Macworld Expo is one of the biggest Apple events of the year, and last week’s show didn’t disappoint. Apple introduced the Intel-based iMac and MacBook Pro laptop much earlier than expected, along with iLife ’06 and iWork ’06; we’ve got details from the show floor, plus Adam’s take on Apple’s newfound confidence. Also in this issue, we note the releases of Mac OS X 10.4.4, iTunes 6.0.2, QuickTime 7.0.4, Skype 1.4, and the intriguing public beta of Adobe Lightroom. Lastly, we note new availability of Final Cut Studio, and launch into this year’s Macworld Expo SF 2006 Superlatives, where we reveal the best, worst, and most interesting aspects of the show.
Mac OS X 10.4.4 Released — Apple pushed out Mac OS X 10.4.4 last week, adding universal binary (for Intel-processor compatibility) components and resolving a number of problems with Safari, iChat, and other system resources. It also adds four new Dashboard widgets: People (for looking up residential phone numbers), Google search, ESPN sports news, and Ski Report. A detailed listing of changes appears at the first link below, but some highlights include: iPhoto can work with RAW files from some newer cameras; an annoying bug that caused the System Keychain to ask for authorization but then not accept what you typed has been fixed; and various stability fixes and security updates are also included. The update installer is available via Software Update or as separate downloads ranging in size from 55 MB for the update from Mac OS X 10.4.3 to 166 MB for the Mac OS X Server 10.4.4 Combo installer. [JLC]
iTunes 6.0.2 and QuickTime 7.0.4 Released — Alongside Mac OS X 10.4.4 last week, Apple also updated iTunes and QuickTime. iTunes 6.0.2 is now a universal binary and adds the capability to broadcast to multiple AirPort Express base stations, stability improvements, and a new MiniStore feature that displays the day’s top purchases and specials from the iTunes Music Store in a pane at the bottom of the screen. It also displays suggestions based on what’s currently playing. The MiniStore met with immediate criticism from privacy advocates that iTunes was improperly sending personal information to Apple; an unnamed Apple official stated to Macworld magazine that the MiniStore doesn’t collect any information from users. A new button in the lower-right corner of the iTunes window can hide the MiniStore, which disables the feature and doesn’t transmit any information about what’s being played.
According to Apple’s download page for QuickTime 7.0.4, the update provides bug fixes, support for iLife ’06, and H.264 improvements. The update is available via Software Update or as a 49 MB download. However, Apple also posted the QuickTime 7.0.1 Reinstaller for QuickTime 7.0.4 (a 20.4 MB download), which removes the latest version and downgrades to 7.0.1. The reasoning for the latter utility is a bit of a mystery (not helped by Apple’s minimal release notes), but some discussions at Apple’s support site indicate compatibility problems with DiskWarrior 3.0.3 and a few other issues. So, at this time we can’t recommend upgrading to QuickTime 7.0.4 until we know more; hopefully, Apple will shortly offer detailed information or a fix. [JLC]
Adobe Offers Public Beta of Lightroom — Adobe Systems, Inc. revealed a public beta of their upcoming professional photography workflow software, Lightroom, just before Macworld Expo. (Adobe recently acquired Macromedia, thus the macromedia.com URL.) The company’s digital photo manipulation software, which currently requires a PowerPC G4 or G5 processor and at least 512 MB of RAM, will be available later for Windows and for Mac OS X running on Intel hardware. Lightroom appears to be aimed at the same professional photography market as Apple’s $500 Aperture software.
Included are tools for accomplishing common tasks such as white balance and color correction; support for such typical photography file formats as TIFF, JPEG, RAW, and Photoshop; and a variety of filters such as grayscale and sepia. Users can save presets for frequently used combinations of steps. The current public beta version expires on 30-Jun-06, but the company says later beta releases, which will be announced in the Adobe Labs RSS feeds, will have later expiration dates. [MHA]
Skype 1.4 Released for Mac — Skype decided to release the final Mac version of their flagship voice and instant messaging program just as Macworld Expo started, ensuring that new features such as call forwarding and iTunes pause/resume would be lost in the shuffle. The new forwarding feature means that someone can call your Skype account and you can forward that call off to a real phone number, such as a cell phone. The incoming call can be made either from another copy of Skype to your Skype account name, or, if you have paid separately for this feature, to a SkypeIn number, which maps a real telephone number to your Skype account. Forwarding costs a few cents a minute to most landlines worldwide and to many cell phone systems in the U.S. and abroad. It’s not unified messaging, but it’s another step in having your calls follow you (when you want them to). Skype’s Mac version has lagged the Windows version’s feature and releases, and version 1.4 lacks the video conferencing that’s available on that other platform, although that video support has been generally criticized as being less than state of the art. [GF]
Pro Video Apps Now Only in Final Cut Studio — Apple is no longer offering their pro video applications as stand-alone products. Since the majority of customers are buying the $1,300 Final Cut Studio (which includes Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, Soundtrack Pro, and DVD Studio Pro 4), only the suite is now available for purchase; standalone versions will remain available in stores only until supply runs out.
