As expected, last week’s MacWorld Expo brought a number of announcements and new products, most notably Apple’s MacBook Air. Here is a recap of the news and my initial analysis of the MacBook Air.


Apple announced that iTunes would now offer movie rentals along with sales and will also start offering HD versions of the latest movies. Both of these features are available now through the iTunes Store. Rental prices range from $2.99 for older movies to $4.99 for the latest HD versions, and you will have 30 days to start watching a movie, then 24 hours to finish watching it once you start.

Apple TV

Because Apple’s Apple TV has been less than the killer product they’d hoped (see my analysis at []), they are releasing a new, less-expensive version which is really the old unit with new software. Apple TVOwners of the existing unit will get a free update to the new software too, and it will let you use the Apple TV without requiring a computer to synchronize with. It will now connect right to the iTunes Store and let you buy or rent directly, which is both less complicated and more useful. Since iTunes now offers HD content, it also becomes a better compliment to an HD TV, as long as you have an Internet connection fast enough to support that.

You can get more information on the Apple TV here:

Time Capsule

Apple announced Time Capsule, which is essentially an AirPort Extreme with a built-in hard drive. This unit will allow you to back up your Mac remotely via Leopard’s Time Machine backup software and will come with either a 500 GB ($299) or 1 TB ($499) drive once it ships in February. This is meant as a compliment to the new MacBook Air (see below) since that is designed as an entirely wireless device.

If you already have an AirPort Extreme, I am guessing that you will be able to achieve the same functionality by adding an external USB drive to it. My understanding is that Time Capsule (and, presumably, the ability to back up to any network volume) will require OS X 10.5.2, so I expect to see that update soon too.

You can get more information on Time Capsule here:

iPhone and iPod Touch Updates

Apple has released updates to the iPhone and iPod Touch software. The iPhone version is a free download while the iPod Touch update will cost $20.

iPhoneThe iPhone update enhances the Google Maps feature and improves some of the abilities of the unit. For example, it will now act as a pseudo-GPS by using cell tower triangulation to figure out your general location. You can also move the icons on the main page around, and even create additional “home” pages. Presumably, this is in anticipation of the release of additional third-party applications.

The iPod Touch update actually adds features that it did not have before: Mail, Weather, Stocks, Notes and Google Maps. Since there is no cell service on the iPod, it relies entirely on WiFi access.

More information on the iPhone is available here:

You can get the details on the iPod Touch upgrade here:

(Note: This will launch iTunes and connect through that.)

Microsoft Office 2008

Though not strictly an announcement at MacWorld, Microsoft released Office 2008 last week and it is on the shelves now. If you heeded my advice and ordered an upgrade from Office 2004, you should be receiving your copy in a few weeks. In the meantime, I will post a review of the new package at some point. As always, hold off on upgrading, if you can, for at least a few weeks.

Microsoft Office 2008 details are available here:

MacBook Air

MacBook AirPerhaps you’ve heard that the MacBook Air is Apple’s new subnotebook. It is remarkable for its weight (3 lbs) and thickness (0.76 inches at its thickest point), and for accomplishing this feat without sacrificing much screen real estate with a 13-inch monitor, the same as the MacBook. It comes with an 80 GB hard drive (the kind used in the high-end iPods; a solid-state, probably faster, 64 GB model is available too) and 2 GB of RAM with a 1.4 GHz processor (an optional 1.6 GHz version is also available).

Certainly, by now, you’ve seen the ads and heard the hype, both positive and negative, so I’ll try to provide a quick, sight-unseen analysis here.

This unit seems to be designed as a secondary computer for travelers, with just adequate power and hard drive space, and a price (starting at $1,800) that reflects its design, not performance.

What’s missing from the unit is ports (there is no Ethernet or FireWire port, and only one USB 2.0 port) and an optical drive. These deficiencies can be overcome by external devices, but that means more to carry if you need that functionality all the time.

Although these are being touted as glaring flaws in some quarters, it doesn’t really take away from the utility of the machine since these external items can be packed away separately. Rather, it serves to define its role as a companion unit.

The exclusion of the optical drive specifically is probably less of a burden than it appears. With the ability to digitize DVDs, you are better off playing movies directly through iTunes than using a disk anyway, but where it might become a problem is if you have to run diagnostics on a malfunctioning unit and need some way to start it up.

To that end, Apple has made some rather revolutionary additions to the firmware (that’s the on-board software that tells the laptop how to do really basic things, like turn on). Because this was designed to be a wireless unit, Apple provides software that can be installed on another Mac or PC that will allow the Air to use their optical drive as if it were connected directly. Let me be clear: This is not just a way to access files from a remote CD or DVD, but also an alternate way to start up the Air in case of emergency.

How this will work in practice, however, is another matter, and I expect there will be some logistical and performance issues discovered in time. The former will probably be resolved with further updates, while the latter (if it comes to pass) may never be fixed. If that’s a concern, you can just get Apple’s companion external, USB-powered optical drive instead, but that’s not nearly as cool.

One more thing about the design: The battery cannot be replaced by the user on-the-fly. This means that you cannot travel with an extra battery and swap it out in mid-flight as you can with the other notebook offerings.

What is does not mean is that it is impossible to change the battery yourself. You can, and there are already online instructions that describe the process (for example, see []). Or you can take it to an Apple Store where they will swap it for you at no additional cost. Certainly, neither of these options are as convenient as a removable battery, but this drawback should not be a deal-breaker either.

So who should buy the Air? Anyone who needs a portable that is strictly for light duty or travel, and who doesn’t mind spending more for the privilege.

And, of course, nobody should be getting one for at least a month or two so others have a chance to shake out the bugs.

You can get more information on the MacBook Air here:

[Written by Kem Tekinay]