MACWORLD - Apple opens a crate of new products

Apple Computer has sledgehammered a Crater Lake-sized hole in the digital media niche, introducing a series of multimedia apps and notebooks capable of exploiting them.

A broad selection of new software--including Apple's own browser--and a pair of new PowerBooks, plus a commitment to emerging networking standards highlighted the typically lively opening keynote by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at Macworld Conference and Expo.

Software Surprises

The biggest surprise was the release of a presentation application that is more full-featured than Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint and is able to import and export PowerPoint files. Apple will sell the program, named Keynote, for only $99, and distributed it free to today's keynote attendees.

Keynote's most significant features involve its graphics capabilities. Apple includes more than 100 photo-quality graphics with the tool. It will also import PNG, TIFF, and JPEG graphics. Included are 12 "themes"--graphical styles of fonts and backgrounds to add to presentations. Also, Keynote supports 3D transitions such as a rotating cube, using OS X 10.2's Quartz graphics rendering capabilities.

If there was an underlying theme to the keynote presentation, it was integration among Apple's applications. Many of the Keynote application's themes are compatible with Apple's other programs, including ITunes, IMovie, IDVD, and IPhoto. Those four have now been packaged together as the $49 ILife suite, and their updated versions feature tighter integration. Customers can download all ILife updates free of charge, except for IDVD.

Rivaling Redmond

A subtle, unmentioned theme of the show is Apple's independence from Microsoft. Several years ago at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates joined Jobs on stage, unveiling updates of Office and Internet Explorer for the Mac. His appearance was seen as reviving a flagging Apple.

Today, Jobs publicly praised Microsoft for extending its discount on Office for Mac through April 7 for customers who purchase new Macs. And if imitation is the truest form of flattery, he surely poured it on by repeatedly saying, "We want to do for the digital lifestyle what Microsoft did for productivity."

Nevertheless, both Keynote and the browser Apple introduced at the show replace Microsoft products that Mac users have been using.

The new browser, called Safari, is downloadable now free of charge from Apple. It is built on the open-source KHTML rendering engine. Apple made some improvements that the company promises to release to the open-source community today. Jobs claimed Safari rendered HTML pages three times faster than Internet Explorer and completed JavaScript tasks twice as fast.

Two New PowerBooks

The big roars at this year's keynote came for Apple's hardware announcement, which was almost totally contrary to preconference speculation. Most rumor sites were betting on a personal lifestyle device similar to the IPod but capable of displaying movies, or an Apple tablet. (Aficionados suggest staying tuned--most Apple rumors aren't without some basis in reality.)

Even analysts commenting before the show suggested no new hardware would be unveiled, because the word circulating was that Apple had too much inventory of existing products. They were wrong.

Apple introduced two new PowerBooks, one with a 17-inch screen and one with a 12-inch one. Both PowerBooks are housed in anodized aluminum.

The 17-inch PowerBook's screen has 1440 by 900 resolution and a 16:10 wide-screen aspect ratio. It has built-in Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting to cell phones, headsets, and other Bluetooth devices; a PC Card slot; 54-megabits-per-second 802.11g wireless networking support; FireWire 800 and FireWire 400; and two USB ports--yet it is only 1 inch thick and weighs only 6.8 pounds. It runs on a 1-GHz PowerPC G4 processor and has a 60GB hard drive, as well as a SuperDrive that can burn DVDs. The unit is due to ship in February with a list price of US$3299.

The second model, Apple's smallest notebook ever, weighs in at 4.6 pounds and is just over an inch thick when closed. It also has built-in Bluetooth, but wireless networking requires an additional card. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 uses an 867-MHz PowerPC G4 processor, supports NVidia graphics, and has a slot-loading combo drive. Its screen offers 1024 by 768 resolution.

Fast Connectivity, Too

Throughout his keynote, Jobs played the audience for maximum effect, first reviewing the status of existing products, such as Jaguar, Apple stores, and company revenues. He then introduced the updated ILife applications and Keynote. As the scheduled end of the speech drew near, it appeared he would not have time to introduce any new hardware. He then reached a crescendo with the news of Airport Extreme and the two notebooks.

The one thing preshow prognosticators got right was Apple's networking announcements. Apple announced 54-mbps 802.11g wireless connectivity, which Apple calls Airport Extreme, and FireWire 800.

The new Airport Extreme base station costs $199--it's $100 less than the previous version and three times as fast. Both the card and base station are backward-compatible with equipment running the slower 802.11b standard.

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Yvonne L. Lee

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