The Last MacWorld

Yep, the last MacWorld keynote is over. And, across the Internet, everyone is weighing in on “the last MacWorld that mattered”, so even though I’m being pestered to play Mario Kart by every one of my colleagues who got a Wii for Xmas, I thought “why not?” and whipped out my laptop.

First off, a note on form. I think that getting Phil Schiller to deliver this was a good way for Apple to show that Steve’s presence, although important, isn’t mandatory for launching new products. And yet, I’m certain that a good many people will do him the injustice of saying this was “the worst keynote ever” (or other inane and immature ramblings) without even having been there, or (even worse) damn him with faint praise.

Not having been there (or seen the video yet), I nevertheless am compelled to think (from written transcripts and previous appearances) that he did more than just “a good job”. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be an Apple VP.

As to the keynote announcements, I think it was all about as could be (realistically) expected, considering that MacWorld has always been about the Mac and satellite products and that all of the announcements actually made sense (both the software suites and the 17” MacBook were in dire need of a refresh).

Of course, I’m already seeing widespread evidence that the news coverage is being anything but realistic. Particularly concerning the 17” MacBook, I couldn’t care less about it or the built-in battery.

That boat (pun intended) has sailed, even though we’re sure to have to wade through weeks’ worth of pointless rants regarding it.

The iTunes stuff was… kind of predictable if you follow the industry at all, and (of course) none of the stupid netbook/phone/whatever rumors panned out.

On Rumors

Before putting forth my take on what I gleaned from such sources as Ars’ coverage (yeah, we all know MacRumorsLive was “hacked” – life goes on, and people eventually learn to code better management interfaces…), there are a few things that I’ve been mulling.

Every year around this time I wish someone took the rumor mongers to task and published a summary rundown of every Apple rumor published over the past month or so. I’ll even provide a template and a couple of examples:

Rumor Source Published On Target Date/Event Accuracy
iPhone nano some random accessory maker (insert site name and date here) MWSF’09 !cid:0.png!
17” MacBook with non-removable battery someone with a clue many more places by tomorrow MWSF’09 !cid:5.png!
Apple webpad “trusted sources”/wannabe analyst everywhere, by now, around three times every month every year around this time !cid:1.png!
(for effort)

…etc. You get the idea. If someone actually went ahead and published this nice, clean table somewhere (as the simplest possible thing), we can refer to the rumors, their sources and the idiots who published them, as well as matching any new rumors against the old ones.

I think it would be a pretty popular site1. Maybe isthisapplerumortrue.com would be a nice domain name for it. Or, in homage to the (subliminally brilliant) Tony Bennet song selection for the finale, thebestisyettocome.com

The “missing” mini

Most people whom I’ve been tracking on Twitter seem to think this is the (midget) elephant in the room, i.e., they were waiting for a new, revamped mini.

My personal take is that the mini refresh makes some sense, even though it is (literally) the runt of the Mac litter and never seemed to be something Apple invested much time and effort in marketing.

Then again, I have long been an advocate of there being some kind of home server (in largely the same fashion I once wrote about what “Apple” could do regarding mobile services and .Mac), but am realistic enough to acknowledge that that, if it happens, probably won’t rate more than a press release in this new, exciting age of Apple actually managing their own marketing agenda outside the trade show circus trail…

Note to Conspiracy Theorists: mix in any wishful thinking you might have concerning an Apple TV refresh. Discuss.

iLife

I wouldn’t call iLife’09 earth-shattering (especially not considering that with every iteration it seems to make iPhoto slower in real life), but there are a few things that struck my fancy.

For starters, proper geo-tagging was long overdue. I’ve been hacking away at EXIF for years now and am (sometimes painfully) aware of all the little nitty-gritty details that have to fall into place, so I’ll just brush aside the last four years or so and leave it at that2.

And yet, due to the lack of a really simple UI for it, I’ve always been rather lax in adding location information to photos. But I have found it more and more useful since last year, and it’s great to see that they went well beyond the extra mile and that we’ll get some great-looking maps (courtesy of Google) and the ability to name locations. I personally find it very, very interesting indeed, for a number of reasons3.

I see Facebook and Flickr integration as Apple (finally) acknowledging that there is demand for other photo sharing services than their own. Many people will point out that Picasa is now also available on the Mac, but I personally don’t like it much, and it – regrettably – feels very alien on the Mac due to its use of some kind of WINE-like solution.

Conspiracy Theorists: discuss whether or not MobileMe Gallery will become extinct or suffer an upgrade because of this, and try to draw a correlation between Picasa’s recent Mac port and today’s events, if any.

Still, on a more personal level, I find the Faces stuff as being the most interesting enhancement, both because I am fully aware of how demanding face recognition is and because the most common tag I have on my main iPhoto library (some 30.000 strong) is… the kid’s name.

