The Editors’ Choice Awards (we affectionately call them the Eddys) recognize our favorite products released during the past year (from November 1, 2010 to November 1, 2011). It’s a task we take very seriously; starting with a list of over 130 candidates, we spend weeks discussing each product, debate its merits, and whether it fulfills our standards of quality, utility, innovation, value, and excellence.
The result of all this is the list presented here, the 23 best products of 2011. Take a look at the list, and you’ll find a set of products that’ll help you get things done. (For more visual versions of this list, take a look at our 2011 Macworld Editors’ Choice Awards: Hardware slideshow and 2011 Macworld Editors’ Choice Awards: Software slideshow.)
11-Inch MacBook Air
The MacBook Air has come a long way since its introduction in 2008. Once thought of as an underpowered and overpriced laptop, the MacBook Air has evolved into a machine that strikes the perfect blend of portability and processing power. The 11-inch MacBook Air ( ) is Apple’s smallest laptop, but it might have had the most impact on the company’s Mac lineup.
The 2011 11-inch MacBook Air features an Intel Core i5 processor that’s more than capable of handling every task, as well as a few heavy-duty ones. The key feature, however, is its implementation of Thunderbolt, a new high-speed technology for connecting peripherals. Thunderbolt allows you to use Thunderbolt displays, RAID arrays, and other devices with the MacBook Air. You can also use FireWire, USB 3.0, and eSATA devices if you have the proper adapter. Thunderbolt alleviates the USB 2.0 restriction on the MacBook Air, making it a much more appealing computer.
The 11-inch MacBook Air, when closed, is iPad-like in its size, but it feels like a full-sized laptop. It doesn’t feel cramped, thanks to its high-resolution display. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel like Apple made compromises in the quality and construction to achieve such a small size ($999 with 64GB flash storage, and $1199 with 128GB of flash storage).—ROMAN LOYOLA
AirTunes, Apple’s technology for wirelessly streaming iTunes audio from your computer to an AirPort Express, debuted back in 2004. It had a devoted following, but it wasn’t until Apple overhauled AirTunes in the fall of 2010, renamed it AirPlay and incorporated it into iTunes 10 and iOS 4.2, that the technology started catching on with a wider audience. That’s because instead of being limited to streaming audio from iTunes to an AirPort Express or Apple TV, AirPlay lets you stream from iTunes or any AirPlay-compatible app to any AirPlay-enabled device, which includes a growing number of speaker systems and AV receivers.
If you’ve got an Apple TV 2, you can now stream video to your big-screen TV as well, opening up a world of possibilities, including streaming movies from a movie app, photos and videos from iOS’s Photos app, and even audio and video from games. And with iOS 5, you can mirror the display of your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S on your TV. It’s been a long time coming, but it still feels like the future. We’re counting the days until our Macs get the same capabilities.—DAN FRAKES
For years, we’ve had the Big Three launcher utilities: LaunchBar ( ), Butler ( ), and Quicksilver ( ). All three let you launch apps, open files, and perform other Mac tasks with a few quick keystrokes. This year, a fourth launcher came into its own—and some of us like it best of all. Alfred ( ), from Running with Crayons, may not have all the bells and whistles those others do, but it’s way easier to use. As soon as you install it, Alfred (which recently came out of beta and version 1.0 is out) can find and launch any app or file on your system (assuming Spotlight has indexed it). And if you add the optional Powerpack ($18), it can do a whole lot more: show you lists of recent documents for specific apps, recall snippets from your clipboard, set global hotkeys for apps and files, and more.
Even better, Alfred is now extensible: Anyone who wants to can create and distribute extensions that run AppleScripts, shell scripts, Automator workflows, and custom file filters. There’s an ever-growing library of such extensions on the Alfred website, which do everything from converting currencies and checking your connection speed to posting updates on Twitter and Facebook. Here’s hoping that, as it gains in strength, Alfred never loses the basic simplicity that makes it great (free).—DAN MILLER
EOS Rebel T3i
There’s certainly no shortage of DSLR cameras, but it’s not always easy to find one that rises above the rest. But when it comes to the Canon EOS Rebel T3i ( ), there’s no denying that it’s at the top of its class. For one, it captures impressive images and videos, and scored the highest marks in image quality out of all the DSLRs we reviewed this year. Noteworthy features don’t stop there—the 18-megapixel camera boasts full HD video recording, wireless flash control, nine auto-focus points, 3.7 fps, the ability to set the maximum speed for Auto ISO, and more.
Beyond its image-taking capabilities, the Rebel T3i also sports a well-designed body, with an adjustable LCD monitor that you can swing out and into a variety of different positions. Image filter-lovers will love playing with the camera’s built-in Creative Filters mode that lets you add filters such as Fish-Eye Effect and Miniature Effect in the playback menu. This is far from a toy-camera, though; it’s a top-notch option whether you’re an entry-level photographer looking to purchase your first DSLR or an avid hobbyist wanting to make an upgrade. And it doesn’t hurt that the camera plays nice with Macs and Apple’s imaging software ($800 with 18 to 55 mm lens).—ALEXANDRA CHANG
There are a number of Mac utilities that offer a drop-down calendar in the menu bar; or that provide a quick look at your upcoming schedule; or that let you create new calendar events without having to open iCal. But Fantastical ( ) from Flexibits is unique in that it provides all these features and more in a beautifully designed package that for many people can completely replace a full-blown calendar program such as iCal ( ).
