Macworld Expo Best of Show 2009
Every January, Macworld's editors scour the show floor at Macworld Expo to find the hottest products making their debut at the trade show. This year, we chose nine products worthy of receiving a Macworld Best of Show award.
Apple iPhoto '09
Of all the applications included with the upcoming iLife '09 multimedia suite, the updated iPhoto '09 looks the strongest.
Building on its predecessor, which introduced a feature called Events that let you organize photos around specific events, iPhoto '09 introduces Faces. The software uses face-detection and facial-recognition technology to automatically detect the faces of people in the pictures you take and determine which photos include the same faces. You can assign a name to a particular face, and iPhoto lets you quickly view all photos that include that person (or all photos including one or more of a group of people; for example, the members of your family).
Similarly, Places gives iPhoto users a new way to organize photos. The feature uses geotagging--GPS-based location-finding technology embedded in many newer digital cameras, as well as the iPhone--to determine locations; but anyone can manually add locations using iPhoto's database of place names for common vacation and travel spots. You can then browse photos by location using a map with pins showing where your photos are located.
iPhoto also adds integration with Facebook and Flickr, two popular social networking Web sites; includes new slideshow themes and the ability to export slideshows as videos for iTunes, iPods, or iPhones; and uses face detection technology to position faces in the middle of the screen during slideshows.
iPhoto '09 looks like reason enough to upgrade to the latest version of iLife.
[Available at the end of January as part of iLife '09, US$79; free on new Macs.]
Cisco WebEx Meeting Center
Using Cisco's WebEx technology, businesses can share documents, make presentations, and collaborate with employees--or customers--around the world. Best of all, it works on computers running OS X, Windows, Unix, or Linux. Now iPhone 3G users can join in as well, thanks to Cisco's free WebEx Meeting Center app.
With it, you can start or join a scheduled WebEx meeting, either by picking it from your Meetings lists or by clicking on a special iPhone link in a Mail message. You can also see who's participating in a meeting, pass the torch to another presenter, and start a text chat with either an individual or with the entire meeting group.
Once you choose to join a meeting, you'll receive a phone call on your iPhone. Answer the call to connect to the audio portion of the teleconference, then switch to your iPhone's home screen and tap on the WebEx icon to join the presentation. It only works with a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, so if you're stuck in EDGE country, you'll need to find a computer instead. Still, the WebEx app lends some serious business cred to the iPhone.
Cultured Code Things for Mac 1.0
Everyone has things to do, and that's why there's Things, a new task management program from Cultured Code. This version, for the Mac desktop, is designed to sync with the recently released iPhone app.
Things lets you focus on your tasks in any way you want: Today, for stuff you need to do, well, today; Next, for all upcoming items; Scheduled, for repeating items or just stuff you want to do later; Someday, for interesting items you want to consider for the future; and Projects for items that have more than one thing you need to do to complete them. But you can choose to see just the things you need to do Today. A handy Inbox lets you just add items without having to figure out what to do with them yet.
You can mark your items with Tags to classify your tasks for work or home, high or low priority, or just easy or hard. You can even include notes, links to online files or Web sites, or email messages. You can even search Things have a Dock badge alert you to how many tasks you have.
And you can sync everything with iCal or with an iPhone using Things for iPhone.
[$50; five-user family pack, $75.]
Ecamm Network BT-1 Bluetooth Web Cam
Although all MacBooks and iMacs have built-in iSight Web cameras, they're in a fixed position, and Apple doesn't sell standalone iSights anymore. We like the Ecamm BT-1 Wireless Webcam because it expands the capabilities of the Webcam.
The BT-1 isn't tethered to your computer--it's equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology that lets you place it up to 30 feet away from your Mac. It shoots H.264 video at 640-by-480-pixel resolution, and records stereo AAC audio at 48 KHz. Thanks to its mini flexible tripod, you have the freedom to adjust the position, pan, and tilt. It's also mountable on any standard camera tripod to give you further flexibility with your filming--perfect for shooting embarrassing videos of yourself dancing to Romanian pop music. It works with iChat, Skype, and many other programs, and has an internal battery that you can charge using a USB cable.
[Available in late Q1 2009 for $150.]
