Apple execs on PowerBooks, iApplications

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At a packed keynote hall on Tuesday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company's largest and smallest PowerBook computer systems. Apple also showed the assembled crowd versions of their new iApps and three brand new applications, Safari, Final Cut Express and Keynote.

With its laser-etched keyboard, the 17-inch PowerBook features all of the newest and greatest technologies including 802.11g wireless networking, Bluetooth, FireWire 800 and a slightly redesigned casing. Apple is confident that by continuing to push the envelope in the notebook market they will emerge the leader.

With power and features of notebooks rapidly approaching those of desktop computer systems, the company feels more and more people will opt for a notebook and not feel they are compromising, while gaining all the flexibility that notebook computing has to offer.

"It's not going to be too far in the future where notebooks outsell desktops because you have the best of both worlds," Greg Joswiak, Apple's senior director of hardware product marketing, told MacCentral. "Some customers don't care about mobility and they will have the desktops, but other customers do care about mobility. For more and more customers these PowerBooks represent no compromise."

Equipped with AirPort Extreme, the new 802.11g wireless networking is backward compatible with the 802.11b technology that Apple helped introduce to consumers a couple of years ago with its AirPort Base Station. The compatibility means that it won't be necessary for people with older 802.11b networks to purchase new hardware to communicate with 802.11g devices. Of course, not doing so will also mean that you will not be able to take advantage of increased speed of the 802.11g networks.

One area that Apple's Titanium notebooks fell down over its predecessors was with AirPort reception. More often than not, an iBook could easily connect to an AirPort network that a Titanium notebook had no chance of even seeing.

"AirPort reception was very important to us and we learned our lesson -- the best reception we can get is bringing the antennas back up into the display," said Joswiak. "The antennas are covered by polycarbonate ABS, which is totally transparent to radio signals. iBook is the gold standard and that's what our current range tests show that these have."

The PowerBook also features FireWire 800, doubling the speed of its predecessor, which has become a standard on many digital video camcorders in recent years. Some companies have announced support for FireWire 800 at Macworld Expo with new FireWire hard drives being released in the first part of 2003.

The hinge on the new PowerBooks is reminiscent of the iBook, allowing more fluid movement when opening and closing the notebook. The PowerBooks also do away with the ports on the back of the computer, opting instead to put them on the sides.

The 12-inch PowerBook is actually smaller than its 12-inch iBook cousin, but Apple said this computer is definitely a notebook for the power user. The company didn't put a G4 processor in the iBook and bring it along because the two systems are targeted to completely different audiences.

"The iBook was built for the education and consumer market, not a pro market," said Joswiak. "The iBook was never about making a pro product and taking stuff out of it to make it cheap -- it was about building a product from the ground up for the consumer and education customers."

Apple also updated its iApplications yesterday, announcing new versions of iDVD, iMovie and iPhoto, as well as a bundled suite that includes iTunes. The suite, dubbed iLife, will be available January 25 for US$49.

In addition to new features in each application, the updated iApps bring a new level of integration to Apple's consumer level products. Music from iTunes libraries are easily accessible from iMovie without ever opening a second application. This, according to Apple, allows many of the company's older systems to run the suite of applications seamlessly.

"With this new level of integration, you don't need to open multiple applications," said Apple's Peter Lowe. "The applications use the resources of the system more efficiently than previous versions where you needed to have multiple applications open. We've added lots of new capabilities, but actually made the interface even simpler."

In addition to the iApp updates, Apple released three new applications: Final Cut Express, Safari and Keynote. Final Cut Express is targeted to users that need more capabilities in movie editing than is currently offered with iMovie, but don't need all of the advanced features of Final Cut Pro, Apple's professional level editing package.

Keynote, which is compatible with Microsoft's PowerPoint included in the Office suite, is a presentation package that Jobs said was built specifically for him. Keynote follows Apple's other recent applications in its ease of use, while maintaining professional level features.

The other application Apple released was Safari, its own Web browser, not the first in the company's history, but certainly better than their previous efforts. Safari continues Apple's open source, open standards approach to software development that the company started with Mac OS X (Darwin), Rendezvous, MPEG-4 in QuickTime and other projects.

By releasing their Web browser, Apple has entered into a space currently held by third party developers that make products such as Netscape, OmniWeb, Chimera, Mozilla and most notably Internet Explorer from Microsoft. IE has been the default Web browser on Mac OS X since it was first released and Keynote directly competes with PowerPoint.

But Apple says the release of these applications isn't about taking a shot at its developers, it's about furthering the platform for customers and developers.

"What we needed to do was deliver a really high performance browser on the platform," said Brian Croll, Apple's senior director software, Worldwide Product Marketing. "We just needed to up the whole experience of the browser on the Mac -- clearly we need to look after the platform. Developers feel that the stronger the platform is, the more people will invest in the Mac -- ultimately that's going to help them."

This story, "Apple execs on PowerBooks, iApplications" was originally published by PCWorld.

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