eXtensions Diary

Bangkok Diary Thursday 21 October 2010: Back to the Mac: A Romantic Comedy in 5 Acts


The Prologue
By 7:30 pm last night (Wednesday), the rumours were coming thick and fast with more than 4 hours to go before the start of Apple's event at the Cupertino Town Hall. We had heard for weeks before that there was a new MacBook Air in the wings, perhaps with a smaller 11" screen, and as the time neared we also heard that iLife was to be updated, which is no surprise as it is one of Apple's core bundled suites and is overdue for a 64-bit version. Would iWork also have the 64-bit treatment: and what of a mystery component to iLife to replace iDVD? Several sites had carried pictures and specifications for what was purported to be the new MacBook Air which had four batteries shown and no hard disk, prompting much speculation. It looked rather un-Apple-like to me with the battery placement: it lacked the Ives' balance [see below].

As part of the confirmation before the confirmation, there were some changes over at Apple and discussion pages for iMovie'11, GarageBand'11 were added as well as a mystery MBA (Need official name): perhaps the new MacBook Air. AppleInsider also told us there was a mystery space marked "Reserved 10 20", so were we back to the excitement of "One more thing"? I hoped so. With the design of the email invitations, we were guaranteed an update on the next iteration of OS X, 10.7, which is certain to be called Lion. Or at least, that was the name mooted before the announcements.


Steve Jobs: enter stage right

He sets the scene with a basic outline and immediately invites Tim Cook up to explain about the state of the Art with Macs.

Enter Cook

Exit Jobs

Cook began by a look at revenue, pointing out that the Mac with 13.7 million sold, made up one-third of Apple's revenue last year: $22 bilion. This would make a "Mac company" 110 on the Fortune 500 list. To great laughter he was quick to point out that a spin-off was not planned at all. The number of Macs sold is five times higher than in 2005 and Apple claims around 50 million users.

The rise in numbers of Macs used has lead to a rise in developers to the platform which now stands at 600,000 with some 30,000 added each month. Cook expressed his pleasure that Autodesk had returned with its AutoCAD and also highlighted Microsoft's efforts with Office and praised Outlook. The customer experience includes the Apple 318 retail shops that keep adding customers and adding to revenue, especially the newest ones in China. The momentum, he said, had never been more.

Exit Cook


Enter Jobs

He asked audience members to silence their phones. Quite right too: he should try a meeting in Thailand. Then the new products. After a brief outline he announced iLife 11 with the same apps (which was a slight surprise.

  • iPhoto
    Full screen mode and Facebook had been well received, so these have been improved. Mail was beefed up and slideshows improved. The feature of creating books, which is only fully available in some markets, has been improved, and Apple is adding Letterpress cards to the tricks in the application.

    Enter Phil Schiller stage left

    Exit Jobs

    iLife Using a Magic mouse he showed full screen mode of iPhoto initially and showed how Events organises photographs with a claimed performance boost. He showed Faces and Places too. These are all current but the new version has some little tricks added to make the user experience better and instead of searching through loads of menus, the user is in direct touch with what is wanted, such as a slideshow which works far better with the included technologies. Album View is also a new way to view images and from here too it is easy to come up with a slideshow. Schiller demonstrated a couple of the new themes which are clearly aimed at consumers and not professionals.

    Instead of leaving iPhoto and entering Mail, sending photographs now creates a Mail message inside iPhone and includes the photos and a theme. Photos may be shared with other services such as Facebook and Flickr. Comments posted on Facebook will now appear in iPhoto next to the image.

    Creating a book has a nice change in that after selecting a group of photos the ones chosen are displayed in a carousel of book themes, so we may see what the production would look like before selecting the specific theme. The book has several new ways to display images and can even group photos by time, as well as allowing customization, including the background of a specific page.

    Project view, looking just like the iBooks display, shows all the project s a user has created and this is another way to view the photographs. Also in this view we were shown cards. Selection uses a carousel like the book selection. To end, Schiller showed a brief video that is also included in iPhoto that explains how letterpress cards are made.

