Summary: Software, MacBook Pro updates star in final Apple keynote

In what the company has said will be its last Macworld Expo keynote ever, Apple on Tuesday announced updates to its iLife and iWork suites while unveiling a 17-inch MacBook Pro that now mirrors the unibody design of the rest of Apple’s laptop line.

Tuesday’s keynote was delivered by Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, instead of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Apple announced last month that Jobs would not deliver this year’s keynote and that the company would not attend future Macworld Expos. Whether it was Jobs’ absence from the keynote stage or Apple’s ambivalence about the annual Mac trade event, this year’s keynote lacked a major product introduction like the 2008 unveiling of the ultra-thin MacBook Air laptop or the iPhone’s memorable debut in 2007.

Instead, Schiller focused largely on updating existing products. His 98-minute keynote led off with iLife ’09, the latest version of Apple’s suite of digital lifestyle applications.

Highlighting the changes to the iPhoto photo management and editing application are Faces and Places tools for organizing photos around people and locations, respectively. The Faces feature uses facial-recognition technology to identify the faces of people in the photos you take. iPhoto ’09 also adds integration with the Facebook and Flickr social networking sites.

iLife ’09 also includes updates to iMovie, which adds an expanded timeline view for advanced users as well as automatic video stabilization, and GarageBand, which focuses on video tutorials.

Get more details on the iLife ’09 update

While iLife ’09 won’t ship until the end of the month, the newly updated iWork suite of productivity applications is available now. All three components—the Keynote presentation application, the Pages writing and page-layout offering, and the Numbers spreadsheet tool—get new features.

Apple also launched a new service, iWork.com, that lets users share and collaborate with documents online. The service is integrated into iWork ’09 as a button in the toolbar of each application. iWork.com launched Tuesday a public beta.

Get more details on the iWork ’09 update

Both iLife and iWork sell for $79, with Family Packs of each suite available for $99. Apple is also bundling the two suites with Leopard and selling them as part of a $169 Mac Box Set. The bundle will be available in late January when iLife ships.

In hardware news, Schiller unveiled a new 17-inch MacBook Pro model that replicates the unibody enclosure introduced to the rest of the laptop line in October. The unibody enclosure features a number of environmental improvements that Schiller touted during his keynote.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro features a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of memory, 320GB of storage, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M and GeForce 9600MT graphics. The system costs $2,799 and will ship by the end of January.

The new MacBook Pro introduces a new kind of battery—one that isn’t removable. Instead of the standard cylindrical AA cells that most batteries utilize, the Macbook Pro’s battery uses custom-shaped cells. Apple says it should have three more hours of battery life than the MacBook Pro model it replaces.

Get more details on the new 17-inch MacBook Pro

Apple also announced changes to the iTunes Store, highlighted by the news that music tracks will now be free of digital-rights management restrictions. In addition, Apple unveiled variable pricing for music downloads, with prices ranging from 69 cents to $1.29 per download. In addition, mobile users can now access the iTunes Store over 3G networks; previously the mobile iTunes Store had only been available through Wi-Fi.

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