Monday, January 31, 2005

2005 Macworld Expo SF Keynote part 3

Wow, it's not until part 3 that you get my notes on the actual keynote. Well, I suppose part 1 was really more of a prequel. Too bad!

Normally, when Steve Jobs first comes out on stage, he thanks everyone for being there and notes what a beautiful day it is in San Francisco. He didn't do that this year, since it was a cold, rainy and pretty miserable day (another reason why I didn't show up super early to wait outside). Instead he noted that this was the first keynote to be projected in High Definition (HD). And all of us sitting in the overflow room watching a non-HD broadcast could care less. As will all of those who watch the streaming webcast and are seeing a "buffering" message every few minutes. Well, best to get the least exciting announcements out of the way at the beginning of the keynote instead of the end. So he then gave us all an update on the retail Apple Stores: 21 stores now open; 1 million visitors per week; newest store in London. The new London store did look pretty nice. If you're ever there, go visit.

An update on the iMac G5's progress was next, in which he proclaimed that it "gets rid of all the cables." Maybe in the promotional pictures it does. Maybe if you order it with the optional Bluetooth module direct from the online Apple Store and add an AirPort Extreme card and wireless mouse and keyboard and hook your printer up to your wireless router. But for the rest of us, there's actually just as many cords as usual. You have to hook up your iPod, right? He noted that it's gotten some great reviews in the press; and deservedly so, I think. But don't mention the Wall Street Journal's Walt "I Haven't Met An Apple Product I Haven't Gushed Over" Mossberg. Although he didn't cite specific sales figures, Jobs noted it is now Apple's highest-selling Mac.

Moving on to OS X, Jobs noted that there are now 14 million active users and "the transition to OS X is complete." Last year he said "the transition to OS X is over." Apparently the difference between 'complete' and 'over' is 4.5 million users. Also, that's still only 59% of the estimated installed Macintosh base. My prediction for 2006: The transition to OS X will be 'finished.'

We were told back in June 2004 that the next version of OS X would arrive in the first half of 2005. And since we're now IN the first half of 2005, I was hoping we'd find out a more specific timeframe. Unfortunately, we didn't. Which I presume rules out January, February and March as possible ship dates. Jobs' demo of the unfinished system upgrade showed one reason why there's no official ship month yet: it crashed.

It was obvious from the beginning that there would be a GarageBand demo (and presumably an update), since a guitar could be seen on the stage. So it was no surprise that the entire iLife suite was updated (except iTunes, which lives in its own, exciting iPod world). Now that we have a G5 at home and a videocamera, I was actually interested in what the updates would be. iPhoto 5 got plenty of applause, especially for a demo showing how easy it was to straighten a photo with the horizon. And I took delight in the fact that U2's "Sweetest Thing" was used in the iDVD demo. In fact, when Bono sang "My love, she throws me like a rubber ball," the home video footage actually showed someone throwing a rubber ball. John Mayer (who Jobs reminded us many times was up for two Grammies) returned to show off GarageBand 2, specifically its new music notation capability. One interesting feature is that you can manually alter the notes directly on the notation by dragging them up and down the clefs. Of course, after Jobs did that to a recording Mayer made, it sounded incredibly awful, as expected. I can imagine GarageBand 2's advertising slogan: "Now it's even easier to make horrible music!"

iWork, Apple's incredibly late successor to the aging AppleWorks, was a welcome announcement. It's different in a couple of ways. First, it doesn't have as many varied capabilities as AppleWorks (spreadsheet, database, drawing, painting). Also, it is not bundled with new Macs. Pages, the "word processing with style" application looked more like an easy-to-use page layout application. The funniest part, though, was when Jobs noted that it would include 40 templates, a "new concept." Yeah, because no one has ever included pre-built templates with their apps ... except maybe Adobe, Microsoft, and, oh, Apple, among others. Although a new Apple-created 'Office' software bundle has been predicted since Keynote 1.0 was released, no one predicted the low price of $79. (A lot cheaper than the $400 it would cost to get Microsoft's Word & PowerPoint)

Similarly, although rumors were rampant that a cheap, headless Mac would be introduced at Macworld, there were still plenty of surprises. First, it was not pizza-box shaped. Believe me, I know pizza-box shaped. I used a Quadra 605 from 1994-1999 and it even opened like a pizza box. Instead, the Mac mini is shaped more like a Nintendo GameCube. Plus, it's shockingly small. Apple continually does injustice to its products by photographing them in a white, Matrix-y void. It is impossible to realize how small this G4 computer is until you see it in person. And when Jobs held up the box by its little handle, the crowd was blown away. I've seen bigger (less fashionable) purses.