One of the announcements at last week’s Macworld Expo keynote was that a universal binary version of the Final Cut Studio suite will be available in March 2006, much earlier than expected. Owners of Final Cut Studio will be able to "cross-grade" to the universal binary version for $50 at that time. This is important because current Final Cut Studio apps won’t run at all on Intel-based Macs; if you buy an Intel-based iMac today, you’re out of luck for working with pro video until March (realistically, you probably won’t be buying an iMac to do pro video, but you get the idea). But Apple is offering a great upgrade deal: if you own the stand-alone Final Cut Pro 5, you can buy the entire suite for $100. If you own just one of the other pro applications or Final Cut Pro 4, you can upgrade for just $200. And if you own a version that’s two revisions or older, the suite costs $700. [JLC]
It’s instructive, I think, to mark the resurgence of Apple Computer by what happens at the annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco, both in terms of Apple’s keynote announcements and the mood on the show floor. Three years ago in 2003, my Macworld Expo SF wrap-up article was titled "Apple Reduces Its Microsoft Dependency," and in 2004, the equivalent article was subtitled "Enter the Musical Trojan Horse." Last year’s article? "Apple Gets Aggressive," and if there was any false bravado in Apple’s attitude then, the company’s record over the last few years in delivering desirable iPods and Macs supports my title this year. Over that time we’ve seen Apple metaphorically get to its feet, build the iPod from an overly expensive music player into the trendiest piece of consumer electronics ever, and establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the industry. Apple has reason to be confident.
For instance, Apple’s iPod business has become so strong that Steve Jobs relayed only the most interesting numbers – 42 million iPods sold so far, 32 million of which were in 2005, and 14 million of those in the holiday quarter of the year – before introducing the only iPod-related product of the show, the $50 iPod Radio Remote. Instead, acknowledging that this was Macworld Expo, Jobs focused on iLife ’06 and introduced the new Intel Core Duo-based iMac and MacBook Pro months ahead of previous expectations, all while displaying the trademark showmanship and humor that cause people to line up for hours to get a seat (don’t worry if you weren’t there in person; you can still watch the keynote webcast). It takes confidence to pull off a stunt like dressing Intel’s CEO in a chip-fabrication bunny suit and bringing him on stage through a dramatic plume of smoke, and it certainly took confidence for Jobs to mock the rumor sites with his Super Secret Apple Rumors podcast demo. At the moment, Apple is on a roll, and while that doesn’t mean everything is perfect, the companies whose fortunes are tied up with Apple are rolling alongside.
A Full Floor — Although Macworld Expo is nowhere near the size it was in its heyday, when it filled both the South and North Halls of the Moscone Convention Center, it’s been on an upswing over the last few years. In 2004, there were 260 vendors scattered woefully throughout both halls. In 2005, IDG World Expo wised up and combined all 280 booths into the South Hall. This year once again filled only the South Hall, but it was chock full with 361 vendors. Official attendance numbers aren’t yet available, but early impressions indicated that attendance would once again increase from last year’s nearly 36,000 attendees. The floor felt full too – the first day is always crazy, of course, but even later in the week, my necessary dashes from meeting to meeting weren’t smooth sailing.
Much of the increase was due to the preponderance of iPod-related vendors. In 2005, I commented on how many iPod-related booths there were as well: 32 all told, 14 of whom were selling iPod cases (out of a total of 280). How reasonable that all seems in light of this year, when there must have been 60 or more exhibitors showing some sort of product related to the iPod (no one had the fortitude to count them all), 49 of which sold iPod cases. Last year, Macworld Editor in Chief Jason Snell had suggested that perhaps we’d see iPod-related booths collected into the North Hall; that didn’t happen, but if the expansion happens, such a thing would be possible next year.
Despite the jokes about renaming the show "iPodworld," I don’t think an iPodworld could even begin to stand on its own. The simple fact of the matter is that there aren’t that many categories of iPod accessory: roughly speaking, there are only cases, headphones and speakers, car chargers, FM transmitters and cassette adapters, remotes, voice recorders, and camera connectors. Within each category, most of the products are quite similar, and no matter how involved you are with your iPod, there’s a limit on how many accessories you’re likely to buy over the lifetime of an iPod. No, the only reason all the iPod-related exhibitors were in attendance is that Mac users are also likely to be iPod users, and in a world where many of the products really are almost identical, companies will take any chance they can get to stand out from the crowd. Even that was difficult at Macworld Expo, because there were so many iPod-related booths, and some of them had so many products, that they all blurred together quickly if you weren’t paying close attention. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed looking at all the iPod accessories, and found the number and variety of the cases tremendously amusing, but I can’t recall specifics about more than a few of the vendors.
Confidence and Cold Cash — Along with Apple’s strong keynote and the increased number of exhibitors, confidence was being exuded on the show floor in more frivolous ways that we haven’t seen in years. Tchotchkes – little logo-imprinted giveaways – were far more common than in the last few years, and a number of companies put more effort into dressing their employees identically, with the prize being taken by design-conscious LaCie, whose people were even wearing the same white and orange Nike Shox FSM sneakers to match the rest of their outfits.