    Exit Schiller

    Enter Jobs

  • iMovie
    This is why we do what we do, he said, then reprised what had just been presented then looked at iMovie. User experience, he said, demanded better audio editing and this was taken up. To make it easier the new iMovie had a number of features he summarized: one step effects, for making movies more easily; a people finder to track down clips of people that uses the face detection technology from iPhoto; news and sports themes; and the ability to make movie trailers easily.

    Enter Randy Ubillos (Chief Architect Video Applications)

    Exit Jobs

    He began with audio editing and showed the new colour-coded audio waveforms that can be displayed. Editing has become so easy and this will be of major benefit to amateur movie production: I find with my students that the worst part of any video is the audio levels. The new feature allows adjustment of levels in selected segments, akin to how I might do this in GarageBand. Much more than this, however, is the new trick of adding sound effects to clips. New video effects are also included and like the sound effects these will put considerable sophistication in the hands of the ordinary users: the kind that were not so long ago only available to professionals.

    Like the effects, making movie trailers uses 15 built-in themes and by entering a few details, making a few clicks, the application will assemble a movie trailer, credits and all. As a note, the music was recorded at Abbey Road by the London Symphony Orchestra: part of a consumer application that comes free with all new Macs. This trailer feature works superbly and was well-received. Ubillos was justifiably confident when he showed two more of these trailers.

    Exit Ubillos

    Enter Jobs

  • GarageBand
    Jobs outlined the application and highlighted some of the new effects, like Flextime, Groove Matching, many more effects, as well as new lessons (again these will probably not be available in the Thai market due to copyright restrictions).

    Enter Xander Soren

    Exit Jobs

    As GarageBand is used a lot by people recording their own music and, as the name of the program suggests, perhaps by kids in a garage, the new feature of "Groove Matching" takes one track as a control medium and analyses the other tracks, making them match the same rhythm, so cleaning up a major problem with many budding pop stars: "an automatic spell-checker for bad rhythm," he said.

    Learn to Play has been expanded somewhat and a new feature is How did I Play which compares the music with the user's actual output, marking wrong notes in red and timing errors in yellow. A percentage score is also displayed. The software keeps a history so that the learner is able to keep track of how learning progresses.


    Enter Jobs

    With no mention of the remaining two parts of the suite (iWeb, iDVD), Jobs summarised iLife. He told us that an upgrade was $49: the family pack costs $79. These are 1790 baht and 2790 baht respectively in the online Apple Store for Thailand.


    Facetime This is a feature of the iPhone 4 and the latest iPod touch. Facetime needs a phone signal for the iPhone 4, plus a wifi connection and, although Apple's early advertisements of this were clear and exact, when I have used it, the images are really quite good with sound synchronising well.

    With 19 million such devices shipped, a major request from consumer was for Facetime between the devices and the Mac. And here it is working with a similar interface on the Mac to what I have in my iPhone 4. it works when we use wifi, and users may dial out to a suitable phone or use the phone to connect to a Facetime equipped computer; or from computer to computer. A beta of the feature shipped and I downloaded it right away. In good wifi areas it works as expected, although I had problems at work, but then I always have problems at work with the flaky setups there and that is no test for any technology. What I want to know is who pays for the call from a computer to a phone?


    The philosophy behind this upgrade is by starting with OS X, and creating iOS, the technology for the iPhone and iPod touch, and later as the OS for the iPad there seems to be a closing of the circle: indeed, the slide showed this as a series of linked arrows. The innovations are now coming back to the Mac: the theme of the day's events. Mac OS X meets the iPad.

    Some of the key features of Lion include Multi-touch gestures; an App Store for Macs; App Home Screens; Full home screens; Auto save; Apps resume when launched.

    Steve explained the bad ergonomics of touch gestures on a vertical screen and led into the perfecting of the multi-touch trackpads, including the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, although the patent for a horizontal screen iMac did come to mind as he spoke.

