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Mac Bloggers Murmur Over Macworld Machinations

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 9, 2009 4:00 AM PT

This should come as no surprise to any iPhone-toting, Apple-watching, Mac-usin' reader: this week's blogs were primarily aimed straight at Macworld and the last Apple keynote the company will deliver. More specifically, the hottest coverage focused on Phil Schiller's keynote address, the new unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro, and DRM-free iTunes tracks.

Mac Bloggers Murmur Over Macworld Machinations

Starting with Schiller, who replaced CEO Steve Jobs this year: Most seemed to think he did a fine job -- and blamed any fallout over the keynote's lackluster messages on the content Schiller had to work with. After all, Schiller wasn't able to introduce any true brand-new products -- everything was essentially upgrades of existing products.

"I started getting sleepy from Phil's overzealous in-depth demo of iPhoto and iMovie," Sven Rafferty, founder of hyperSven and SvenOnTech blogger, told MacNewsWorld.

"It was clear by 40 minutes into his presentation that the last [Macworld Apple keynote] certainly wasn't going to be the best," he added.

The 'Suckiest Bunch of Suck'?

"Now we know why Steve didn't want to give the keynote. He didn't want all the disappointed iMac & Mini fans to direct their collective anger at him. He threw Phil under the bus on this one," commented Max Book on the MacRumors.com post about the keynote internet stream.

"THAT is an understatement if I ever I have heard one! This sucked and we now know why Mr. Jobs did not wish to give this one! What a way to go out at Macworld, eh? What a suckfest. That was the suckiest bunch of suck that ever sucked. Period!" added ddTaylor.

Of course, does anyone really expect that Jobs would have given the same presentation? It seems much more likely that Jobs would have forced an early introduction of a product that wouldn't ship for a couple of months or more.

More Disappointment

While there were a variety of rumors that some hope Apple would announce, such as a bigger screen iPod touch, an iPhone nano, or new LED-backlit iMacs, the one product that seems to have struck a nerve is the Mac mini. Most Apple blogs and rumor sites slated it for a lock on delivery at Macworld ... but Apple didn't so much as mention it.

"No mini, sigh," commented mandoman on the MacRumors.com post, which was echoed by several others, including a few that included the "WTF!?!" acronym.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they update the Mac Mini in the next few days/weeks. They are aware of the Mac Mini -- its out-dated and over priced for current times. Also, by launching it at another event (other than Macworld) it would make sense for Apple re-iterating that 'Macworld is not needed'. Patience," added The Samurai.

Still, what gives? Big deal, not so much?

"Like others, we would have loved a new Mac mini at Macworld, but I think we're seeing an Apple that is working on their own time schedule -- so they'll announce the desktops when they're ready," Brian Stucki, owner of Macminicolo.net, a hosting service that uses Mac minis, told MacNewsWorld.

"Luckily, the existing Mac mini has more than enough power for a good portion of our customers, so the mini server business continues to be good," he added.

The 17-Inch MacBook Pro

While Schiller announced new versions of iLife and iWork -- and while those software applications will likely touch more Mac users than the 17-inch MacBook Pro -- the new hardware has garnered the lion's share of attention. The 17-inch MBP now sports the same look and feel as the MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro -- it's just bigger, faster, and comes with a higher price tag -- US$2,799.

It ships with a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor that's upgradeable to 2.93 GHz and a 320 GB hard drive, also upgradable to a 256 GB flash drive. The 1920 x 1200 pixel screen is now LED-backlit, too, but it has a 60 percent greater color gamut than previous screens -- and for an additional $50, buyers can get an anti-glare option added.

At .98 inches thick and 6.6 pounds, it's both the thinnest and lightest 17-inch notebook on the market, and most everyone seems to think it's gorgeous.

"As someone who's worked in product design and prototyping of electro-mechanical systems, the beauty of this design almost makes me choke up a little," noted meelash on the AppleInsider.com post on the 17-inch MBP.

Of course, there has been a lot of chatter about the unit's new built-in battery, which Apple says will run for eight hours and survive 1,000 recharges, giving it a five-year lifespan. And then there's the questions of upgrading the hard drive by end users -- is it hard to get to? The answer? Hard to say since Apple only had a couple of 17-inchers on display at Macworld and no early adopters have received theirs yet.

"I've had my [older generation] 17" MBP for just over 2 years and have never had a need to touch the battery. I updated the RAM to 3gb no problem but I do wish I could update the hard disk without having to take the whole thing apart! So despite being non-removable, the fact the battery is larger and has a longer life is great!" commented nutts on the AppleInsider.com post.

Considering that iPods, iPhones, and the MacBook Air don't have user-replaceable batteries, it's not all that surprising to see Apple forgo a drop-out battery in another notebook.

DRM-Free iTunes

The "one more thing" item that Schiller announced at Macworld was DRM-free iTunes, along with the support of all four of the major record labels, three of which have been withholding DRM-free songs from Apple. To get their DRM-free support, Apple undoubtedly had to agree to offer variable pricing for each song -- Schiller didn't come out and say this, of course, but industry watchers feel it is a fairly obvious compromise. Older songs may be priced at 69 cents, some at 99 cents, and others at $1.29. They'll all be DRM-free by this spring, regardless of price. In any event, Schiller noted that Apple's prices are based off of the prices set by the record companies, but he did say that more songs will be priced at 69 cents than $1.29.

Most bloggers seem pretty happy with the move, but questions remain over the upgrade process -- iTunes users can upgrade their existing tracks for 30 cents a track to turn it into a DRM-free version encoded at the better 256 kbps AAC format.

"For the time being, you can continue to upgrade your tracks to iTunes Plus, which offers DRM-free 256kbps AAC encoding, but you may want to delay doing this. Until the full complement of DRM-free tracks hits iTunes, you won't have a true idea of how much this upgrade is going to cost you. If you look at the bubble today, it's only going to show a fraction of the tracks that will be on offer in April," wrote Erica Sadun on Ars Technica's Infinite Loop blog.

"As someone who hates DRM and has a large number of protected purchase from Apple, I rather impulsively upgraded a large number of tracks to iTunes Plus. Be careful. Because of the way Apple presents the upgrade, it is not easy to tell what you are actually upgrading. There's no easy way to get a clear big picture. And I don't see a way to pick and choose what you want to upgrade," commented Will Mayall.

Still, others are busy upgrading already.

"I did 326 songs yesterday in 2 hours," commented luke on a Cult of Mac post on the subject.

While some moaned about having to pay for the upgrade, for others, it was all about getting higher quality tracks.

"Double the bit rate for 30 cents? Who's complaining about this again? People who don't actually listen to their music? Hello, that's a noticeable improvement. Anyone who says otherwise is lying, or never bothered to compare the two. This is a great deal," added Jeff.

Still, DRM-free doesn't mean customers will start copying tracks at will to give to friends -- those with households and multiple Macs and PCs will benefit.

"It's certainly something I'll personally do. In many cases I've been buying from Amazon.com specifically because of the DRM issue," Avi Greengart, a director of research for Current Analysis, told MacNewsWorld.

So, sharing songs among household members will be much easier -- you won't have to keep track of which Macs or PCs you "authorized", and it should also make using other devices easier as well.

"As long as you're using a device can play back AAC -- there is still that issue, but a lot of devices can," Greengart noted.

"AAC is not a proprietary format, and if it's DRM-free, you should be able to fairly easily convert to MP3 if you needed to," he added.

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