This year also marked the return of the booth babe, a sure sign than companies have money to spend. XtremeMac, which sold iPod cases in a bewildering array of designs, placed a treadmill in their booth; apparently the point was to show that their sport cases would in fact enable an iPod to survive the rigors of being worn by attractive young women in workout attire walking briskly. One woman said she was putting in 8 miles per day, and all things considered, being paid to walk on a treadmill and listen to music for a few hours isn’t a terrible job. Speaking as a competitive runner, I would have been much more impressed if they’d hired runners instead and put up a scoreboard with the cumulative distance their iPod cases had covered for the show. Another iPod case vendor whose name I forget (so much for that advertising!) had collected four attractive Asian women, dressed them as airline attendants, and had them walk around the show floor with rolling luggage. And Tonya claimed she saw a booth dude somewhere, though once again, she hadn’t the least recollection of the details. Much as we’d prefer to see more clever ways of attracting attendees to a booth (like the fresh cookies at the Circus Ponies booth or the SketchUp demos at the Last Software booth, which provided fruit smoothies and hot pretzels), the fact that exhibitors are once again spending money on booth babes is indicative of the upbeat mood.
Focus on San Francisco — With Macworld Boston cancelled, even more attention was focused on the San Francisco show this year, and I expect that will be even more true next year, as companies with products that are best shown in person take the best chance to do so. Overall, I think it’s the right move for the moment, since as the Macintosh industry rebounds, it makes sense to focus on a single important show and make it even more of a touchstone for the community. Until next year…
With his usual panache, Steve Jobs announced the new Intel-based Macs at Macworld Expo last week, bringing Intel CEO Paul Otellini on stage in a chip-fabrication "bunny" suit and airing an ad about "setting the Intel chip free" after being "trapped inside PCs performing dull little tasks." With the announcement, Apple anointed the Intel Core Duo processor as the processor of choice, installing it in the familiar looking iMac and in a new laptop dubbed the MacBook Pro. Whether Apple sticks with the Core Duo for future Macs remained unsaid, but Jobs promised that Apple would transition the entire Mac product line to Intel processors by the end of 2006.
Intel-Based iMac — The new iMac features most of the same basic specs and prices as the current models of the iMac G5, but with Intel Core Duo processors running at 1.83 GHz and 2.1 GHz. The dual-core processors (two processors on a single chip) provide significantly improved performance, according to Apple – up to two to three times faster than the current iMac G5s. Needless to say, that performance increase won’t be applied across the board, but that level of improvement will be incredibly welcome to those too-accustomed to the spinning pizza of death. One welcome improvement is an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card with 128 MB of memory. In addition to appearing faster than its predecessor, the new card finally adds the capability to use an additional monitor in extended desktop (versus mirrored) capacity in the iMac line.
MacBook Pro — Introduced with the now-trademark phrase "One more thing…" Steve Jobs also took the wraps off Apple’s new Intel-based laptop, awkwardly called the MacBook Pro, which Apple expects will start shipping in February 2006; pre-orders started pouring into the Apple Store right after the keynote, making it largely unavailable for hours. As Jobs noted, the "Power" is no longer appropriate without the PowerPC chip (even though PowerBook preceded that processor), and he has wanted to get "Mac" into the name. This leads to some speculation as to the naming of the Intel-chip versions of Apple’s professional tower machines; without "Power" and "G5," we’re left with "Mac". Although MacBook Pro reads fine in print, it’s quite clumsy to say, and opinion about it at the show was almost universally negative.
The two models of the MacBook Pro also rely on Intel Core Duo processors, one running at 1.67 GHz for $2,000 and the other at 1.83 GHz for $2,500. The new processors reportedly provide four to five times the performance of the current top-of-the line PowerBook G4. Both models sport a 15.4-inch LCD screen that is reportedly as bright as the Apple Cinema Displays, though at a slightly lower resolution (1440 by 900 pixels) than the PowerBook G4 (1440 x 960 pixels). The graphics processor is an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with either 128 MB or 256 MB of GDDR3 memory. The MacBook Pro is 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, reportedly "a hair thinner" than the current 17-inch PowerBook G4, and weighs 5.6 pounds (2.5 kg).
But unlike the new iMac, which shares nearly the same specs as the current generation, the MacBook Pro adds a number of features to the current PowerBook feature list. Most notable are a built-in iSight for on-the-go video conferencing, an infrared sensor that works with the included Apple Remote and Front Row software for controlling media playback, and a new patent-pending MagSafe power connector that holds the power plug in with magnets, eliminating the fear that someone will trip over your power cable and pull your computer to the floor. The power plug has a green LED on the top that lights up when the plug is connected to the power jack. Because the aluminum case around the jack isn’t magnetic (or doesn’t exert any real force), the plug feels like it’s sucked in tight. It requires some real effort to disconnect the plug.
Other standard features include the backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor, the scrolling trackpad, the Sudden Motion Sensor (which Apple has patented), DVI video out that can run the Apple 30-inch Cinema Display, digital optical and analog audio in and out, AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, two USB 2.0 ports and one FireWire 400 (but not FireWire 800) port. Surprisingly, the MacBook Pro’s SuperDrive writes at 4x speed instead of the 8x speed of the PowerBook G4.