Normally, the Mac mini would be the 'one more thing' at a keynote. But it actually got short shrift in keynote time for the new iPod shuffle, which is like a Bizarro Apple product. Normally, Apple creates something that is innovative and feature-rich. PC users ignore it, citing its high price tag and noting that 90 percent of the market uses something else; while Mac users tout its superior nature. The iPod shuffle is not particularly innovative and is certainly not feature-rich. Now PC users will complain about how lame it is while Mac fans will note that it's really cheap and Apple has 70+ percent of the digital music player market. Personally, I have no desire for an iPod shuffle, but it broadens the iPod line even more and gives folks a more affordable way to join the party. Comparisons of the iPod to the Walkman have come up often, but I don't recall the Walkman costing $300. $99 is an incredible price and everyone predicts they'll sell a few tons of these things. Of course, everyone said they wouldn't sell any iPod minis and those sold incredible numbers, so now I'm slightly wary.

Apple is good at surprises. But it's one thing to beat low expectations. It's another to not live up to high ones.

Next time: post-keynote euphoria; free vodka; and does Diet Dr. Pepper really taste more like regular?

Monday, January 24, 2005


I was hoping to post another chapter in my one-day saga at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, but have been battling ants all weekend. So I put our Christmas videocamera and the new iMovie software to use. The one-minute movie is available here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

2005 Macworld Expo SF Keynote part 2

Okay, it's now been one week since I got back from my one-day trip to San Francisco for the annual Macworld Expo. And during that time, seemingly every pundit in the tech universe has published their thoughts on the possible ramifications of what was announced there. My "official" and largely unimportant view is reserved for macCompanion, which is how I was able to attend. So here's my experience as a "media" member:

Preparations for Macworld Expo start pretty early. Media registration opened on Nov. 19, I applied on Nov. 26, and my application was approved on Nov. 29. Why did I delay slightly? Once you are approved, you start to become bombarded with e-mails from the companies exhibiting at Macworld. This is nice if you have an interest in these companies or their products. But seeing as I was only going to be attending for one day, and the morning would be consumed by the keynote, I would not be able to interview the 50+ companies that e-mailed me (and some that phoned me).

IDG World Expo, which organizes Macworld Expo, sends out an e-mail one week prior that gives all the details: where to get your badge if you haven't received it in the mail already (I had), where to get your badge holder, procedures for getting into the keynote, media center and hours of operation, and show highlights. The e-mail noted:
Steve Jobs’ keynote presentation ... takes place ... at 9:00 a.m. in the Esplanade Ballroom. Please allow yourself enough time to pick up your badge and/or badge holder on keynote morning. If you did not receive your badge/badge holder on Monday, we recommend arriving at Media Registration no later than 7:00 a.m. to ensure you get to the keynote on time. Media Registration opens an hour earlier this year – at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. When you have your badge and badge holder, please follow the Media signs to the Lower Esplanade Lobby. This is the staging area for the media. You must be in the Lower Esplanade Lobby by 8:30 a.m. to ensure admittance to the keynote.

Last year, to ensure that I would get into the keynote, I showed up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Unfortunately, that meant standing outside the Moscone Center in the cold for quite a while. It also meant standing non-stop until 9 a.m. I wasn't going to do that again, so this year I arrived at about 7:40 a.m. Last year, I waited with a group of other media folk in front of a door marked with a large sign that said 'Media Enter Here.' After an hour or so, we were told that was the wrong door, which caused us to lose our place in line for the keynote. And this year, once again, I went to the door marked with the giant sign that said 'Media Enter Here.' At which point I was told it was the wrong entrance for media, who were supposed to enter at a different door. No, these signs are not stuck in any way. They are on movable stands.

