Expo Daily Round-Up: The Keynote

The buzz on the Macworld Expo floor Tuesday—and all over the Web, as well—was all-Apple, all the time. By now you’ve most likely pored over Macworld’s extensive coverage of all of the new products and services that Apple announced earlier today. If, however, you only have time for one good read, let me recommend Jason Snell’s comprehensive Hands on with the MacBook Air which adds some details you may have missed in other reports, such as the fact that the MacBook Air ships with two video adapters, one each for for VGA and DVI, and that an S-Video adapter is available for $19.

Speaking of other reports, the Web is rife with them. Some, such as those from Eric Bangeman at Ars Technica, Bill Chappell at NPR, and an unidentified reporter at the BBC are thorough, no-nonsense overviews of specs and capabilities. Others, however, prove yet again that nothing brings pundits out of the woodwork quite like a Macworld Expo Keynote.

Over at Infoworld, for example, James Niccolai expressed mild disappointment that the MacBook Air “wasn’t the ultraportable that pundits had predicted.” Fair enough, but Salon’s Farhad Manjoo referred to Apple’s announcements as “kind of a letdown.”

Minor disappointments, to be sure. In general, most show-goers and exhibitors with whom I spoke realized that Apple can’t pull an iPhone out of its hat every year. More than one was pleased to be introduced to the MacBook Air, seeing as how there were no Mac announcements whatsoever at last year’s keynote (much to the disappointment of some—remember?). In fact, to find a true nay-sayer, you’d need to go to PC Magazine, where Lance Ulanoff is of the opinion that ” Apple Simply Follows,” “certainly isn’t industry-leading,” and the “Apple TV 2.0 [is] a Hail Mary pass.” We disagree—but we’ll also point out that even a Hail Mary often leads to a touchdown. Just ask Doug Flutie.

For true enterprise-class crankiness, though, ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes leads the pack with his complaints about the $20 fee for adding Mail, Maps, Notes, Stocks, and Weather apps to the iPod touch. Oh, and if you have an opinion about the $20 fee, Engadget is conducting a poll.

Of more concern to some of the folks I spoke with was Tuesday’s drop in Apple’s stock price, perhaps fueled by reports of slipping iPod sales. Personally, I’m not too concerned about Apple’s dip, considering how the entire market took a beating on further bad U.S. economic news—and noting that one of the more-hammered companies was none other than Intel, with a 14 percent dive in after-hours trading, even though its profits were more than merely solid. Perhaps more telling on the big-board front, however, were the troubles faced by Apple’s movie-download competitors, Netflix and Blockbuster—the latter’s stock dove a full 16 percent.

Speaking of the iTunes movie rentals, it seems that all of L.A. was sitting up and taking notice. Over at The Hollywood Reporter, for example, Alex Woodson reported that “Steve Jobs’ eagerly anticipated Macworld keynote lived up to the hype.” Michelle Quinn of the Los Angeles Timeswas right on the mark, we believe, when she said that “Steve Jobs may have solved the two biggest stumbling blocks facing digital movie downloads: A lack of things to watch, and reluctance by consumers to fire up their computers to watch a film.”

Even outside of Southern California, opinions were generally positive about the iTunes movie rentals. Louis Hau at Forbesgave Jobs a back-handed compliment, saying that Jobs demonstrated “a level of flexibility that has been noticeably lacking in his prior dealings with media companies.” Over at the Associated Press, May Wong and Jordan Robertson referred to the “sizzling Macintosh product lineup,” and offered the opinion that “Apple Inc. is building on surging Macintosh sales and doubling its bet on delivering video to portable devices and televisions over the Internet.”

To wrap up this wrap-up of Keynote Day buzz, I need to toss props to Ellen Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle, who was one of the few journalists to comment on an Apple development that we all can agree is a positive step—the greening of the MacBook Air. Lee wrote that “In a nod to environmentalists, Jobs said the display is mercury-free, with no arsenic in the glass surface. The packaging also amounts to 50 percent less volume than previous MacBooks, he said.” Don’t be at all surprised if this degree of eco-sensitivity spreads throughout the Apple line.

And that’s Tuesday’s report from the Expo floor—as I warned you at the beginning, this was Apple’s day in the sun. Over the next three days, however, I’ll take a look at what companies other than Apple are introducing at the Expo—there is, after all, a lot of ingenuity outside of Cupertino, as well. Featured will be dueling prosumer photo printers from Epson and HP; new cameras from Canon and Casio, including a 60-frame-per-second unit ideal for sports photographers; the latest in both high-end and portable storage; software for the enterprise, the bedroom, and everywhere in between; plus a lot more—including my current nominee for Macworld Expo 2008’s Most Charming Product, the iLidz Head-Mounted iPhone/iTouch Personal Media Viewer—”So low-tech it’s high-tech.”

[Rik Myslewski has been writing about the Mac since 1989. He has been editor in chief of MacAddict (now Mac|Life), executive editor of MacUser and director of MacUser Labs, and executive producer of Macworld Live.]

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