ExpressCard Slot Supplements, Replaces FireWire 800 — The MacBook Pro will be the first model to feature an ExpressCard slot (instead of a PC Card slot), which is a smaller and more versatile interface to the PCI-Express serial standard. The card slot handles one lane of traffic, which is 250 MB/s or about 2 Gbps. Apple vice president David Moody confirmed in a briefing that Apple thought the best way to provide performance and flexibility was not to include FireWire 800 as a fixed port on the models.
Instead, with 2 Gbps of bandwidth from the slot, an ExpressCard could, for instance, offer two simultaneous FireWire 800 ports that could run at full speed, supporting an extremely fast set of RAID 0 (striped) disks, for instance, with four disks being striped in an A, B, C, D fashion for a total throughput of 1.6 Gbps, limited only by the disks’ read and write speeds.
While the PC Card and CardBus slots found in PowerBooks and other laptops have aged poorly, finding little use except for advanced wireless cards (PC only, typically) and cellular data cards, it’s likely that the extremely high throughput of the ExpressCard slot will result in more options for moving data around.
Because the MacBook Pro can support a 30-inch Apple display, the obvious notion of a second monitor supported by an ExpressCard adapter makes no sense. But a third monitor? You got it.
Apple Also Adds 802.11a Wireless Networking — Several sources public and private are noting that the new iMac and MacBook Pro support the 802.11a flavor of Wi-Fi (although neither the AirPort Extreme nor AirPort Express base stations do). 802.11a works very much like the 802.11g that Apple dubbed AirPort Extreme, but uses the 5 GHz frequency band, which is unlicensed in the U.S. and several other countries, allowing it to be broadly used. AppleInsider has a report with a number of details, although some of the analysis about 802.11a was true in 2003, but not since 2004.
802.11a was declared dead by Steve Jobs back in January 2003 when he introduced AirPort Extreme, and it seemed rather dead at the time. Ironically, the advantage of 802.11a is that it has no backwards compatible mode with the older, slower 802.11b standard. 802.11b and g work in the 2.4 GHz band, and 802.11b runs at a maximum of 11 Mbps of throughput, or a net of about 5 Mbps. 802.11g has a maximum 54 Mbps, or a net of about 20 to 30 Mbps depending on add-ons and other factors.
The reason that the lack of compatibility with 802.11b is an advantage is that a network that sports both b and g adapters has worse performance than a g-only or any 802.11a network. The older "b" devices bring down the whole network, reducing the amount of shared airtime available for faster transmission. Because 802.11a uses the 5 GHz band at the same power levels for indoor use, signals propagate less far, although they can penetrate objects more effectively. For indoor use with one base station, 802.11a has no particular advantage.
For dense company and academic use, however, it makes a lot of sense to use 802.11a because by having smaller clouds of usage around each access point, you can be assured that fewer users connect to it. 802.11a also has 8 indoor channels (and 4 outdoor ones) that don’t overlap frequencies compared to just 3 in 802.11b/g in the U.S. (and four in some countries). Better, 802.11a’s 5 GHz band will have additional channels available in the near future due to a deal with the U.S. military that will free up more civilian use. As a result, 802.11a has emerged in corporations and universities as a preferred tool for deploying voice over IP (VoIP), whether for campus calling or Internet telephony (VoIP to a gateway out to the public switched telephone network).
This 802.11a support isn’t a remarkable breakthrough, and is in fact likely merely a side effect of Apple switching to Wi-Fi chips from Atheros, replacing the Broadcom chips that previously enabled AirPort Extreme capabilities. But whether or not it’s even intentional (Apple says nothing about 802.11a support on spec sheets), even minimal support eliminates an obstacle in using Macs in certain companies and schools.
While most of the attention at Macworld was focused on the new Intel-powered iMac and MacBook Pro laptop, Apple’s software releases were fairly extensive. In addition to the universal binary support built into Mac OS X 10.4.4, the company introduced iLife ’06 and iWork ’06. Both suites are available now for $80 each, or as $100 5-license family packs; new Macs come with iLife ’06 for free and a 30-day trial version of iWork ’06.
iLife ’06 features new versions of iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand (iTunes is updated on its own schedule), and now includes a new iWeb application for easily creating and posting Web pages on Apple’s .Mac service. iWeb uses Apple-designed templates and an easy-to-use interface for adding photos, movies, blog posts, and podcasts – easily grabbed from the rest of the iLife programs, of course.
iPhoto 6 now supports 250,000 photos, ten times the previous limit of 25,000 photos, and – according to Steve Jobs – "scrolls like butter" (at least on a new iMac, we’ll see how it performs on older hardware). The new version brings a new full-screen editing interface and new tools to help people choose among photos, edit them more rapidly, and print them not only in the usual books (which boast improved print quality), but also in new greeting cards, postcards, and calendars. Instead of making users apply filters individually to see if it enhances a photo, iPhoto now optionally displays a photo in a series of thumbnails that show each of the different filters pre-applied, so the user can just click the desired thumbnail to apply that effect to the edited version of the photo. In what is meant to be a killer feature, iPhoto also now includes "photocasting," which uses .Mac to share albums between iPhoto users (shared albums appear in the Source pane).
