WWDC: New MacBooks, Snow Leopard, iPhone 3GS, oh my!

Apple's WWDC keynote saw a host of new products and info; here's a quick review of the high points, culled from some trusty live-keynoting services from MacRumors, MacWorld, and Endgadget.

The keynote with a swipe at MS, with John Hodgman's PC character begging for fresh ideas. It began with a fun graph of OS X's exponential growth -- and that includes the iPhone, of course, because it runs OS X. The meat of the keynote started with Macs, though -- and if these things run in order of increasing excitement, then that's quite a sign of where computers fall into the hierarchy these days.

New improved laptops

Even so, they're enthusiastic about notebooks -- that's what most new Mac users choose -- and introduced a new 15" Macbook Pro. Improved battery life was emphasized: 7 hours claimed, with over five years (1,000 charges) of use possible before performance degradation started in. There's also a new, improved display and a built-in SD slot, because people like fiddling with little memory cards better than they life fiddling with USB cables, I guess. Oh, and, hey, 3 GHz chip, 8 GB of RAM, 500 GB hard drive -- personally, I would have showcased that before the SD slot, but I am not Apple marketing. And it starts cheaper, at $1,699 (though we'll have to fiddle with the now-down Apple Store before we learn just what the specs are at that intro price). 17" model has been boosted too, and both are available today.

But wait! 13" Unibody MacBooks got similar boosts, backlit keyboard, improved battery ... and a promotion in name to MacBook Pro as well, and a starting price of $1,199 (less than what I paid for my white plastic Macbook less than a year ago, cue tiny Mac nerd violin for the passage of time.) This leaves, I think, the plastic MacBook as the sole member of the MacBook line, which I guess makes the segmentation clearer. As was noted, this computer got a unheralded spec boost this month.

The Air also got an upgrade -- and, perhaps more intriguingly, a downgrade in price. The entry-level Air now checks in at $1,499 -- not netbook cheap to be sure, but perhaps more enticing for someone balancing specs and form factor (the Air currently tops out at a 2.13 GHz chip).


From notebooks our team segued to OS X, and Schiller gave the stage to Bertrand Serlet. His presentation began with some smack-talk about Vista and Windows 7, before announcing that Exchange support will be built into Snow Leopard. This is both (a) not news (if it hadn't been announced officially, it's been rumored for some time) and (b) not exactly jibing with the "Microsoft is dying" meme, but it's still nice.

Snow Leopard was billed as having 90 percent of its core components "refined"; the Finder is finally Cocoa, for instance. Despite the fact that this update has always been billed as an under-the-hood improvement, there are some UI tweaks -- Expose built right into the Dock, for instance, as you can click and hold an application icon to highlight its windows, Expose style. (I don't even use Expose and I can tell you that I will make heavy use of that feature.) Preview is faster; Mail is faster; Safari 4 is out today, for the last three OS Xes, though it gets extra features in Snow Leopard.

Included in those features is access to new improved Quicktime. As we've seen in screenshots from the beta, the new emphasis is on the content, rather than the Quicktime app. You can use Quicktime to trim and share video video via YouTube, MobileMe, or iTunes. (I'm assuming the QuickTime Pro distinction is don?) Safari on Snow Leopard also sees a radical improvement in JavaScript performance. (Could it woo me back from Firefox? Hmm, future blog post idea...) The Finder will also see improvements: Stacks allow more drilling-down; you can magnify thumbnails on the fly and skip through multi-page documents right in the Finder. Expose now allows you to work within documents while Expose is still active.

After this dog and pony show of new features, though, came the nutritious vegetables (was that metaphor terribly mixed?) of foundation improvements. In essence, Bertrand soft of admitted that the software hasn't kept up with the improvements to the hardware, what with universally 64-bit multicore chips and a the increased RAM capacities that come with them. Now, under Snow Leopard, all "major" system apps run in 64-bit mode.

Then there's there's Grand Central Station, an OS component that fields out processing to the various cores and chips inside your Mac. It also controls the number of threads spawned -- Mail, for instance, uses the same number of threads when idle that it does when active under Leopard, but under Snow Leopard will use fewer threads when it isn't busy.

Oh, yeah, and remember that thing about Exchange? Yeah, that's now built into the suspects you'd suspect: iCal, Address Book, and Mail. (Is this the death knell for Entourage?) Meeting invitations appear in your in-box; you can accept it in Mail or open it in iCal.