    He commented on the success of the App Store for the iPhone and iPad: 7 Billion downloads. This success is to be built on with a Mac App Store as part of Lion. It will be similar to the iPhone App Store including the 70/30 split for developers. Also like the iPhone apps, they will automatically install and be updated. This sounds as if it wil remove much heartache, particularly for new users, if it works as mooted. A slight difference from the usual approach is that the apps will be licensed for all a user's Macs: I find that most attractive.

    Features in OS X now that have been around for a while and add to productivity for users, include Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces, and Full Screen Apps. Apple intends to unify these four in something they call Mission Control. I worry about some of the names Apple gives to technologies or features.

    Enter Craig Federighi

    Exit Jobs

    Federighi showed how the App Store could be accessed directly from the Dock and we saw a screen full of apps that were available in a store format, as expected similar to the current App store. Does this mean that part of the store is up and running already (or was this a localised mock-up); is this to be part of the huge new installation in North Carolina? He showed how an app (he used Pages) is bought and downloaded and he did confirm it was a real server, but not where.

    Launchpad may work something like Dashboard in the way that those App Store downloads are organised, stored and activated. Like iOS, folders are available so organisation is easy.

    Federighi also demonstrated the way that some of the apps work in full screen mode and how to flick between the screens. With multiple applications open, by using the new Mission Control, anything open on the Mac is viewed in a single display, slightly reminiscent of a 4-finger gesture on a trackpad.

    Exit Craig Federighi

    Enter Jobs

    He gave a summary of Lion and some of its technologies. The plan is to release Lion in Summer 2011. He returned to the App Store and said that the App Sore will be open on Snow Leopard within 90 days. App submissions will be submitted starting in November. Jobs also looked as if he was summarizing the whole of the business, with sales, revenue, iLife, Facetime on Mac, and ended with Lion with its features.

    These are the things we wanted to share with you today. We are really excited about it.


    "But there is one more thing. . . ."

    The One More Thing is a re-emphasis of Back to the Mac, the theme of this event; and the idea of the circle nature of development. The iPad inspiring the Mac: instant on, battery life, good standby time, solid state storage, thin and light.

    What would happen if an iPad and a Mac hooked up? Laughter from the audience. The new MacBook Air. At its thickest point it is 0.68" and goes down to 0.11" Using the Unibody construction means the body is rigid and the computer has a full size keyboard.

    • 13.3" LED backlit display (see below)
    • 1440 x 900 pixels
    • Core 2 Duo Processor
    • NVIDIA GeForce 320m graphics processor
    • Multi-touch trackpad
    • FaceTime camera
    • 2G RAM

    The MacBook Air has no optical drive no hard drive. It relies totally on flash storage. This gives instant on, is much faster and more reliable as well as being smaller and lighter. It is also silent. As a note, Flash -- Adobe Flash -- was not included with this new computer. Battery life gives 7 hours using wireless web with a 30-day standby time.

    A slide of the insides showed the four batteries although these were in a matte black finish and much tidier than the earlier shots that had circulated on the Internet: much more like Apple and Ives.

    And there is more: a younger brother with an 11.6" screen. It has all the features of the larger unit (but 1366 x 768 pixels), with battery life of 5 hours and the same 30 days standby time.

    Prices are $999 for the 11.6" version with 64G of flash; $1199 for the 11.6" with 128G; $1299 for the 13.3" with 128G; and $1599 for the 13.3" with 256G. Prices in Thailand are 34,900 baht 40,900 baht 44,900 baht and 55,900 baht respectively and they are on sale now in the Thai online store. The 11.6" machines have 1.4Ghz processors, while the 13'3" ones have 1.86GHz processors, which some thought was a little underpowered.

    What was not announced was that the MacBook Air includes a USB drive with OS X so that users can run diagnostics and reinstall if necessary.

    The end of the event approached with an advertisement as well as a video with Jony Ive, Phil Schiller and Bob Mansfield, which showed part of the process of making the device using water and laser cutters as well as some neat explanations by the presenters.

    A closing comment was made after the videos and the stage was bare.


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