GarageBand 3’s signature new feature is a simple three-track task for creating podcasts in GarageBand: Talk into one track while enjoying new speech-enhancing audio processing (such as reducing background noise and improving the quality of male or female voices), drag your own music – or one of 200 royalty-free clips or 100 jingles – into another track (GarageBand automatically "ducks" or fades the volume so the music doesn’t overwhelm the voice), and add graphics to a new "podcast artwork" track so that they sync with appropriate points in the other two tracks. Click a button and the podcast file is ready to go. GarageBand also now supports remote interview recording from iChat, as well as a video track for bringing movies in from iMovie to create video podcasts or soundtracks.
(Jobs demoed GarageBand’s new podcasting features by producing his own podcast: "Hi I’m Steve and welcome to my podcast: Super Secret Apple Rumors, featuring the hottest rumors at our favorite company…" He then "revealed" a new 8-pound, 10-inch iPod and mentioned other iPod related products, supporting his commentary with hilarious graphics, one riffing off the current iPod ads of a silhouetted man carrying a huge iPod under his arm and another of an iPod-enabled toaster.)
iMovie HD 6 adds animated themes, similar to those we’ve become familiar with in iDVD. You can add movie clips and photos to moving templates (for example, a travel movie could include a scene resembling a collection of media overlaid onto a map). Also new are real-time effects and titles, the capability to have multiple projects open at the same time (finally), an Export to iPod feature, and the capability to create video podcasts. iMovie HD 6 adds new audio effects, such as a pitch changer and a noise reducer, and a 10-slider equalizer for more precise sound adjustments. Apple also noted in a separate briefing that iMovie’s photo handling, which includes the Ken Burns Effect, is now improved over the previous version, which we’re eager to test.
iDVD 6 now offers Magic iDVD, which extends last year’s One-Step DVD feature by letting you choose a theme; select movies, photos, and music from the Media pane; and push a button: iDVD creates the project and burns a DVD disc. Apple has also enhanced editing a project in the Map view by enabling you to rearrange menu pages by dragging them in the project structure. It also boasts improved slideshows, increasing the previous limit of 99 photos to as many as 9801 photos per slideshow. Perhaps the best news, however, is long-overdue support for burning DVDs using third-party burners instead of requiring a SuperDrive-equipped Mac.
iWork ’06 didn’t receive the level of changes that we expected, but a few improvements stand out. Keynote 3 and Pages 2 gain new 3D charts, advanced image editing using what appears to be the same Adjust panel found in iPhoto, new themes and templates, the capability to add image reflections below objects (Apple’s design element du jour), and free-form shapes with image masking. Tables can also now perform calculations, and you can incorporate reviewers’ comments.
As for the individual applications, Pages 2 adds auto-correction, a page thumbnails view for easier document navigation, and a mail merge feature that works with Apple’s Address Book application. Keynote 3 improves the build functions by enabling you to intersperse images and bullet points within a sequence, and adds a Light Table view for reviewing and organizing slides. When you’re practicing your presentation, you can use the Rehearsal View (which shows the current and next slides, time elapsed, and other information) without having to connect a second display; also, new QuickTime controls provide interactivity with movies, and a password lock can be enabled for letting a presentation run in kiosk mode.
It’s time once again for our annual look at the best, the worst, and the weirdest products from Macworld Expo. With over 361 booths, it’s entirely possible we’ve missed some cool things, so please feel free to send your suggestions in to TidBITS Talk as well.
