Networking Devices Announced at MacWorld

By Graham K. Rogers


With the publicity surrounding Apple's announcement of the iPhone, the other hardware faded into the background somewhat. We also saw the Apple TV (renamed from iTV) and a brief mention by Steve Jobs in his keynote speech of Airport Extreme, with 802.11n wifi capabilities. What was as notable were software and hardware not mentioned.

Apple TV
Cupertino touts this device as a way wirelessly to play iTunes content on a Mac or a PC. As this is partly for linking streamed content to the TV, some uses will be unavailable to those of us in Thailand for now. To buy from the iTunes shop we must either have a credit card issued there or have someone buy a Gift Certificate while over there (or online as long as funds are paid there and not here).

Apple's integrated solution of both hardware and software may not provide an instant answer, especially in areas like Asia where online delivery system speeds lag behind the US and, to a lesser extent, Europe. There is, however, still stored data.

The $299 (11,000 baht) device has been likened to a modern DVD player (without the disks) which either takes content from a linked computer or the stored data on its own 40G hard disk. With HDTV on its way, older analogues sets will be phased out eventually. This is the core to effective delivery of media throughout the home.


The Apple TV, which looks like a Mac mini, has several means of connecting to the devices it will feed to: wifi (see below), analog and optical audio ports and HDMI: the connector for the new large-screen TV.

Once connected, whichever method is used, any movies, TV shows, photographs or music can be browsed using an interface identical to that on the latest Macs using the Apple Remote, thus the whole house can be connected to the single device.

Airport Extreme
The new Airport Extreme almost slipped into the lineup unnoticed. It now sports a new shape, like that of the Apple TV and the Mac mini: dimensions are not the same and they are not stackable.

802.11n Airport Extreme, which will cost $179 (8,000 baht) now runs three standards of wireless networking: 802.11 "b", "g" and "n". Apple has jumped the gun a bit as it is basing development on early draft specifications rather than a finalised version. These allow speeds of around 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps (theoretically 600 Mbps) which should not only allow faster transfers but more data at the same time.

Some Macs are already equipped with 802.11n but the facility is locked. In the US, Apple has upset some people by announcing that, due to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (fallout from Enron) they will charge $1.99 to unlock those Macs. Airport Extreme base stations have Enabler software so no fees are levied. Some, like Wall Street Journal, dispute the need for any charge. It is not known if it will apply outside the US.

Other features of the base station include three Ethernet LAN ports for printers and for those computers with no wifi plus one WAN port. In addition there is a USB port so that external drives may be connected. 128-bit WEP encryption is available as well as WPA and a NAT firewall is built in.

It is the ratification of the "n" standard that will prove a sticking point in Thailand. At this stage, the standard has not been finalised by IEEE (the standards organisation) so local authorities do not permit its use. Korea is similarly affected.

On 18 January it was announced that a first draft for the new specification was to be voted on by the membership the following week. Although Airport Extreme is usable here, it would not be legal currently so cannot be sold unless the authorities provide some form of waiver. (Note: the standard was accepted by vote.)

At the MacWorld conference towards the end of the speech the person I was sitting next to and I agreed, "He must be announcing Leopard and the new Macs next." But then it was over.

(Note 2: I ran the Keynote video and at the start, Jobs told the audience he was not going to talk about Macs, but said that "over the course of the next several months we're going to roll out some awesome stuff".)

In retrospect, the parameter shift of the iPhone was enough to absorb and Apple's publicity credit suggests that whatever comes next will garner major coverage.

OS X Leopard is coming soon. Exactly when, only Apple knows, but workshops in the UK are planned for mid-year. March or April are favourites. iLife is due an update, as is iWork, and it is suggested that a spreadsheet will be included in that suite.

New processors from Intel suggest that 8-core Macs may be due soon. A hotly-desired Mac currently absent from the lineup is a replacement for the 12" PowerBook. I have spoken to people in the US and Asia: this is sorely missed.

Stay tuned. It is not over yet.

There are several reports and photographs from the keynote speech and the MacWorld Exhibition online

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