Friday, January 12, 2007

MacWorld Expo

I'm posting this from the MacWorld Expo show floor.

For the last two years, the Expo was so small and turnout was so weak that I was seriously concerned that the show may cease to exist. Last year, almost all of the floor space was dedicated to iPod accessories. Macs were hardly present.

I'm happy to report that everything has changed this year. The show is much larger, filling almost all of the South Hall of Mosconi and spilling over into the North Hall as well. I would estimate at least a 50% increase in floor space. Although iPod accessories are still omnipresent, there is much, much more Mac software as well as peripherals present this year.

Attendence is the highest I can remember it. I'm here Friday, and the place is packed. Usually the last day of a show is dead (most people arrive early in the week to see the keynote).

There are some big changes. Apple has dropped the word "computer" from its name. This makes a lot of sense as they are now a multimedia company as much as a home computer company. The iPod really saved the company from the brink of disaster. And now, their biggest announcement in a while.

The iPhone is just too hip for words. I watched a demo on it that was breathtaking. There's a model on the floor in a glass case. You can't touch it, but there was a line of people waiting just to take a picture. I have never seen this behavior for a product at a show before.

What is most amazing is that Apple has a completely different approach to technology than most companies. Most companies would brag about how fast the tech specs are on a new piece of equipment.

Apple's motto of "think different" applies to their own corporate culture. This product is not about what the tech specs are. It didn't just create a phone to market, they created an entirely new interface to work with. Yes, it combines a camera phone with an iPod. But so what. My Treo essentially does the same (although not truly an iPod, it plays MP3s).

This is a phone with no buttons. The touchscreen is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It automatically adjusts to widescreen by turning sideways. It rejects error touches very smartly. You can resize the screen by "squeezing" two fingers together.

All the apps are very well integrated. One really cool function is non-linear access to voice mail. The phone downloads your VM in the background and lists it by caller name (or number) so you can decide what to listen to first. Since it's now an MP3 file on your phone, you can scan immediately to any part of a message instead of listening to 3 minutes again because you missed a digit on a phone number.

It also has built-in Wifi, so you can surf much faster when you get close to an open network.

There are some problems with the phone. First, it costs $500 - $600, plus a 2-year commitment to Cingular. That's not likely to come down any time soon.

Second, it's Cingular, or no phone. This may be the single biggest problem. Apple has had a long-time history of refusing to share technologies with other vendors, and has several times puched them to the brink of destruction. I'm not sure why they would not want other vendors to be able to sell the phone.

Third, it uses GSM technolgy, which is much slower than the newer EVDO for phone/internet access. I'm sure they have a reason for this. Maybe they assume most people will get Wifi access when they need it.

Also, the phone will not be ready for shipping until at least June. That's an eternity in contemporary technologies. Other marketers may be able to annouce similar products with lower prices by then.

Finally, the lack of a keypad may be a disadvantage to people used to them, although they insist the smart screen has autocorrection for typos. I'd have to try it to see if it really works.

Overall, though, it will kick butt. Everyone who is anyone will want one.
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