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WWDC 2009 Summary

The WWDC Philnote ended a few minutes ago. If I were to sum it up in one sentence, it would be "one step forward, two steps back".

15" MacBook Pro

Apple announced a new 15" MacBook Pro with a built-in battery like its 17" sibling. This results in dramatically improved battery life, performance and reliability at the expense of a battery you cannot replace. To me this is not a problem at all but to some it will be a dealbreaker.

It also has an improved display with a 60% greater color gamut, allowing it to display a much greater range of colors. It's much faster, with up to a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and up to 8GB of RAM, with a 500 GB hard disk or 256 GB SSD. It's also cheaper, starting at $1699 for the base model.

However, much like its previous notebook offerings, Apple gives with one hand and takes with the other. In a move that makes me question how in touch Apple is with its pro users, they have replaced the ExpressCard slot with an SD card slot. So that means no more native SxS support - you'll need to fork out for a USB adapter. And expect a drop in transfer speed over USB too.

Removing the ExpressCard slot drastically reduces the flexibility of the laptop. They've replaced a versatile port with one that has few uses (at least for video professionals). It also means we will not be able to connect eSATA devices or monitoring / conversion devices such as the Matrox MXO2 to MacBook Pros, drastically reducing their usefulness. This is a ridiculous decision for Apple to make on a device with "Pro" in the title.

Sure, you can get around this issue by buying a 17" MacBook Pro but I feel an ExpressCard slot should come as standard and not require you to buy a bigger, heavier and more expensive machine just for that feature.

Another aspect that is sure to irk ProApp users is the base model. Although it is good that Apple has reduced its price, it only features onboard graphics, unlike all the others which feature onboard and discrete graphics. This makes it unsuitable for applications like Motion and makes me question how future-proof this machine will be when Snow Leopard with OpenCL comes out. I think a machine with "Pro" in the title should be appropriately-specced to run Apple's professional applications.

13" MacBook Pro

Speaking of which, Apple rebranded the aluminum unibody MacBooks as the 13" MacBook Pro. Although the specifications are similar to the base 15" model and will therefore also result in limited ProApp usage and questionable OpenCL performance in Snow Leopard, I don't have a problem with that because this is something that was never there in the first place - this is not something Apple has taken away from us.

There's also some good news - Apple seems to have paid attention to the protests over the lack of FireWire ports in the previous generation and has now restored a single FireWire 800 port. The models are available up to 2.53 GHz with up to 8 GB RAM, an SD slot and a GeForce 9400M. The high-end 13" model is identical to the base 15" model in specification, which reiterates my opinion that the base 15" model is underpowered.

MacBook Air

Like the others, the MacBook Air has received a speed bump. It's also had a huge price cut and there is now only a few hundred dollars difference between the regular hard disk and SSD versions.

Snow Leopard

Apple demoed a few features but as the main changes were under the hood, these will probably be explored in more detail during the rest of the week.

Worthy of note:
  • Snow Leopard takes up around 6 GB less space than Leopard
  • "Fewer wait cursors"
  • Exposé is built into the dock - click and hold on a Dock icon and the app's windows will zoom out
  • Browser plugins are put in a separate process so that they do not crash the browser when they fail (it's unclear whether browsers other than Safari will be able to take advantage of this)
  • QuickTime X has been rebuilt from scratch, is hardware accelerated, has built-in ColorSync support and can stream data from any HTTP server (unfortunately more detailed information was not given)
  • QuickTime X has a minimal UI - it's very similar to QuickLook. Simple editing and uploading to popular video sharing sites built-in (essentially QuickTime Pro for free).
  • All system apps run in 64-bit
  • Grand Central allows developers to manage threads to make multi-threading more efficient

The biggest Snow Leopard announcement is that Snow Leopard will cost $129 retail like all the rest but only $29 if you are upgrading from Leopard. Yes, you read that correctly. It comes out in September, a month before Windows 7.

Safari 4

Safari 4 is out today and is available for download for Mac OS X 10.5.7. and Windows. This was one of my favorite announcements of the day - why? Because it makes Safari 4 the first shipping browser to pass Acid3 and support many new HTML5 web features.

One notable feature is video and audio tags. These allow you to play supported video and audio content directly in the browser without the need for Flash, Silverlight or other technologies. Plugins are always slower and more resource-hungry than native support for a particular feature, and open standards are always preferable. See this page for an HTML5 video that plays directly in your browser without Flash.

These changes have also made it across to MobileSafari, and it means Flash on the iPhone is even less likely than before (not a bad thing).

iPhone 3GS

It is a new iPhone but the name is very similar to the previous iPhone 3G, probably because no external differences were made to the phone or perhaps because it is still on the 3G network. It is considerably faster, features a 3MP digital camera, can record video, has a magnetometer (compass), 7.2Mbps HSDPA (faster 3G connection), voice operation, available in 16 and 32 GB on June 19th. The iPhone 3G has been reduced today to $99 and will continue to be sold once the new phone is out.

Tethering is not supported by AT&T and MMS will only work on the AT&T network at the end of summer (other networks do not have this handicap). Even Apple seemed fed up with AT&T's general incompetence, making frequent jokes at AT&T's expense.

One other notable feature is called Find My iPhone. Mobile Me users can log in and locate their lost iPhone on a map, send messages to it or make it emit a sound so that it can be located (even if it is on silent). If the phone has been stolen, you can remotely wipe your personal data from it. This is a pretty nice feature.

Final Cut Studio 3

This was missing in action, leading us to wonder when it will be released. Will it be released in conjunction with Snow Leopard - who knows? All I know is that Avid and Adobe CS4 have edged ahead and are looking mighty tempting, and Nuke is looking like a great replacement for Shake. When it comes to making your living, you can't wait around forever for software that you don't know anything about in terms of new features and may not even end up being released. You have to buy what you need when you need it - Apple needs to realize this.

So in conclusion, there's some great stuff there for consumers but professional users appear to have been sidelined once again.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Jun 8 2009 to Apple, Analysis, QuickTime