Apple's Macworld News: Movie Rentals and a Super-Skinny Laptop (Updated)
(I've revised yesterday's post with some extra details gathered since I wrote it.)
SAN FRANCISCO--Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled a way to back up computers without wires, new software that lets an iPhone and an iPod touch find themselves, iTunes movie rentals you can download without using a computer, and a laptop that fits in an interoffice manila envelope.
The tiny, ridiculously thin MacBook Air got the loudest applause, but the movie rentals have to rank as the more important news. By both taking the computer out of the video-download equation and making rented downloads iPod-compatible, Apple's new iTunes offerings could fix two of the biggest sources of pain in online movie viewing.
New releases will rent for $3.99 each, while back-catalog releases will cost $2.99--matching prices as at Amazon's Unbox video store. Jobs--who said Apple's earlier movie-download sales efforts, with 7 million titles sold to date, "did not meet our expectations"--told attendees at the Moscone Convention Center here that iTunes now stocks 1,000 rental titles. It also stocks "over 100" high-definition movies, which rent for a dollar more.
These releases come from all of the major studios, not the minority who had participated in iTunes movie sales before. (The big record labels, however, still seem to be stiffing iTunes when it comes to offering their music without "digital rights management" restrictions--as they already do on Amazon's MP3 store; Jobs didn't even mention Apple's iTunes Plus no-"DRM" downloads during the hour-and-a-half keynote.)
Back to movies: In two weeks, Jobs said viewers will be able to rent movies directly through Apple's Apple TV media receiver, courtesy of an upcoming, free software update. Apple also just knocked $70 off the price of the two Apple TV models available: a unit with a 40-gigabyte hard drive now sells for $229, and a 160-gig unit now costs $329. As before, the Apple TV also serves as an extension of your computer's media library, providing easy access to your digital music, photos and videos. (But it seems that it still can't do Web radio, which just looks silly at this point.)
Those prices compare favorably to the HD-movie media the electronics industry all but anointed at last week's Consumer Electronics Show: Blu-Ray disc players start at more like $399.
Apple is not the first to offer no-computer-required movie rentals; Microsoft's Xbox Live has provided that feature since late 2006. But Xbox rentals can't be viewed on an iPod or an iPhone. Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg dismissed the odds of any video service that won't work with Apple's iconic media players: "If it doesn't work on the iPod, it might as well not exist."
On the other hand, that same problem applies to the iTunes Store's HD rentals. As Apple's terms of service spell out, you can't take an HD rental off the Apple TV: You can't transfer it to a computer, even if the machine has an HD-capable display, nor can you put a lower-resolution copy of it on an iPod or iPhone for viewing on the go.
The iPhone and the iPod touch both had significant updates showcased during the Jobs keynote. A new, free software release [QuickTime video] for the iPhone lets its Google mapping software find itself by detecting nearby cellular or wireless signals; the latter feature relies on a nationwide network of WiFi hot spots compiled by Boston-based Skyhook Wireless. iPhone users can also rearrange the icons on the phone's home screen (a giggle-inducing process during which every icon wiggles to indicate its adjustability), send text messages to multiple people at once (the lack of that was one of the weirder omissions on the original iPhone) and save "Web clippings" that capture just a part of a favorite Web page.
If only Apple would also put copy and paste commands on the iPhone too! But I digress...
Users of the iPod touch can also get this new self-locating ability (limited to WiFi signals, because the Touch doesn't include a cell phone) and mail, note-taking and stock and weather look-up programs, but that update will cost them $19.99. (That last bit momentarily quieted the crowd.)
Although the MacBook Air had been rumored for months, this little laptop still got the loudest cheers when Jobs took it out off an envelope that had been sitting on the podium the whole time. Apple says this $1,799 machine will run for five hours on a charge and includes a standard-sized, backlit keyboard like those on its MacBook Pro machines and a 13.3-inch screen as big as the display on its MacBook laptops, but weighs only 3 pounds and measures just .16 inches "thick" at its thinnest point (or three pennies stacked on top of one another), .76 inches at its fattest.
"It's the world's thinnest notebook," Jobs declared.
It may also be the coolest--in the sense of "not hot." A display unit on the show floor barely felt lukewarm at the end of yesterday, even right at the point where its MagSafe power adapter connected (usually, the toastiest spot on any laptop). It also includes the usual extras on Apple's computers: an iSight Webcam, WiFi and Bluetooth.
The tradeoff for that skinniness is that the MacBook Air doesn't include any sort of CD or DVD drive. Apple will sell an external CD/DVD burner for $99, but Jobs predicted that "we don't think most users are going to miss the optical drive." He said iTunes downloads can provide all the movies and music you want, while a new "Remote Disc" will allow a MacBook Air to borrow the CD/DVD drive of a nearby computer when you need to install software off a disc.
The MacBook Air also includes only one USB port and leaves out the usual Ethernet port for wired networking (a $29 adapter plugs into that single USB jack). And its battery is sealed inside the case; replacing it will cost you $130 and a trip to an Apple Store.
The Time Capsule device that led off Jobs' keynote takes the Time Machine automatic-backup feature of Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system and does away with the need to have a hard drive plugged into a computer. Instead, Time Capsule--a $299 box with a 500-gigabyte hard drive--includes a complete wireless access point, allowing any Mac on that wireless network to save a copy of your files to Time Capsule on the fly.
Jobs, wearing his usual black turtleneck and unbelted jeans, also threw out some numbers as evidence of Apple's "extraordinary" 2007. He said that the company has sold
500,000 5 million copies of Leopard since its release in late October, and that 19 percent of Macs had already been upgraded to the new operating system. He said that 4 million iPhones had been sold, giving that device almost 20 percent of the smartphone market in the third quarter of last year according to data from Gartner Research. That made the iPhone the second most-popular smartphone; Research In Motion's Blackberry let the category with a 39 percent share, and Palm was the third biggest vendor with 9.8 percent share.
And Jobs revealed that Apple sold its 4 billionth (!) song on iTunes last week.
Jobs did not mention anything about Mac market share, although recent figures suggest he'd have plenty to brag about there as well. There was also no news about new consumer-oriented Macs or Apple's consumer-oriented software.
And the keynote (which singer-songwriter Randy Newman closed out with a two-song set in which he admitted that "I always root against corporations, just because that's how I am--but not this one") didn't feature the magic phrase "And one more thing..." which Jobs has often thrown out to introduce a special surprise at the end of a Macworld keynote.
I don't think anybody minded much this time.
So what do you think? Are you ready to break out a credit card for some iTunes rentals or a MacBook Air? The comments are yours...
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