Put Your Photos in the Loop — With the help (and financial support) of long-time Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki, FilmLoop enthusiastically showed off a new Internet-based "photocasting" product, which looks like a handy way to share easily updated streams of photos within a group such as a family, sports team, or club. The photos are stored on FilmLoop’s servers, but each group member can view and add to the collection – called a loop – using FilmLoop Player, a free client program whose viewer window looks like a horizontal strip of analog film with photos cycling through it. FilmLoop Player currently runs on several versions of Windows and in a pre-beta version on the Mac under Tiger (Panther support is coming). The beauty of FilmLoop is that if 50 people attend a wedding and each contributes 5 photos to a loop, each person would see a loop containing 250 photos, with about 7 or 8 photos showing at any one time. Double-clicking a photo reveals a larger image, comments, tags, and a link to find more info on the Web. Loops can also be set up as one-way publications, as would be useful for catalogs and TV show or celebrity promo pieces. You can check out a number of loops on the FilmLoop Web site, including the TidBITS Macworld Expo SF 2006 loop and a loop created by Macintosh author Robin Williams of her recent vacation in Egypt. FilmLoop has great potential, but as we created the TidBITS loop, we came to wish they’d add a few more features, such as a search field on the FilmLoop site and a slideshow option. [TJE]
Get Lost in Google Earth — Technology has finally caught up with the movies. In plenty of suspense films, powerful government agencies spy on villains (or vice-versa) using satellite imaging technology that zooms in on any location on Earth. Now, so can you – mostly. Google Earth is a new application for the Mac that accesses satellite photos and mapping capabilities to show you nearly anything on the planet. Type a city, address, company name, whatever, and if it’s in Google’s database, Google Earth provides an speedy animated trip to that location. Once found, you can explore the surrounding area by dragging the mouse for a top-down view; better yet, you can tilt the view for a 3D representation, complete with topography (check out Mount St. Helens or the Grand Canyon) or, in some cities, buildings. Google Earth for Mac is a 12.5 MB download. [JLC]
Best (Wedding) Party — Of course, every party works on a different level. The Party for the People was an enjoyable evening and was open to everyone, and the 21st annual Netters Dinner differed from previous years only by some familiar faces that weren’t present. But the ultimate party this year had to be Shawn King’s Your Mac Life party, sponsored by Griffin Technology and a slew of other companies and held at the elegant Great American Music Hall. What set the Your Mac Life party apart from the norm was the fact that it doubled as the wedding reception for Shawn King and Lesa Snider, chief evangelist at iStockPhoto.com and assistant to David Pogue. Shawn and Lesa met at Macworld three years ago, Shawn proposed last year at Macworld, and they were married – by Andy Ihnatko – in a civil ceremony just before the Your Mac Life party. Music came from the Silicon Valley House Rockers, fronted by Paul Kent, who was also just named Vice President of Macworld Expo. Having just found out that our breakfast meeting the next day had been cancelled, Tonya and I ended up dancing until the band quit, garnering quite a few comments on our enthusiasm and my lack of coordination. [ACE]
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Video for Any iPod — I must have walked by the ATO booth half a dozen times before stopping for a demo, because from their signs, the iSee 360i appeared to be an adapter that triples the size and weight of your iPod in order to provide video playback, at nearly the cost of a video-capable iPod – I didn’t quite get it. When I finally played with the device, though, I had to admit it was intriguing. Slide in any 4th- or 5th- generation iPod (it even supports the nano and mini, using extra-cost adapters, though not the Shuffle), flip it over, and you’ve got a large 3.6-inch (9.1 cm) screen that plays video stored on your iPod. To get the video onto the iPod in the first place, you can either use conventional methods (such as downloading from the iTunes Music Store) or plug your iSee into an analog video source (such as a TiVo or VCR) and use it as a recorder. I can’t think of a better way to catch up on a week’s worth of The Colbert Report during a cross-country flight. The iSee will retail for $250 when it ships later this quarter. [JK]
Find Out What’s Being Said about You — Representatives from a new Web service called Podzinger met with journalists at the Expo to spread the word about a podcast search Web site created by the Delta Division of BBN, a company with a deep history of work relating to the Internet. BBN has developed technology for analyzing sound in audio and video files stored on the Internet, and they’re putting it to use in converting podcasts to text and making that text searchable. So far, they have crawled for and converted over 40,000 podcasts and estimate that about 150,000 podcasts are currently online. They hope to catch up by the end of the second quarter this year, though at their current rate of a few thousand per week, it could be tough for them to catch up without throwing more iron at the problem. (You can register with them and submit your podcast to move it closer to the top of the queue.) The technology, accessible for free via the Podzinger Web site lets you search podcasts, create a saved search that continually updates into a podcast of its own (drag the orange RSS badge at the top of your search results to your iTunes window to store it in iTunes), create a saved search behind a URL that you can put on your Web site, and put a Podzinger badge on your Web site so that readers can search your podcasts. The business model behind Podzinger is currently based on displaying Google AdWords, but you have to figure they’re looking to be acquired by Google. [TJE]
Projects Under New Management — Project management software may not be the most exciting product category, but when you have to keep track of complex projects involving numerous participants and dozens or hundreds of individual tasks, a simple to-do list just won’t cut it. You need Gantt charts, dependencies, milestones, resource and expense tracking, and all the other features that have made Microsoft Project the standard tool on Windows. Two project management programs for Mac OS X caught my attention at the show: Merlin 1.3.8 from ProjectWizards and Project X from Marware.
