This year's Macworld Expo keynote address is over. Steve Jobs has left the building. And everyone who saw the keynote has their opinion as to what it all means. Here, in no particular order, are my reactions to yesterday's announcements:
- Apple is number one! At least when it comes to music. Over 2 million iPods have been sold. Apple's MP3 player currently has a lock on the number one position in both market share and revenue. The iTunes Music Store is even more impressive, accounting for 70% of all (legally) downloaded music. And trends suggest that Apple's dominance will increase this year, rather than wane, despite the upsurge in competition. No one could have even imagined this, never mind predicted it, just a few short years ago.
- iTunes Music Store now features Billboard charts of top hits from 1946 to the present. I love it. I have always been a sucker for these "top" lists, regularly checking them out online and in books. Now I can hear a free preview of each of the listed songs and purchase them if I wish. My only complaint: Songs that are not available for purchase are not listed at all, leaving annoying gaps in the lists.
- The "revised" 1984 ad shows the hammer-wielding woman carrying an iPod. Cute and classy. I must admit it took several glimpses of the woman before I realized what Apple had done to the ad.
- The Xserve G5 was a welcome announcement but hardly a surprise. I mean, if you aren't going to put your fastest processor on your most powerful hardware, what's the point? I had hoped this announcement would be coupled with at least a minor upgrade to the existing desktop G5s, but this was not to be. Not to worry. Steve made it clear that we should expect to see new product announcements throughout the year. I expect a retooled G5 will be one of the early ones.
- The iPod mini is...small. If size matters to you, it's an attractive option. The only thing not mini about the iPod mini is the price ($250). True, as Steve asserted, the iPod mini is many times better than its $200 competition for only $50 more. But the mini's capacity is also 11GB less than what you can get with the 15GB entry-level standard size iPod that sells for $300. I guess your response to the price of the iPod mini depends on your perspective: Do you see it as only $50 more than its weaker competitors or only $50 less than its much higher capacity sibling. I am in the latter camp. Apple needs to find a way to make the iPod mini cheaper before I would recommend it.
- The most spectacular announcement of the keynote was - beyond any doubt- GarageBand. Words fail me in my feeble attempt to describe the impact of watching the demo of this program. Paired with an inexpensive piano keyboard, it can be a more than adequate substitute for synthesizer keyboards that cost thousands of dollars. In fact, in many ways it is better, especially if you want to ultimately save and use the music you create on a computer. As John Mayer suggested when he demoed the program on stage, this will change the way the next generation of kids learn to play music. Who, besides Apple, is creating applications like this today - applications that redefine what a computer can do and how it affects your life? Precious few. Maybe zero.
- The most noteworthy of the updated iLife '04 applications is iPhoto 4. The ability to show 25,000 photos instantly, create Smart Albums (akin to iTunes Smart Playlists), edit a photo directly from a slideshow, and share over Rendezvous - continue to keep iPhoto far ahead of its competitors.
- Programs like iPhoto are a great tool for driving hardware sales. You see this application in action and, if you don't already own a digital camera, you want to buy one. Just so you have a reason to use iPhoto. Throw in a new digital camcorder (for iMovie and iDVD), a music keyboard (for GarageBand) and an iPod (for iTunes) - and the iLife apps just convinced you to spend around $1500. A marketing dream come true.
- As great as the iLife applications are individually, it is especially cool to see how well they work together. For example, you can create a riff in GarageBand, export it to iTunes and then grab the music to use as background for an iPhoto slideshow - all with just a few clicks of the mouse.
- One complaint about iLife: the price. I don't mean that $49 is too high. It's not. And I am not upset that the new versions of iPhoto and iMovie are no longer available as free downloads. This was clearly on the horizon when Apple first released the iLife suite. And it makes sense. These programs have become too good to give away (although you still get them "free" if you buy a new Mac). My gripe concerns users who just purchased Panther for $129 and now find they need to shell out another $49 to upgrade the versions of the iLife programs that shipped with Panther. In my view, Apple should add the '04 versions of iLife apps to the full retail version of Panther. And iLife '04 (minus GarageBand) should be a free update to anyone who previously purchased Panther.
- The addition of RT Extreme to the updated Final Cut Express 2 brings one of the best and hottest features of Final Cut Pro to its junior partner. It's reason enough to consider upgrading.
- Almost lost in the shuffle of new Apple products was Microsoft's announcement of Office 2004. Microsoft used the keynote to show off some of the Mac-first features that will be in this major upgrade (due within the next six months). The new Notebook view for taking notes on the fly (including an option to record audio while you are writing) and Project Center (for coordinating multiple files and tasks that are all part of a single project) were both impressive. Also in the pipeline is Virtual PC 7, which promises to be significantly faster than the current version.
- What a great year for Apple. From the G5 to the iTunes Music Store, everything Apple touched this year turned into gold - complete with a positive press buzz that could not be bought at any price. GarageBand will certainly help Apple continue this trend into the new year.
If there is any justice in the world (and I admit there may not be), Apple's market share will jump this year. You may not see this jump when you look at the total market (which is dominated by corporate purchases where the iLife apps are largely irrelevant). But in the consumer segment, and maybe even in the server segment, Apple should make significant gains. If I am even half right, we will have even more to celebrate next year than we did this time around. Hey! It's fun to own a Mac again.