This year’s Macworld and Consumer Electronics Show offered dozens of new product announcements, but only a handful will actually change how you work, play, and live.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 gadgets, announcements, or software products that you don’t need an expense account to buy, and which promise some pretty cool things down the road.
10. iLife 2009 and iWork’s new features and tweaks
iPhoto, the core photo editing app for Macs, is getting built-in facial recognition, geo-tagging, Flickr, and Facebook integration. iWork rolled out a cloud-based syncing with iWork.com. GarageBand enlists Sting, Sarah McLachlan, and other music starts to give instrument lessons. And iMovie grows back into its former powerful skin with a host of editing and transformation features. Both iLife and iWork are $79 for any OS X user intrigued into upgrading, and iWork.com requires a subscription fee.
9. Apple/Jobs won’t dominate Macworld anymore
Steve Jobs bowed out of doing his customary all-eyes-on-him Macworld keynote this year primarily for health reasons, but the company had already been looking to get out of trade shows entirely. Whatever their reasons—better media control, fewer crazy deadlines for software and engineering—it opens the stage up for third-party companies to get a bit more play with their own Mac products, and it removes the kind of artificial expectations and second-guessing—"I can’t buy a MacBook/iPod/iPhone now, what if they’re announcing something better?"—that surrounds such an event. Sure, Apple still has its World-Wide Developers’ Conference to gin up expectations every year, but here’s hoping that another firm with a killer app will use the empty slot next year to launch something great.
8. Palm is back in the game.
Until this week, discussion about web-enabled smartphones was mostly talking about the iPhone, the Others, and, okay, Google’s Android, once it’s on a few more phones. Then Palm—initially way late to the game, and dwindling in market share—launches a sleek, small, fully-loaded smartphone that even our seen-it-all siblings at Gizmodo were stunned by. Even if you’re not planning to throw down the (reported) $399 for Palm’s Pre, having another name-brand player in the smartphone game ups the stakes for just about everything—did we mention the Pre will reportedly run Flash and built-in copy-and-paste?
7. Built-in media streaming on TVs, DVD players
There’s so much great content out on the web, detaching the cable line and switching to streaming media can be a smart, money-saving move these days. But that also means buying an additional box for your home theater, whether a TiVo, a Roku Netflix player or a hacked-up AppleTV/Boxee combo. TV makers, however, are aiming to bridge the gap, putting Netflix, Amazon, Flickr, and other streams into a Vizio "Connected HDTV", or at least Netflix in LG HDTVs. Streaming media is also making in-roads into Blu-Ray disc players, and, while the offerings are pretty high-end at this point, it spells an eventual simplification of that mid-1990’s dream of the Internet As TV.
6. Better laptop batteries
No way to tell if other laptop makers will follow Apple’s lead—or if consumers will want them too—but the Cupertino company got serious about battery life at Macworld this week. By integrating the battery directly into a new unibody Macbook Pro, users get eight hour of battery life, with about 1,000 full recharges. At $2799, and $179 for a replacement battery installation (which Apple says won’t be needed for five years), it’s not exactly a boon for everybody, but laptop makers often look to Apple’s hardware gurus for innovations, and many buyers may be more inclined to invest real money in a laptop if they can truly use it while it’s unplugged.
5. Smarter voice-activated car systems
Voice-activated, turn-by-turn GPS systems aren’t anything new in cars, but Ford and Microsoft’s 3.0 version of Sync, due to be in every Ford by 2011, gives users true hands-free control of their phones. In addition to making hands-free calls over a Bluetooth connection, Sync can manipulate any smartphone applications compatible with it. So if your phone maker got on board with Sync’s open API, you could, for instance, have your new email read to you (in that reassuring GPS lady voice), get feed updates, or have anything else voiced out for you. For anyone who’s been tempted to geek while driving, it’s also a safety upgrade.
4. Wireless charging, for real
Researchers have shown off prototypes of devices being charged by wireless, over-the-air power, but Fulton Innovation’s eCoupled looks like the real deal, as seen by Gizmodo’s eyes. Not to mention Powermat and Palm’s own charger. Those dedicated to maintaining a cordless workspace, or anyone sick of hurriedly hunting down their iPod/camera/cellphone cords before the beeping stops, will likely love a one-stop place to place their gear and rest assured it’s actually charging.
3. Picasa for Macs—FINALLY
For years, nearly every post about Google’s free tool for organizing, lightly editing, and sharing photos on this site leads to an inevitable cry from the commenter chorus: "When will we get a Mac version?" Google finally delivered at Macworld, offering a free download for OS X (which we took a look at). While not strikingly different from its Windows or Linux cousins, Picasa Mac adapts to the universality of iPhoto and doesn’t trample over its edits or changes, as well as offering free web album uploads. Choice is always a good thing, and Mac users now have two powerful photo organizers available to them.
2. Windows 7 Beta
So, as you might have seen, Microsoft didn’t quite get a free beta, good until August, of Windows 7 out their web door on Friday. They did something similar with the Vista release candidate back in 2006, but the stakes are a bit higher this time ’round, and the testers will likely be, to put it mildly, more eager to leave feedback. Nobody’s going to be overly impressed with the ooh-shiny, and, to some irate users’ minds, the only mission of 7 is to fix the problems and issues of the upgrade many didn’t end up wanting. Here’s hoping those 5+ million eyeballs help the Redmond giant get a usable product out in late 2009/early 2010.
1. iTunes frees its music (and yours)
It wasn’t a new iPhone, or even a new anything, but Apple’s Macworld announcement that, from that day forward, everything in the store will be sold without copy protection is big news for two main types of people—anyone who’s ever wanted to scream at iTunes for making you authorize/de-authorize your tunes, and anyone who digs the iTunes Store but wants to play their music elsewhere. Whether you’re a fan of the open-source, infinitely-extensible Songbird, Winamp or MediaMonkey a non-Apple MP3 player, or anything else that handles music, Apple is stepping out of the way and become just a straightforward merchant of songs—and higher-quality songs, at that. The pricing structure changed a bit with the announcement, allowing current/popular songs to fetch more than 99 cents, but older tracks went down in price, and, well, most any reader of this blog (or any blog) can probably figure out where to get the high-charting tracks if they really want to.