There was a standing ovation at the Macworld Conference and Expo this year, but it wasn't for Steve Jobs or a hot new Apple product.
It was for singer Tony Bennett, who closed an otherwise lackluster keynote address -- Apple's last at the conference -- by Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Philip Schiller. To be fair, Schiller had been given a tough assignment, filling in for Apple CEO Jobs, who dropped out as a keynoter just weeks before the show.
During the Tuesday keynote, Apple didn't deliver anything as breathtaking as the next iPhone, but it did come up with a few new offerings for the faithful, such as versions of its iLife and iWork software and a slim 17-inch MacBook Pro that will ship with new long-lasting batteries that will keep the laptop running for as long as eight hours. The company also introduced a competitor to Google Docs called iWork.com and announced plans to start making all music on its iTunes store available under its iTunes Plus program, so free of digital rights management.
For years, Apple has used Macworld as a stage for launching some of its most exciting products. But with Jobs missing this year and Apple saying that it would not participate in future Macworld conferences, pundits had figured that Apple might hold off on any ground-breaking product news at this year's show. They were right.
Apple's most interesting news related to iTunes.
Apple began introducing freely copyable iTunes music last year when it began selling songs from EMI's catalog for an extra US$0.30 per song under a program called iTunes Plus. On Tuesday, Schiller said that Apple has now expanded iTunes plus to cover 8 million of the 10 million iTunes songs. By the end of March, the entire song catalog will be available under the program, he said.
In another big change for music lovers, Apple will also begin selling its regular iTunes songs at two new prices, starting in April: US$0.69 per song and US$1.29 per song. To date, regular iTunes songs have gone for a flat rate of US$0.99.
For Mac OS fans, the big news was the new 17-inch MacBook Pro. Based on the same aluminum unibody design as the 13-inch and 15-inch versions of the laptop, the model will be less than an inch (2.5 cm) thick and will weigh 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms). But Schiller called the laptop's redesigned battery, which will last three hours longer than its predecessor, its "most innovative feature." Apple says that the new battery, which will use a microchip to control current flow, can be fully recharged 1,000 times, about three times the industry standard.
Schiller kicked off his keynote by introducing a new version of Apple's iLife suite of multimedia software. Expected by the end of the month, iLife 09 will include jazzed up editing software that integrates with Google Maps to let users create maps of where their videos and photos were taken. The suite's iPhoto software will have new face-recognition features and will also be integrated with Facebook and Flickr.
The new Garageband 09 software will come with new multimedia piano and guitar lessons for beginners. For $4.99, users will be able to buy a lesson from music stars such as Sting, John Fogerty,and Norah Jones. Budding musicians will be able to follow the lessons on their Macs, looking at videos of the instructors, finger positioning, and musical scores all at the same time. "It's so simple and such a breakthrough way to learn music," Schiller said.
Available immediately, the iWork office suite will let users access an online service called iWork.com, where they can share iWork documents, Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF documents with others, much in the same fashion as Google Docs. Apple plans to eventually start charging for iWork.com, but for now the service is available as a free beta for Apple users, Schiller said.
Macworld is run by International Data Group, which also owns the IDG News Service.