SAN FRANCISCO — A heavy fog descended here this morning, but Apple CEO Steve Jobs brought the Mac faithful a healthy dose of virtual sunshine at Macworld Expo.
With rumors flying in the weeks leading up to the event, none of Jobs’ announcements during today’s keynote address came as complete surprises. But the overflow crowd at the Moscone Convention Center nevertheless hung onto every word as he detailed and demoed Apple’s next big launches.
Of his four announcements, the new MacBook Air notebook proved the star of the show. Jobs proclaimed it the thinnest notebook computer in the world.
The three-pound, $1,799 MacBook — scheduled to ship in two weeks — is indeed tiny. At 0.76 inches at its thickest point and a mere 0.16 inches at its skinniest, the design trumps Sony’s TZ series, which ranges from 0.8 to 1.2 inches in thickness.
Additionally, Jobs said Apple avoided many of the compromises that he claimed Sony and other ultra-mobile computer vendors were forced to make, even with their thicker designs.
For example, unlike other ultra-portable notebooks, the MacBook Air sports a full keyboard, a roomy trackpad and a faster processor — a custom-designed version of Intel’s Core 2 Duo running at 1.6 GHz.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who joined Jobs on stage, said that at Apple’s behest, his company started working a year ago on reducing the size of its standard Core 2 Duo for the MacBook Air.
“We didn’t think it was possible when we started,” said Otellini, who presented Jobs with one of the new coin-sized Core 2 Duo chips. Otellini said the new CPU is 60 percent smaller than the standard offering.
The MacBook Air also offers a bigger screen — 13.3 inches — where competitive systems feature 11- or 12-inch-wide screens, Jobs said. He added that the Air’s battery life of five hours also beats the competition by several hours.
Light and thin as Air
In addition to its svelte design, the MacBook Air incorporates features from the iPhone’s
touchscreen interface. The notebook’s multi-touch gesture support lets users rotate and move photos and scroll through images with a finger, or zoom in or out on images with a two-fingered pinch.
Other standard features include 4MB L2 processor cache, 2GB of memory, 80GB hard drive, iSight Webcam, backlit keyboard, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity.
Apple also will offer an optional solid-state drive, he said.
But the Air lacks one component standard in most full-sized notebooks: an optical drive. The design choice hearkens back to year ago, when Jobs made made the controversial decision to cease including floppy drives on the iMac line.
With even more connectivity options available in the market today, the decision not to include an optical drive figures to be less controversial — and it helps further lighten the system’s weight.
“If you really want one, we have a compact Superdrive for $99 with USB connections,” Jobs said. “But we don’t think most users will miss having an optical drive.”
To compensate for the loss, user can turn to wireless and other file transfer options, including a new feature Jobs introduced called Remote Disc.
The feature enables Air users to wirelessly connect to another Mac or PC on the network and access that system’s optical drive. The idea is that a user can install software on his or her MacBook Air from a CD or DVD drive loaded on another computer.
Next page: Movies to rent, wireless backups, Apple TV and iPhone updates
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Movies to Rent
The new wireless transfer features came as a fitting complement to Job’s other major announcement: video rentals at Apple’s iTunes store.
The Apple CEO said all the major movie studios are supporting its new rental service — 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Lionsgate and New Line Cinema.
Under the system, older movies will be available for $2.99 while new releases will cost $3.99 to rent. Customers have 30 days to view the movie, but the rental is up within 24 hours of viewing.
Users can also transfer the video to another device while viewing. For example, you could start on a PC, and finish watching on an iPod if you have to travel.
Time Capsule, Apple TV remade and iPhone updates
Other announcements rounding out the keynote included a new version of Apple TV and the debut of Time Capsule, a data backup appliance designed for Mac notebooks and other computers.
Time Capsule can backup a single Mac or multiple Macs on a network. It works in connection with the Time Travel feature in Apple’s latest OS X “Leopard” operating system, which requires a backup device to retrieve users files.
Two versions of Time Capsule are set to ship in February: a 500GB unit priced at $299 and a 1 Terabyte
As for the Apple TV, Jobs admitted the original
Apple TV didn’t see significant traction because it was “not what people wanted. We learned what they wanted was all about movies.”
Where the original Apple TV worked with a computer, the new version can operate without one. It connects directly to a widescreen TV and enables users to order movies from the iTunes store, call up videos from their home network, or view podcasts and online videos.
Jobs also announced a free software update for iPhone users, available immediately.
Among the iPhone’s new features is a redesigned Maps application that enables users to find their location and get directions from that starting point with a few clicks of the map. It also enhances text messages, allowing for multiple recipients in a single message.
The update also enables users to create Web clips of favorite Web sites and customize the iPhone’s home screen. Up to nine separate home screens can be now be created.
The Maps features are particularly impressive because the iPhone doesn’t include a GPS.
Apple circumvented that problem by partnering with Google and Skyhook Wireless. From Google’s data, the iPhone can approximate its location from cell towers, a capability the search giant introduced in late November in its own mapping service.
Similarly, Apple teamed with Skyhook to provide location data based on a user’s Wi-Fi hotspot. The firm has mapped some 23 million hotspots nationwide.
Using data from both companies provides the iPhone with mapping and a way to triangulate a user’s location, so the device can mimic the capabilities of GPS.
“Isn’t that cool?” Jobs asked.