Merlin and Project X share a great deal in common. In addition to the usual task-manipulation capabilities, both integrate with Address Book, iCal, and Mail; both have built-in Web servers for publishing project information; and both make use of Spotlight for searching. Beyond these basics, Merlin offers detailed risk-management features, integrated version control for attached documents, and flexible time and cost calculations. Project X features a flowchart-like Network View that provides an uncluttered view of dependencies. It also enables each project participant to update his or her own status on individual tasks over the Web, relieving the project manager of some tedious data entry. Merlin is currently shipping for $185; a 20 percent discount is available through 22-Jan-06 (use coupon code "Macworld2006"). Project X is scheduled to ship by the end of the first quarter for $200. [JK]
Best Use of AirPort Express — Playing music wirelessly through an AirPort Express Base Station is neat, but wouldn’t it be even cooler if you could play through multiple AirPort Express base stations simultaneously, with the music properly synchronized? For a brief moment, Rogue Amoeba’s just-released Airfoil 2 was the only way to do that… and then Apple released iTunes 6.0.2, which adds the same capability. Nevertheless, the $25 Airfoil 2 is still the only way to play music from applications other than iTunes over multiple AirPort Express base stations, which you might want to do if you were using the browser-based Pandora music suggestion service Tonya wrote about in "Pandora Beats iTunes for Holiday Music" in TidBITS-807. Airfoil 2 also enables you to enhance your music on the fly with built-in effects and supports new audio sources, including the RadioShark, Dashboard widgets, audio devices like microphones, and system audio. So if you’ve been wishing you could play music throughout more of your house or office, Airfoil 2 is a welcome addition to the AirPort Express Base Station. [ACE]
Best Analog Cookies — Circus Ponies Software, makers of NoteBook, attracted Expo attendees to their booth not only with a demo of NoteBook 2.0 but also with the smell of freshly baked cookies that wafted across the aisles. Who knew that along with booth space at Moscone, vendors can also rent an oven accompanied by a cookie elf? [TJE]
Best Data Recovery Device — Those of us who work with Macs professionally generally have external hard drives around, in part because they make recovering from troublesome disk problems far easier. You just boot from the external hard disk, which you’ve prepared in advance with disk recovery and backup software, and work from that point. But what if you don’t bring your external disk while traveling, or if you don’t have one at all? In the past, you’ve been limited to dodgy boot CDs that are usually out of date, and you can’t copy data to them. Micromat’s TechTool Protege is a 1 GB FireWire flash drive with TechTool Pro and DiskStudio (a partitioning tool) pre-installed. Since it uses FireWire instead of USB, you can use it to boot any recent Mac (assuming you’ve installed Mac OS X on it, of course) and it provides some space for copying important files before you attempt recovery. Although TechTool Pro 4 ranked only in the middle of the pack in David Shayer’s excellent disk repair utility shootout, there’s no reason you couldn’t add other tools to the mix. The TechTool Protege costs $230, which is quite reasonable particularly if you want TechTool Pro 4 and DiskStudio as well, since they’d run about $150 on their own. [ACE]
Best Celebrity Sighting — Who better symbolizes the perseverance, insanity, and humor of Apple followers and Macintosh owners than Adam Savage, one of the co-hosts of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters program? At Macworld Expo, we had multiple Savage spottings, who appears much the happy-go-lucky and animated fellow in person as he does when he is shot in the buns by a penny-gun or burns his arm hair off on the show. [GF]
Podcast or Videoblog with Videocue — One problem with many podcasts and videoblogs is the "uhhh" factor: unless you’re well-practiced, it’s difficult to come up with content on the spot while recording without introducing speech fillers like "uh" and "um." Vara Software’s Videocue 2 and Videocue Pro 2 helps by providing a large-text scrolling pane where you can type a script and read it like a Teleprompter. With an iSight or other video camera connected to your Mac, you can record video or audio as you read and then easily incorporate other videos, transitions, and even an impressive chroma key masking feature for superimposing video over other clips. Videocue 2 costs $40; Videocue Pro 2 costs $90. Both are available for download as demo versions, which limit recorded content to 15 seconds until unlocked with a license code. [JLC]
Best Use of Space — The Anthro eNook has a retro-90s name and a hilariously high price, but perhaps its efficiency makes up for both. For $450, you get the Murphy bed equivalent of a computer center. [If Anthro wanted to make an actual bed for tiny bachelor pads, they could call it the eNookie. Sorry, couldn’t resist! -Adam] The eNook is designed to attach to studs in a wall and hold a computer and other peripherals. When in its expanded position, it’s a desk; when folded up, it’s just a 7.25-inch (18.4 cm) piece of maple, cherry, or "white" (a solid surface material) on the wall. Perhaps Anthro should add a digital picture frame as an optional accessory for the outside? [GF]
Most Secure Drive — You have data, a lot of data, that simply must remain secure, even if the hard drives upon which the data is stored are lost or stolen (not that that ever happens in top-secret government labs!). For an entirely hardware-based solution to the problem, Rocstor’s RocBit hard drives offer controller-based encryption and an electronic key that must be inserted into a jack in the back of the drive at startup to enable decryption until the next power cycle. Since the bits on the drive are always encrypted, the data is vulnerable only when the drive is in use or if the key were stolen along with the drive. Good backups of encrypted drives would be essential, since data recovery from a damaged disk would likely be extremely difficult or impossible. That said, a RocBit hard drive might also make a good backup drive if you wanted more security for backups than is provided by the encryption in backup software. RocBit drives come in 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch sizes, and with a variety of different ports for prices starting at $170. PGP Desktop’s Virtual Disk feature provides a roughly similar level of security for a disk image, though it’s entirely software-based, making it as secure as the passphrase used to unlock it. [ACE]
Best Cable Cutting with Wireless Vaporware — Belkin hopes to be the first company to market with a wireless USB hub using ultrawideband (UWB) technology. UWB uses extremely short bursts of extremely low power signals across a vast swath of spectrum to send (in Belkin’s version) 110 Mbps across short distances, according to a company spokesperson. Future versions will hit 480 Mbps. The Belkin USB 2.0 adapter pairs a dongle that plugs into a USB 2.0 port and a four-port AC-powered hub. The dongle requires no drivers, but simulates a hard-wired USB cable connection to the hub. Belkin had a non-working box to show at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld Expo.
