Apple Hints at a Lion, Delivers Fresh Air
Just as it promised last week, Apple got "Back to the Mac" with its new product showcase on Wednesday, revealing the next edition of its iLife suite, a preview of OS X Lion, and two new versions of its ultra-slim MacBook Air notebook. Notable iLife additions include new features in apps like Rock Band, iPhoto and iMovie.
What would happen if a MacBook and iPad hooked up? Apple's answer is the new MacBook Air.
"It's one of the most amazing things we've ever created," Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared Wednesday at a company event held at its headquarters. "We think it is the future of notebooks."
What does the future look like? It comes in two models -- one with an 11.6-inch display and the other with a 13.3-inch screen. It doesn't have an optical drive or a traditional hard-disk drive, eschewing spinning platters for solid state storage. It weighs less than three pounds and has long battery life -- five hours for the 11.6-inch version, seven hours for the 13.3-inch model, and 30 hours standby time for both.
Both models also have full-sized keyboards, high resolution graphics -- 1,366 by 768 for the 11.6 incher and 1,440 by 900 for the 13.3 edition -- and a multi-touch trackpad.
Forgoing hard and optical drives gives the Airs some of the benefits of Apple's mobile products, Jobs explained. They include "instant on" performance, data access speeds twice as fast as platter drives, better reliability and a footprint 90 percent smaller and lighter than a typical laptop.
A New App Store
The MacBook Airs, which are immediately available for purchase, are priced in the same ballpark as conventional notebooks. The 11.6-inch model, with a 64 GB solid-state drive, sells for US$999; $1,199 with 128 GB drive. The 13.3-inch version is priced at $1,299 with a 128GB drive; $1,599 with 256GB of storage.
In addition to the MacBook Air announcement, Jobs and company announced a new version of its digital lifestyle software, iLife; a beta version of its video phonecall software, FaceTime, that runs on its desktop and notebook models; and a sneak peak of the next version of its operating system, OS X, which will be called "Lion" and is on schedule to be released next summer.
With Lion, Apple will be bringing some of the innovations introduced in its mobile products to its Mac line, Jobs explained. "That's what Lion's about," he said. "Mac OS X meets the iPad."
One of the features of Lion will be an ability to run apps. In fact, Apple likes that idea so much, it's launching a Mac App store in 90 days, which will sell apps for the Mac's current operating system Snow Leopard.
Other features of Lion teased at the event included support for multi-touch gestures for interacting with a computer, automatic saving of data in apps and automatically returning to the place you left an app when you return to it.
iLife '11 Introduced
Apple has also added new features to the programs in its iLife suite ($79, $49 for upgrade).
Full-screen mode has been implemented across the entire iPhoto program. Some new slideshow templates have been added to the app, emailing photos has been improved, and integration with social networks has been bolstered. Book creation is also smoother, and the ability to print letterpress cards has been added.
New features in GarageBand are aimed at musicians. There's a Flex Time feature for tightening the timing of recordings captured with the application and a feature called Groove Matching for fixing rhythm problems in a recording. There's also a "How Did I Play?" feature to help people learn how to play the guitar or piano.
With iMovie 11, Apple focused on improving the program's sound editing tools. It made the tools easier to access and control. It also introduced a way to add audio effects to the sound in a clip.
An entertaining addition to the application is the ability to create movie trailers automatically. After adding text and clips to a template, iMovie will take the material and produce a finished movie trailer.
With the event today, which was billed as "Back to the Mac," Apple appeared to be addressing recent speculation that it was leaning toward getting out of the Mac business. Indeed, the first eight minutes of the event was spent touting the importance its Mac line was to its business, bringing in 33 percent of its annual revenues.
"Apple made it clear today that the Macintosh line, including the OS, is not a hobby," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told MacNewsWorld. "It's a core part of their business."
The Point on Price
The new MacBook's price drew a great deal of attention.
"I think there are a lot of folks in the Valley that do hardware who are quaking in their boots," Richard Shim, a research manager at IDC, told MacNewsWorld. "First of all, we're talking about a starting price point of under $1,000. Apple has been beating the average industry growth rate for a while now with premium prices for its products, and now that it's getting down into the sub-$1,000 level and offering features others can't mimic, that's going to be a big concern."
Apple is incorporating a lot of features that are popular in the mobile world into laptop and desktops, Shim pointed out. "FaceTime has got a lot of interest, for example, so once again Apple is moving the bar up," he added.
"Standard PCs are outdated both in terms of the business model and the software model," Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist, In-Stat, told MacNewsWorld. "In terms of the business model, the PC doesn't have to be an all-in-one device that's everything to everybody any more; it's got to be able to effectively use the ecosystem."
In terms of the software model, the move is toward apps. "You can get all these cool apps for your handset but you can't get them for your PC? That's pathetic," McGregor said.