FileMaker Pro 10
When you've been around for as long as the Mac, it's hard to keep things fresh. But FileMaker looks to have succeeded with the latest version of its flagship database application. FileMaker Pro 10 offers an eye-catching interface overhaul--the company says it's the biggest change in FileMaker's interface in more than a decade. And while the new interface should make it easier for end users to work with the application, there are other interesting changes with this new version--a Saved Finds feature, dynamic reporting, and script triggers that enhance workflow. With an enhanced QuickStart screen and a new resource center with video tutorials, it's easier to get started using FileMaker than ever before.
[FileMaker Pro 10, $299; Advanced, $499; Server, $999; Server Advanced, $2,999.]
HP MediaSmart Server
HP's MediaSmart Server is a server for the home. The idea is that it gives you one place to store all your family's shared libraries of photos, music, and video, and provide a backup drive for every computer in the house.
It looks like a mini-tower. It's got four drive bays. You can buy it with one or two of those bays full, for 750GB or 1.5TB of storage. You can plug any SATA drive into the remaining bays if you need more storage.
The MediaSmart Server isn't new, but the latest version adds improved Mac compatibility. For one thing, it now works as an iTunes Server. You can copy your iTunes libraries to it, then access those combined libraries from any computer in the house. (Unfortunately, the media collection tool, which can go out and find all those libraries and do the copying on its own, only works with Windows PCs for now.)
The MediaSmart Server can also work as a centralized backup drive for everyone on the network. The key addition there: Unlike other network-attachable drives, it's compatible with Time Machine.
The HP MediaSmart Server is specifically designed for homes with a mix of Macs and Windows PCs. It requires a PC for the initial installation
All in all, it's a really promising solution for any home that has both Macs and Windows machines and no central place to store and protect the family's digital media assets.
[MediaSmart Server EX485 (750GB), $600; EX487 (1.5TB), $750.]
Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
Livescribe's Pulse Smartpen gives you the ability to record sound and synchronize the audio with your written notes, giving context to your handwriting. Wondering why you wrote something down (or even what you wrote)? Click on a piece of text and the audio will jump back to the exact moment in the recording when you wrote that word.
To take advantage of the text and audio features, you must use the Smartpen with Livescribe's dot paper; the tiny dots on the paper are used by the pen as points of reference for the audio. The dot paper notepad that comes with the pen has pre-printed controls on the bottom of each page that resemble something you'd see in GarageBand. These controls allow users to fast-forward, rewind, jump, pause, speed up, or slow down the audio. Livescribe sells various notebooks and journals with the dot paper, but you can also print your own pages for free on a color printer.
[1GB model, $149; 2GB model, $199; final Livescribe Desktop Mac software available on February 17.]
Marketcircle Daylite touch
We've seen a lot of iPhone apps in our time, but we haven't seen many as deep as Marketcirlce's forthcoming Daylite touch. A companion app for Marketcircle's Daylite desktop program, Daylite touch essentially lets you do all of the things you'd expect to do--book meetings, delegate tasks, track appointments, manage a calendar, and keep tabs on all your projects. The iPhone app syncs data with the desktop version of Daylite, but you can use it even when you're not connected to a network--perfect for road warriors. Marketcircle is still working out some last minute kinks with Daylite touch, so you'll have wait a bit longer to get your hands on it.
[Available in Q1 2009; pricing not announced.]
Sling Media SlingPlayer for iPhone
You may have heard of the Slingbox, a device that lets you watch your TV or DVR content on your Mac over the Internet. Well Sling Media has given Mac users a lot more to be happy about this week with a trio of announcements.
First is the SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, an iPhone app that lets Slingbox owners control their home DVRs and watch streaming content from their TVs. That means no more missing the big game when you're out of town, or having to worry about what video content you've loaded on your iPhone or iPod touch.
Second, Sling is adding the ability for Mac users to enjoy high definition streaming from the Slingbox Pro-HD--a capability previously limited to Windows users. Connect your DVR, satellite or cable box, or even your Apple TV and enjoy HD content on the go.
Lastly, Sling has made its sling.com Web-based player available to Mac users as well. Just fire up a Web browser, connect to your Slingbox hardware at home, and you can stream your favorite shows without installing any additional software.
[SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone available in Q1, pricing not announced.]