.0 lacks BBEdit's HTML editing tools, it retains syntax coloring for HTML and other files. Plus, TextWrangler can execute Text Factories (collections of actions to be performed on a file or set of files) created in BBEdit 8.0. Although TextWrangler's improved features stand on their own, Bare Bones has taken the gutsy move of making the program entirely free, making it both the bar which any competing text editor must surpass and a reference platform upon which the community can depend (imagine distributing a BBEdit-generated Text Factory for removing unnecessary headers from messages in a Unix mailbox file exported from Eudora). For those who purchased an earlier version of TextWrangler, Bare Bones has distributed coupons for your purchase price off any other Bare Bones product (so contact them if you haven't received your coupon via email). Anyone who wishes to acquire a Bare Bones product can use coupon code MW20perc to save 20 percent through 21-Jan-05. [ACE]