A click on its menu-bar date display shows you a real calendar, with all your upcoming events listed below; click an event in the list to view or edit its details. As with iCal in Lion—only Fantastical works better—you can create a new event by simply typing a natural-language description of the event: ‘Lunch with Janet Friday at Pasta Palace’. And by working with any calendar you’ve set up in Apple’s iCal, BusyMac’s BusyCal ( ), or Microsoft’s Entourage or Outlook ( ), as well as with MobileMe, iCloud, Google Calendar, and Yahoo Calendar accounts, Fantastical is as flexible as it is functional ($20).—DAN FRAKES
With all the buzz surrounding HTML 5 over the last couple of years, relatively little of it centers on how to actually create animated, interactive content to run on desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices. Hype ( ), a designer-friendly authoring tool created by two former Apple engineers, offers an abundance of tools in an easy-to-use iWork style interface that generates such content without coding.
Hype’s headline feature is its keyframe animation system. To animate an element, you select one or more of its properties, add start and stop keyframes to Hype’s timeline, and create different states at each point. Hype then creates the tween frames. Or you can use the program to record your activity on the canvas, and automatically generate the animation. You can also create classic rollover effects and behaviors and test them in multiple browsers.
Reading books on the iPad is nothing new. We’ve got iBooks, the Kindle app, and who-knows-how-many PDF readers. But one app shows you what reading on the iPad should be like. Inkling licenses textbooks from traditional publishers then adapts the content for the iPad. But those adaptations aren’t just replicas of the print original. Rather, the texts are completely revamped to take advantage of what the tablet can do. For example, there are no pages as such. Chapters are broken down into “cards,” which scroll continuously up and down the screen. Within those cards, static illustrations are augmented by interactive multimedia—full audio and video, of course, but also animated diagrams and rotating wireframes you can examine from every angle.
Version 2.0, which came out in August 2011, adds social tools: You can now share notes and annotations with classmates and others using the same text. Inkling has adapted more than fifty undergraduate and graduate textbooks so far, and that’s only the start: The company plans to apply its technology to cookbooks and other reference materials, too. The future of publishing on the iPad? It could well be.—DAN MILLER
In just four years, iOS has gone from running on a single Apple device to powering a whole line-up of hardware, and the most recent version is the most capable, full-featured offering yet. While plenty of virtual ink has been spilled on iOS 5 ( ), it’s worth repeating that this major release is what turns Apple’s mobile devices from “accessories” into fully functional computers in their own right.
Among the improvements iOS 5 brought us were a revamped notification system, which not only helped solve years of frustration, but also helped take away a key advantage of rivals like Android; iMessage, which seems poised to give cell carriers what for; and a whole host of features that free us from the tether of our USB cables: over the air software updates, Wi-Fi syncing, and improved controls for managing our media without the need to resort to a computer. And that’s before we even mention iOS 5’s integration with Apple’s free iCloud service.
With iOS 5, Apple shows it’s not resting on its laurels in the mobile market, but dedicated to continuing to bring new features and functionality to its devices and holding onto its place at the forefront of innovation.—DAN MOREN
At the time of its release, the iPad 2 ( ) had a daunting task ahead of it. It followed the original iPad, the “the most successful consumer product ever launched,” according to Steve Jobs. The iPad 2 also entered a tablet market with Android-based competitors that didn’t exist when the original iPad made its debut. Fortunately, the iPad 2 was able to continue the momentum set by the original iPad, and help Apple capture a vast majority of the tablet market.
With a new dual-core A5 processor and improved graphics, the iPad 2 is noticeably faster than its predecessor. A pair of new cameras allows iPad 2 users to make FaceTime calls, as well as use the iPad 2 to take photos and shoot 720p video. Apple also improved the support for HDTVs and HD video; with the proper adapter, the iPad 2 outputs HD video at resolutions up to 1080p, as well as Dolby Digital surround sound. All these new features in a device that’s actually thinner and lighter than the original.
Perhaps best of all, Apple didn’t change the prices for the iPad 2. That meant bad news for competitors, who are still trying to catch up the iPad. With the iPad 2, Apple reset the standard of excellence for tablets, and that’s good news for consumers ($499 to $829).—ROMAN LOYOLA
The Apogee Jam ( ) is a simple to use, high quality guitar interface that works with your iOS devices as well as your Mac. A little bigger than a Bic cigarette lighter, the Jam has a clean and simple design. A 1/4-inch input on the bottom lets you connect your electric guitar or bass using a standard instrument cable. A connector on the top allows you to connect one of two included cables: a 1 meter USB 2.0 cable that connects to your Mac or a 0.5 meter cable that fits into your iPhone or iPad’s dock connector. Most other iOS guitar interfaces use the headphone jack to connect, but the dock connector provides a cleaner signal with less unwanted noise.
The Jam also includes a gain slider, that lets you easily adjust your input level, while a small multicolor LED flashes red if your level is too high. The Jam is bus-powered, so no battery or external power is required.
With its clean clear signal and the unique versatility to work with your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and your Mac, the Apogee Jam is a must-have guitar gadget ($99).—JAMES GALBRAITH
Jambox ( ) by Jawbone starts out by looking great. It’s small, colorful, and sturdy—the rubber casing makes you comfortable tossing the device in your bag. But as good as this portable Bluetooth speaker looks, it sounds even better.
Whether you pair the Jambox with your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you’ll get room-filling sound that’s all the more impressive when you consider the device’s size: just 6 inches wide, 2.2 inches deep, and 1.6 inches tall. And because Jawbone lets you update the Jambox’s software over USB, a good thing keeps getting better.