Thankfully, the media registration booth was open as promised and I got my badge holder. It's not enough to have a badge, see, you have to have a badge holder. This is so that you can wear your badge around and everyone can see your status: exhibitor, presenter, staff, media, etc. According to the instructions in the e-mail, I was supposed to "follow the Media signs to the Lower Explanade Lobby. This is the staging area for the media." Except when I tried to head to the Lower Esplanade Lobby, I was directed down the escalator and into a presentation room that had been roped off and was surrounded by Expo staff. 'Hmmm, maybe this is the staging area,' I thought. But there were two giant video screens in the room; both were turned on, and showed a broadcast schedule of music and color bars leading up to the keynote at 9 a.m. That's when I realized, 'That's no moon!' ... I mean, 'This is no staging area, we aren't going to get to see the keynote live!'

I thought perhaps my showing up at 7:40 instead of 6 a.m. was the problem. No, there were other people in the room that had been there as early as possible and had been immediately directed to this media overflow room. What was really happening was that they had separated the real and not-so-important media.

One thing I learned at last year's Macworld keynote is that there are two levels of the media: the group I'm in and the real media. The real media do not wear media badges and do not wait outside in the cold to get into the keynote. They get complimentary food and beverages and get let into the keynote five minutes before everyone else to sit in reserved seats. I'm fine with that, because I understand that I do not belong in the same group as those from the New York Times. But last year we still got to get into the keynote as promised. Apparently there were so many real media people that registered at the last minute they kicked the rest of us into the overflow room downstairs. But there ended up being between 100-200 media people in that room and not all of them were worthless. Meanwhile, I found out from a New York Times writer that the folk were in the Ballroom for the live keynote. Here's a clue: if someone with a media badge is a teenager, should they be allowed in the keynote while a TV news cameraman is sitting downstairs? Also, I sat next to some MacTeens last year and they were incredibly rude, annoying and unprofessional. From what the New York Times writer told me, that hadn't changed.

One of the other problems I faced last year was that wireless Internet access for media is provided but you must know the name and password for the wireless network, which is provided in the media center. Since I was waiting outside to get into the keynote the whole morning, I didn't have that info and had no Internet access prior to/during the keynote. Since the media center was scheduled to open at 8 a.m. and was right next door to the media overflow room I headed over at 8:10 a.m. to get the name and password ... and the doors were locked. How many years has IDG been organizing this thing? Also, everyone was quite thirsty and hungry but the food vendors refused to sell anything. One even turned around the coffee pots because people were pouring themselves coffee (which they wanted to purchase). Yeah, you wouldn't want to make money with your coffee monopoly.

I resigned myself to my fate and found a good seat facing one of the giant video screens. What I thought was hilarious was that a bunch of other media people had found seats in the front center of the room ... which did not face the video screens. Apparently they were deluded into thinking someone was going to use the stage (David Pogue was going to ... the next day). At some point prior to the keynote starting, the video screens displayed pressoverflow and the wireless network to use to gain Internet access. Everyone with a laptop excitedly logged on, to discover that although they were on the network there was no Internet access to be had. Oh, but the MacTeens were posting live updates from the ballroom upstairs.

At 9:07 footage started streaming in of various people actually at the keynote. Notably, I saw David Pogue, Al Gore and Steve Wozniak. Then the keynote started. Then some dude came in and sat down right in front of me. Seriously, can I catch a break here? This guy shows up for the 9 a.m. keynote at 9:08 a.m.? What the .... !

The good news was that I go to watch the entire keynote as it occurred on a large, quality screen with 100-200 other media. And since there was no satellite feed nor a live webcast this year, that was, indeed, something. But Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field doesn't extend beyond the ballroom, so I probably noticed a lot more than I probably would have noticed live. Like how he said the G5 iMac 'gets rid of all the cables' while the accompanying slide has pictures of it in use ... with many cables. Oh, there's plenty more to come ... in part 3

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Best U2 B-Sides

U2 has a number of songs that have never appeared on their albums, yet are quite good in their own right. Some, like "A Celebration," were released as singles on vinyl to maintain radio interest in the band. Others, like "The Three Sunrises," were put on EPs. And some, like "Silver and Gold," were performed live on a semi-regular basis. Now that nearly all of U2's released songs are available at the iTunes Music Store as part of The Complete U2, I've created an iMix of what I consider the 13 best b-sides. These are completely original compositions and do not include remixes, covers, or live performances. Also, one I would have included is the mid-1980s track "The Sweetest Thing." But that was remixed to great effect, released as a single in 1998 and placed on their "Best of 1980-1990" album, so seek it out there.

iMix: Best U2 B-Sides

I can always add or subtract to the list if anyone makes a comparable argument for or against any song.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

2005 Macworld San Francisco Keynote

I finally have Internet access here at Macworld so I'm just going to make a quick post here while I have a free minute. I saw Steve Jobs' keynote. And by saw, I mean I watched it on a screen in the basement with 100-200 other media people in a separate room below the actual event. Lame.