So, how much will all this cost you? Well, good news if you're a long-suffering always-OS-upgrading type: it will only be a $29 upgrade from Leopard. Oh, and bad news if you're clinging to that old G4 or G5: because Snow Leopard so focused on taking advantage of the last few years of hardware improvements, it's only available for Intel Macs (though it will work on all Intel Macs). Sadly for everyone (including me!) who found themselves getting unexpectedly excited during that litany, it won't be ready until September.

iPhone 3.0, iPhone 3GS

And that's pretty much it, right? Oh, wait, there's some kind of cell phone thingie Apple's selling now, let's hear about that. This segment began with some numbers fluffery (50,000 apps in the store! 1,000,000 SDK downloads! 40,000,000 iPhones and iPod Touches sold! 1,000,000,000 apps downloaded! Etc.!), and then a short film with teary-eyed developers talking about how awesome the platform is to build for, and how much money they're making and how awesome that is. (I tease, but this conference is for developers after all, so I suppose they need some ego boosting.)

Then we moved on to iPhone OS 3.0, whose features, including the much heralded copy and paste, were trotted out again (remember, there was a previous event that covered this). Some anxious laughter came when MMS was announced for AT&T "at the end of the summer." Spotlight for the iPhone will be right there on the home page. You'll now also be able to rent and purchase movies right from the phone.

Perhaps of more interest to the very geeky is tethering: the ability to share the iPhone's 3G connection with your computer. We all know that this has been technically possible for years, but now it's official, and it's available based on carrier support -- and guess which carrier isn't on the list? Ha ha, AT&T, obviously! The mostly American audience was not pleased, not pleased even a little. That was the second time during the keynote at which Apple conspicuously failed to cover for AT&T lagging behind, feature-wise -- when is that exclusive contract going to end, hmm?

In better news, iPhone's Safari is also seeing some of that improved JavaScript performance (triple speed, in benchmarks) and autofill of usernames and passwords (if you're used to this from your desktop browser, it can be quite frustrating missing it on mobile Safari). There's also support for HTML 5, which is being whispered about as a way to offer rich Internet apps without the need for a plug-in like Flash or Silverlight -- Apple's reasons for supporting this should be obvious.

MobileMe customers will be able to obsessively track their iPhones with something called "Find My iPhone," which shows where your phone is on a map, and, if you've lost it in your house, will send a message telling it to make a little chirp, even if it's been set to vibrate. You can also send it a remote wipe command, and can restore it later from backup.

There was more coverage of the stuff we already knew would be in the next iPhone OS version: push notifications, embedded Google Maps, turn-by-turn direction apps (Tom-Tom demoed one that looked particularly impressive), in-app purchasable content (though you'll only be able to use that in paid apps, apparently). Some iPhone 3.0 apps were shown, including impressive medical apps that allowed you to monitor a patient's vital signs remotely.

iPhone 3.0 will be available to the world in 11 days, on June 19th -- free for all current iPhone users, $9.99 for iPod Touch users. Developers get the Gold Master seed today, to double-check their apps before the go-live date.

And for hardware? Yes, the iPhone 3GS is quite real, my friends. The outside looks basically like the current model, but the inside is totally revamped -- processing speed is much faster, and it works with 7.2 Mbps HSDPA. It also has a 3 megapixel autofocus camera (Schiller noted slyly that Flickr has more pics taken by iPhones than any other phone). You can just tap on the screen to focus the camera, which is pretty slick -- and, as rumored, it works as a video camera as well -- 30 frames per second VGA. You can edit videos right on the phone, and share it via YouTube, Mobile Me, MMS, or e-mail.

There are also some neat voice command capabilities -- you can just say "call John Smith" to call him, ask what song is playing currently, ask to play "more songs like this" (I'm guessing this works with the Genius). Voice control seems to be 3GS-specific, which is too bad -- after all, Google's iPhone app showed that you can do some voice control with the current hardware. And yes, that rumored compass is there too. You can also encrypt data, which is something businesses have been asking for.

As with the notebooks, there are promises of improved battery life: 10 hours of video, 30 hours of audio, 5 hours of 3G talk, 9 hours of Internet surfing. It ships on June 19th with iPhone 3.0 at $199 for 16 GB of storage and $299 for 32 GB, in the US. And the existing iPhone 3G will still be available for $99 (THERE IS YOUR $99 IPHONE O MANY ANALYSTS WHO HAVE DEMANDED IT! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?).

And that was it. No "one more thing", but still pretty satisfying, no? Of course, there are those who will never be satisfied. Feel free to air your grievances or cult-like rapturous ravings in the comments!

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