While Gefen proposes to offer a similar device using the same technology also licensed from Freescale – the same firm spun out of Motorola that makes the PowerPC chips – Gefen’s founder was a little flustered when we asked him for a demo, and they had failed even to bring a prototype. With luck, these products might ship in a few months; pricing hasn’t been set, but might be frightening. One article written in early January 2006, when Belkin and Gefen’s intent was announced, suggested that Gefen’s USB extender could cost $400 to $500. [GF]
Most Unexpected iPod Accessory — iPod cases and speaker systems permeated Macworld Expo this year, but the most unexpected one of all was Atech Flash Technology’s bathroom iPod dock. I can’t tell if it’s just an attention-grabbing proof-of-concept or a real product (it doesn’t appear on their Web site), but this iPod dock and speaker system mounts in your bathroom and includes a convenient mount for a roll of toilet paper. On one hand, I like the notion of using ordinary objects in new ways, especially in small dwellings where space is at a premium. But on the other hand, do you really need thousands of songs’ worth of music in the bathroom? [JLC]
Best "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" — Walking to the Macworld Expo show floor one morning, we spotted two gentleman maneuvering their way into Moscone Convention Center with huge boxes teetering on luggage carts. The older of the two fellows was stooped and straining. Glenn stopped to hold a door open for them and noticed that the products they were awkwardly porting in – don’t tell the unions – were the ergonomically correct Nada Chairs. [Which, for the record, Tonya and I have tried and found wildly clumsy whenever you want to stand up. -Adam] [GF]
MemoryMiner Gives Context to Your Photos — Our Macs can store thousands of digital photos, but it’s still difficult to organize and find them. Looking at a photo brings up mental information about it that pales in comparison to simple titles and keywords. To tackle this problem, GroupSmarts, LLC introduced MemoryMiner, a photo application that goes beyond basic metadata – way beyond. By applying a variety of information to photos (if only it could do so automatically!), you can navigate your collection by time, location, and people. MemoryMiner is especially good for working with old photos you’ve digitized. Want to find a picture of your father and grandmother in France in 1956? A couple of selectors will bring up the pictures that match. A 15-day trial version of MemoryMiner is available as a 10 MB download; a license costs $45. [JLC]
Most Deranged Callout — Steve Jobs caused much brow furrowing in his keynote when he mentioned, with his usual excitement, that Quark’s QuarkXPress page-layout product would be available in a universal binary for its version 7 release. The tepid response was undoubtedly due, in part, to Quark taking years to migrate its classic Mac OS code over to Mac OS X, during which time many designers switched to Adobe InDesign. So now Quark has apparently gone from outcast to poster child, possibly due to the engineering work done in that belated transition. Quark expects to have a public beta out later this month and a release sometime this year. [GF]
Best Way to Avoid the P.O. — We don’t have to mail all that many packages other than during the holiday season, but if I had to spend more than an hour a month at the post office, I’d be signing up for Endicia Internet Postage. It’s a service that costs $16 per month and enables you to print postage from your Mac. You must pay for the postage as well, but the Endicia software is free and it works with any laser or inkjet printer, along with high-speed label printers. Endicia supports electronic postal scales, provides a shipping log, integrates with Apple’s Address Book, and calculates both domestic and international shipping rates, even printing the customs forms for packages with overseas destinations. If you’re an eBay maven and find yourself constantly packing up items to ship, give Endicia a look, since it could save you oodles of time in line. [ACE]
Instant RAID — I’ve long recommended external FireWire drives for backup (not to mention extra capacity for applications such as audio, photo, and video editing). Maxtor’s OneTouch drives are a good choice for many because they include a free copy of Retrospect Express, which can be launched by touching a button on the front of the drive. The latest iteration of the design, the OneTouch III line, features a quiet yet impressive cooling system (even under the heaviest loads, the drive cases never feel warm) and internal shock mounts to protect the drive when it’s moved. The most interesting member of the OneTouch III family is the OneTouch III Turbo Edition, an enclosure that holds two 300 GB or 500 GB drives configured either as RAID 0 (striped, for extra speed) or RAID 1 (mirrored, for extra safety). If either of the drives fails during the 1-year warranty period, Maxtor will send you a new drive so you can copy over your data before returning the faulty drive. Using SoftRAID or Disk Utility, you could even create a super-RAID of which a OneTouch III is one element, giving you (for example) both striping and mirroring at the same time. The OneTouch III Turbo Edition has USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 interfaces. The 300/600 GB model retails for $550, while the 500 GB/1 TB model is $900. [JK]
The first link for each thread description points to the traditional TidBITS Talk interface; the second link points to the same discussion on our Web Crossing server, which provides a different look and which may be faster.
Wireless Range Extender — Getting a device that extends the range of a wireless network to operate correctly turns out to be a surprising amount of work. (6 messages)
iQue 3600 Review — Travis Butler’s review of the iQue 3600 GPS device prompts comments about the Navteq mapping data it uses and a warning about static build-up. (4 messages)