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1/7/2009
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Macworld: Apple Rewards The Faithful

In its final Macworld Expo, Apple introduced meaty upgrades to its software, services, and notebook line. But some Apple watchers wondered whether the Mac and iPhone maker has lost its mojo.

At Macworld this week, Apple introduced a slew of software upgrades, as well as swearing off DRM for iTunes music and rolling out a new notebook. It was a subdued event -- Apple's last Macworld ever, with Apple vice-president Philip Schiller rather than an ailing Steve Jobs delivering the keynote. But Apple still managed to roll out nice goodies and toys for the faithful.




Clearly, this wasn't one of Apple's bigger announcements of the decade; Apple didn't introduce any breathtaking new products, like it did with the iPhone in 2007, or the iPod in 2001, that won instant converts to the Apple brand. No, this one was for the folks who are already fans.

To kick things off, Apple introduced upgrades to its iLife and iWork software suites. iLife gets better integration with social networking services including Facebook and Flickr, and iWork lets you share documents over the Internet. Apple introduced a new, 17" MacBook Pro incorporating thin and light design and technology from the MacBook Air, along with a built-in battery with an 8-hour capacity. And Apple also made all music on the iTunes store available DRM-free, and changed the pricing scheme -- in a historic change, the every-track-for-$0.99 price has ended; now, songs will be priced at three tiers, $0.69, $0.99, and $1.29.

The products won't draw legions of new Apple customers immediately. However, they're solid evolutionary improvements to the Mac hardware and software lines, and will help Apple continue to draw new users incrementally, over time.

Upgrades to iLife and iWork reflect Apple's grudging embrace of social networking and Internet collaboration. With iPhoto '09, you can finally update your photos to social networking services -- specifically Flickr and Facebook -- without third-party add-ons. And iWork '09 introduces a public beta for online document sharing. The service won't go into competition with Google Docs or Zoho anytime soon -- you can share documents, and mark them up with Post-Its and margin notes, but you can't actually collaboratively edit online.

The changes to iWork, in particular, parallel Microsoft's strategy of offering hybrid desktop-Internet apps, writes Om Malik at GigaOm. But Apple has a long way to go there:

In bringing Internet into its desktop apps, Apple is also trying to overcome its lack of web savviness. A case in point is iWork.com, which carries the beta tag but is more like an alpha. For now, you can't edit other people's docs; you can only leave sticky notes on them or chat about them. On the issue of collaboration, as hipsters would say, iWork.com is an epic fail, considering that even tiny startups are able to offer those features. It seems that, in order to actually edit the document, you have to download it and make changes offline. If they want to be taken seriously, they'll have to get it up to par with Google Docs; I hope they do.

"You know it's Web 2.0," quips John Gruber, writing at the blog Daring Fireball, "because it's clearly labeled 'Beta' right in the logo."

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