Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Macworld 2008 - What am I buying?

No doubt this has already been covered to death elsewhere on the interwebs, but I thought I'd chime in with my takeaways on Macworld '08.

You can't announce an industry-changer like the iPhone every year. So it's no surprise that this year's Macworld left many with an empty place inside where their anticipation once lived. But if the new Apple product lineup didn't live up to the hype, it's not Apple's fault. Although the blogosphere was abuzz with conjecture months in advance, I didn't hear Apple saying they were going to change the world. And they didn't. What they did was announce solid upgrades to their product line

The much-needed refresh for the Apple TV set-top box with the major overhaul of movies on iTunes is a powerful combination, and may prove formidable competition for the existing players in the online movie rental space. Those who don't wish to shell out $230 for the set-top box will still end up renting a few movies for mobile viewing on their iPods. For those who do buy the Apple TV, keeping a Netflix subscription around looks less appealing (although in many cases, it's still cheaper) and ordering pay-per-view on cable and satellite would just make no sense at all.

The iPhone 1.1.3 software update was the single thing that I looked forward to the most, and so it was also the most disappointing. It could have been so much more, particularly given my low expectations. I want a few basic things from my iPhone that it doesn't do now:

  1. A way to edit my notes on my Mac
  2. Select, copy and paste text
  3. A few simple games. I'll even pay for them.
  4. Flash. Preferably Flash Player 9.

Ok, so the last one isn't so basic. But the first 3 are no-brainers.

The 1.1.3 iPhone update does have some cool stuff though. The location finder in Google Maps is pretty cool, at least in theory. It triangulates your position based on the location of nearby cell towers and wifi hotspots. A really clever idea - but accuracy varies wildly. In Alexandria, VA it found my location to within a mile - in my office in DC, it found my exact building.

Since I'm a UI designer (among other things) and this blog is supposed to be focused on the presentation layer (although it often deviates), I'd be remiss not to talk about the new interaction the iPhone has for re-arranging icons. This is one area where I think they nailed it. Here's how it works: just press and hold an icon until it starts to wiggle. When the icons are wiggling, you can drag them around the screen. How great is that? The 'wiggle' effect is a perfect gut-level visual cue that the icons are in a fluid state. It's the kind of simple, intuitive design that people who create UIs should strive for. I think when it's all said and done, Apple is going to get the credit for defining how multi-touch interfaces behave (even if Jeff Han and others did the homework).

Apple also announce the Time Capsule, an Airport Extreme with a 1 terabyte hard drive inside, meant for performing wireless backups with Time Machine in Leopard. This is a real kick in the crotch for anyone who recently (6 months ago) purchased an Airport Extreme with the intent of using it with a USB drive. It turns out, you actually can't use a USB drive attached to last year's Airport Extreme for your Time Machine backups. Until Apple releases firmware to resolve that issue, I'm going to assume that this was their plan all along. Jerks.

Finally, there was the MacBook Air. I think this will be very popular for the airborne businessperson. It will fit nicely into that little pouch on the back of the seat that holds the Skymall catalog. Also, for the fashion-minded student. But, not for me. I have thick, manly arms that can withstand the weight of 5.4 lbs of computing power. I'll bet I could even handle 6.8 lbs.

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