The big news leading up to this year's Macworld was obviously Steve Job's mysterious hormonal imbalance and his decision to not give the keynote for the first time since 1997. Amid palatable pressure and expectation, Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller filled some big shoes this morning, delivering a solid keynote that highlighted an impressive but not groundbreaking array of new products.
For a company known for shelling out surprises at these affairs, the keynote was noticeably tamed down - except, of course, for a closing guest performance by Tony Bennett. The point was to hanker back to Apple's roots as a company that's all about lifestyle passions (like music). And when Mr. Bennett sang "The Best is Yet to Come" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," (a bit dissonant at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday but nonetheless moving), the Twittering, blogging, and iPhone-typing quieted for a bit inside Moscone West and everyone just listened.
Here's what else was announced:
1. Improved iLife
Two pretty impressive new features: Faces and Places. Faces uses something called "Face Detection" to allow you to detect and essentially tag (like Facebook) photos within your iPhoto library. "Face Recognition" uses advanced technology to automatically recognize people within your photos and then organize them under people's names. It's pretty cool - though if your friend Mary suddenly lost 20 lbs, or decided to wear a ghost mask for Halloween, I'm not sure how it would work out.
Places uses GPS geotargeting to recognize the location where the photo was taken. You can then organize all of your photos under Place. So if you took 50 photos around Paris, Places could geotarget each of those photos with a pin and give you a nice overlay of where you were (it uses Google Maps technology, so you can see street views as well).
They're rolling out an updated version of iMovie that includes animated travel maps, video stabilization (so, for example, if you wanted to capture that gazelle from your bumpy African safari ride - the keynote demo - the movie would be stabilized), and tons of other cool features.
Garage Band 09
The most groundbreaking enhancement to this application is the "Learn to Play" feature. Your lessons? Video demos by the likes of John Fogerty, Sting, Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones alongside string and keyboard diagrams.
2. iWork 09
General improvements in Keynote (better moves, text and object transitions), and the ability to control your slides remotely from an iPhone. Pretty cool.
iWork.com: They announced the beta version of iWork.com, which is essentially a souped-up Google Docs, and compatible with iWork. If it works out, the days of emailing large document files might be over.
3. New 17" MacBook Pro
This one was an expected announcement. The biggest improvement here is the new battery system, which allows for 8 hours on a single charge, a 60% increase in battery life. Downside is you can't remove the battery.
4. No More DRM on iTunes
This one will make a lot of music lovers happy. Beginning at the end of this month, iTunes + will make 8 million of its 10 million songs DRM-free, meaning you can copy songs you buy onto as many machines as you like. By the end of this quarter, they'll free up the other 2 million.