Jobs Wows the Faithful at Macworld

Jobs Wows the Faithful at Macworld

At the annual gathering of the Apple faithful at Macworld Expo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage to update fans on the state of Apple’s business, introduce new products and services, and, under banners reading "There’s something in the air," unveiled the ultra-thin MacBook Air.

Out of the gate, Jobs unveiled a new product dubbed Time Capsule, a portable backup system that combines a server-grade hard drive with 802.11n WiFI wireless connectivity in Apple’s Airport Extreme Base Station. Time Capsule is designed to work seamlessly with the Time Machine system backup feature built into Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, and will be available in both 500 GB and 1 TB capacities. Time Capsule is designed to take the wires out of backing up, making it easy for notebook computer users to back up their data without having to fuss with wiring and configurations. Time Capsule will ship in February at prices of $299 for the 500 GB model and $499 for the 1 TB version, and will also work with WIndows PCs.

Jobs went on to highlight the success of the iPhone, noting the handset has sold 4 million units in its first 200 days of availability—translating to about 20,000 iPhones per day. iPhone firmware update 1.1.3, iPhone users will get Web clipping capability, the ability to carry on SMS conversations with multiple users at the same time, the ability to customize the iPhone’s home screen with Web sites and other buttons, and maps with the user’s current location highlighted. (The latter is a neat trick, since the iPhone doesn’t have an integrated GPS unit. Apple is working with Google and Skyhook to figure out a user’s location based on a proprietary database of cell transceiver locations and Wi-Fi locations.) The update will also offer a new map interface, and tailor point-to-point directions based on a user’s current starting place. (We’re assuming that can be changed if, say, you’re looking up directions for someone else to use!)

The iPod touch is also getting an update, with five new applications (stocks, weather, notes, maps, and mail), along with Wi-Fi based location services, like the iPhone update. The update is currently shipping on iPod touch units now, and current iPod touch owners will be able to get the update for $20.

As widely anticipated before the keynote, Jobs also announced the company’s iTunes store will offer downloadable movie rentals, including titles from Miramax, Touchstone, MGM, Lionsgate, and New Line Cinema, with Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, Universal and Sony waiting in the wings. Rentals will be available in their own section of the iTunes store. New releases will be priced at $3.99, with older catalog titles going for $2.99. Once rented, customers will have 30 days to watch the movie, and 24 hours to finish watching it once they’ve started. Rentals will be available in the U.S. beginning today with over 1,000 titles slated to be available by the end of February, with international availability starting later this year.

Jobs also announced a software update for its poorly-received Apple TV. Unlike it’s predecessor, the Apple TV "Take 2" software will be able to operate independently of an iTunes-enabled host computer, and enable users to rent video directly from the iTunes store from their wide-screen televisions. Rentals will be available in standard definition ($3.99, as above) or $4.99 for when a high-definition version is available; rented movies will automatically synchronize back to a user’s master iTunes library. The Apple TV Take 2 will also be able to directly connect to audio and video podcasts, YouTube, Flickr, and other online media sharing sites, and will feature a significantly revised user interface, including the capability to search the entire iTunes catalog. The "Take 2" interface will be available as a free update to existing Apple TV owners; Apple is also reducing the price of the Apple TV from $299 to $229. Apple TV units with the new software will be shipping in two weeks.

As also widely rumored Jobs unveiled a much-anticipated new notebook dubbed the MacBook Air, aimed at being an ultra-light, ultra-portable, wireless notebook. Touting it as the "world’s thinnest notebook," the MacBook Air measures 0.76 inches at its thickest and slopes down to a stunning 0.16 inches—thing enough to slide into a manilla envelope, according to Jobs. The notebook features a LED-backlit 13.3-inch widescreen LCD display, 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, Intel GMA X3100 graphics, a 80 GB 1.8-inch hard drive (like those used in iPod classics), 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless networking, five hours of battery life, keyboard backlighting (with an ambient light sensor), an integrated iSight camera, and a "generous" multi-touch capable trackpad which can accept double-taps and iPhone-like "pinching" motions to (say) zoom a photo. And, perhaps getting back a little at Greenpeace, Jobs made a point of noting the Macbook Air features a recyclable aluminum case and Apple’s first display free of mercury and arsenic. Jobs also says the Apple-designed circuit boards in the units are free of bromide flame retardants and PVCs…but, of course, Apple doesn’t manufacturer every component in the notebook.

The notebook will also be available with an optional 64 GB solid-state drive. However, the MacBook Air will not ship with an integrated optical drive; just as when Apple famously (and to howls of protest) did away with the floppy drive in the original iMacs, Jobs joked "we don’t think you’ll miss it," and noted Apple will offer an external dual-layer DVD burner for under $100 for anyone who wants one. Jobs also noted a new "Remote Disk" feature for the MacBook Air, which will display Macs and PCs in the vicinity of the MacBook Air and "ask to borrow" an optical drive so MacBook Air users can access optical media to (say) install software from CD or DVD. The MacBook Air features S-Video, composite, DVI, and VGA output via adapters, and USB 2.0 connectivity. Interestingly, the MacBook Air does not include Apple’s long-standing high-bandwidth bus solution, FireWire. It also lacks built-in Ethernet (Apple will offer an optional USB-to-Ethernet adapter), and the battery is not user-replaceable: customers will have to take the machine to an Apple Store or return the unit to Apple for a new battery, which currently runs $129.

Pricing for the MacBook Air will start at $1,799; Apple will start accepting pre-orders today, with the first units going on sale in two weeks’ time.

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