There's plenty of other lame things that happened (maybe I really should rename this blog Something Bitter) but there were plenty of notable new hardware/software products announced at the keynote that you should check out:

iLife '05
Mac mini
iPod shuffle

Is that enough for ya?

Monday, January 10, 2005

e-Column #109

Web sites, individuals help with relief effort
As the tragic news of the Dec. 26 earthquake and subsequent tsunami has spread across the Web, so have initiatives to help the relief effort.

Wired News' 8th Annual Vaporware Awards

In Vaporware Phantom Haunts Us All, Wired News' Leander Kahney provides a great roundup of 2004's vaporware – technology products that were announced but not delivered. Some Mac fans will no doubt chafe that Apple was on the list this year for the 3GHz G5, which was promised to arrive in the summer and still has yet to be unveiled. But no one should be making promises they can't keep; Apple included.

Notable to me was the inclusion of TiVoToGo, which was announced by TiVo in January 2004 and continually promised to us TiVo users as "coming soon." As late as December, the company said the service would be available at the end of the year. Well, the end of the year came and went with nary a peep. But on Jan. 3, 2005, TiVo sent press releases to the Associated Press and other media that they had released TiVoToGo. Yay! Wait, where is it?

We have the necessary setup: A Series2 TiVo connected to our home network and the Home Media Option enabled. Yet we received no messages through the box nor via e-mail. Visiting their web site, I finally found reference to it. Apparently you have to download a new version of their TiVo Desktop software application ... which is for Windows only. Well, I have Virtual PC 7 on our G5 iMac with Windows XP Pro, so I figured I'd just do it that way. Yet when I installed the software, it did not find our TiVo on the network. Huh? Oh, apparently our TiVo's system software needs to be upgraded to handle the new feature. According to the web site, the only way that will happen is if you fill out a form on their site requesting the new software. Then you have to wait a few weeks for them to give it to you.

Is it technically released if no one can use it?

And their statement that they're working on a Mac version sounds a little false to me since they promised to support the AAC file format in their Music-streaming feature more than a year ago and haven't delivered on that promise either.

The Life of Ray Vol. 2

My brother Ray's second movie is finished and it's pretty funny. Also, he obviously has some mastery over iMovie that will put any of my future creations to shame. There are two versions – small and medium – but both are pretty big in file size since the video is 12:42 in length.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A new iPod that can download videos?

John Shinal, Technology Editor for CBS MarketWatch, wrote in the company's Internet Daily newsletter that "Apple has again upped the ante with a new iPod that can download videos as well as music." When I e-mailed him to ask about this unknown-to-me product, he replied, saying "Apple unveiled it at the CES show in Vegas."

I noted to him that seemed a little strange, since, by all other accounts, Apple did not attend CES. He replied again, writing "Sorry, I misspoke. I was editing stories from both trade shows this week, as we ran an advance on MacWorld on Monday and TiVo news today from CES. My Apple reporter tells me that Apple will soon unveil - at MacWorld, not CES -- a flash iPod capable of downloading videos."

Although a flash memory-based iPod is widely rumored to be unveiled at next Tuesday's keynote, that's the first I've heard that video capability would also be involved. It also seems completely ridiculous to me for two reasons:

  1. A flash iPod would undoubtedly have smaller storage space than a regular iPod or even the iPod mini. I would guess maybe 2GB at the most. Yet videos take up much more space than music, for obvious reasons.
  2. The other benefit of making a flash iPod would be to make it smaller. Why would anyone want to watch video on a screen that is smaller than a regular iPod's and likely even smaller than the iPod mini's?

Of course, there are also all the other reasons that Steve Jobs cited for not making a video iPod (no content, etc.) but he's certainly capable of changing his mind (January 2002: "The CRT is dead") so I don't consider his previous statements to be proof there will never be a video-capable iPod.