I (like many others) tag each photo with each person’s name, and if the face detection actually works under the tremendously varying circumstances one comes across, including having many people in the same shot (something which is pretty hard), then I’m sold.

I have three qualms regarding the new iPhoto as far as my personal needs and wants are concerned:

1. I have a feeling this will only work properly on a pretty beefy machine, and my current iPhoto repository is… a G4 mini, which is the house server.
2. Based on plenty of previous experience for many years now, I don’t think it will update EXIF data on the photos themselves and stick to maintaining metadata separately (which sucks, bigtime). I sincerely hope I’m wrong here, because it’s the wrong way to do things. Metadata belongs on the photos themselves, not locked away in the iPhoto database.
3. Getting an iPhoto album printed and shipped to Portugal is (for now, at least) still an imperfect experience (we have to pretend we’re Spanish, which is somewhat ridiculous and, as you may well understand, isn’t generally accepted by the overall populace).

The rest is, huh… Ok, I guess. I don’t do movie editing and I don’t have time to learn to play the guitar (although there’s a guitar and a seldom-used piano in the house), so I don’t really care.

iWork

iWork’09 is a bit more interesting, though – at least relatively speaking, since I prefer Office 2008 and its native(ish) file format handling over ‘lite’ apps.

Sure, the new effects in Keynote are (as usual) pretty cool, but… I value clarity and structured content in presentations, and flashy stuff doesn’t add that much value in my neck of the woods. I do believe that a lot of TV newsrooms are going to have a ball with it, and that’s that.

The rest of the native apps are… humdrum, in a way, even if the Mac Box Set looks like a clever marketing ploy to round up the few stragglers that haven’t upgraded to Leopard yet. One purchase, and they get the whole enchilada, so to speak.

Conspiracy theorists: is the Mac Box Set is targeted at Hackintosh users? Again, discuss, but now without any sharp implements.

The only thing I really want is a Microsoft PowerPoint equivalent4 of the new Keynote Remote. Even though I favor simple two-button presentation controllers, that little app would be pretty damn useful for addressing big audiences.

The Online Collaboration Gambit

As to iWork.com, and having worked on all manner of CSCW since, oh, 1994 or something, I see it more as Apple’s take on Microsoft’s Sharepoint than (as other people have already gone on about) a more polished Google Docs.

Some Windows-minded theorists have previously put forward the notion that Apple is going for the stuff Microsoft has been delivering for years at the corporate level (Office, assorted OS features, etc.) and making it available to mom-and-pop shops. And extending that notion to iWork.com as a simplified Sharepoint sort of makes sense.

And maybe they have a leg to stand on, although my take is threefold:

1. Apple has occasionally (and timidly) dipped into CSCW (if mostly as research)
2. They believe having online services matters
3. They are certain that people will pay for simple collaborative tools that are seamless enough to use without hassle

And let me tell you that collaboration is extremely hard to do without hassle.

But everyone is going to ignore all of that and just try to compare it to Google Docs.

Still, I think it’s a good benchmark – sure, let’s wait and see how it stacks up with Google Docs not merely in terms of looks, but in terms of actual functionality (and speed, and compatibility, etc.).

But Apple is bound to be acutely aware that Google’s stuff not only has two orders of magnitude more likely users but also still seems to be trying to solve a problem that people in general effectively don’t have – at least not every day.

My point is that Apple isn’t doing this on a whim. Someone worked out the math for a business case and it was cleared to become a product (a decision which isn’t taken lightly there, regardless of what some people may think).

And even if Google’s is free, it’s not directly tied (yet) to a native office suite (which, believe me, makes all the difference in terms of usability).

In summary, I like the idea overall, and look forward to watching a demo and/or trying it out (as time permits).

Conspiracy Theorists: Complain that this is what MobileMe was supposed to be according to some rumor or another, and herald it as the office suite for the future Apple netbook/webpad. Pine for the as-yet nonexistent hardware yet again and/or complain about the price.

One Last Thing…

I’ve noticed that most of the people ranting about the matte display option on the 17” not being available on “regular” MacBooks don’t understand about component sourcing for manufacturing and the hassle that build-to-order is in terms of stocks, logistics, etc.

Yes, sure, Apple deals with component manufacturers in bulk, but it’s not just about an added cost for a different (and admittedly lower-volume) non-default part.

It also has to do with it being easier (and cheaper) to allow for a different SKU in machines that will have lower production volumes (and where exceptions can be handled more easily) than on the higher volume (and less configurable) devices.

Still, I, too, wish it could be done. I hate my black MacBook’s reflective screen with a passion.

1 Who knows, it might even become a better business model than whoring rumors for clicks.

2 I started that particular Wiki node in 2005, and was interested in it even before it deserved a node of its own.

3 In case you missed that bit, I now work in location services, and Apple just gave me a great set of new toys…

4 With the same degree of polish. There are third-party alternatives already out there, but I’d rather have something from “Microsoft”:com/Microsoft.