Apple Announces New Products

Today at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, Apple announced a few new notable products: the Airport Extreme. For a full breakdown of each, you can click their links to be taken to the section of Apple’s site discussing them.

Starting at the least impressive… the new Airport Extreme is Apple’s response to Linksys’s (other manufacturers do it now, too) wireless-N-enabled routers that have superior range and speed to normal Wi-Fi connections. It uses the same technology as the Linksys’s do, the 802.11n standard. It isn’t really anything new, and so it isn’t much to get excited over. I personally feel that the only innovative thing Apple did with respect to wireless is the Airport Express (that lets you stream music wirelessly to a stereo, and also easily share a USB printer).

Next up is the Apple TV. This device, much like the above mentioned Airport Express, lets you wirelessly stream media from your iTunes-enabled wireless-equipped computer to your television. The idea is that any video available to iTunes on your computer can be downloaded and subsequently streamed to your TV. It sounds like a great idea, except it is $299. I don’t know about you, but there are devices that offer similar functionality for less of a price. Also, “stream” is used relatively. You actually have to sync files to the devices hard drive first before you play them, which simply means that you wirelessly transfer videos to be played from an internal hard drive. For some reason I think Tivo can do that, though I’m not positive. (EDIT: You actually can stream… I just watched the keynote and it turns out that you can stream from up to five computers, and can sync with one.) I should also note that PS3 can stream and sync media if you install Linux (it can do the playing media files part out of the box, but to be able to transfer from a computer to the PS3 wirelessly you would need to setup a file server of sorts, which is only available through Linux as of now; to stream you would need VLC).

Beyond that, this device requires videos to be in iTunes first before being streamer. That means that the videos will have to be encoded in MPEG-4 format, likely using H.264. Not that it is a horrible format, but DivX and XVid are the chief file formats used nowadays for video. The Apple TV also has 720p output at the TV end using either Component or HDMI cables. Yet, the videos downloadable on iTunes are 640×480 the last time I checked. I don’t know how nice 640×480 content will look upscaled to 720p. It probably won’t be horrific, considering DVDs are 720×480 and they seem to be upscaled pretty good. Nonetheless, playing upscaled content on your new $300 piece of hardware seems a little ridiculous. Maybe that is a sign that Apple will have HD content available on the store soon? You’d think you could play true HD files for that price. Also, I hope the 40GB drive can be upgraded later on (either officially or otherwise), since I know real home theatre media center users will require a lot more than that. (EDIT: It can support 1280×720 files, but they must be H.264 as originally imagined. I don’t think iTunes has those files available yet, but I’m sure it will soon to keep up with the HD era. Until then, you can encode your own.)

Last, but certainly not least, is the iPhone. Do yourself a favor and go to Apple’s site for the iPhone (linked to at the start of this article) to check out the gallery of pictures. What this thing looks like is utterly amazing. It is essentially just a screen in a shiny black bezel that shows on-screen buttons that activate to your touch. This is, for all intents and purposes, the widescreen/touchscreen Video iPod everyone was expecting. Except it is a phone, too. And a web browser. And an e-mail client. And it runs OSX. The point is, this device does a lot. It is akin to the Treo devices offered by Palm, the Blackjack offered by Samsung/Cingular, and the Q from Motorola. Except, like all things Apple, looks and feels a million times sleeker than everyone else’s products. It also helps that it has uber-cool sensors built in that automatically detects when you rotate it from portrait to landscape mode (and adjusts the on-screen image accordingly). It can also detect when you bring it up toward your ear to talk, and will automatically turn off the screen to save power and prevent you from accidentally hitting the touch-sensitive on-screen buttons. These nifty features sound like something out of a sci-fi magazine.

While I would be lying if I said I didn’t want one of these, the device, still unreleased, has some obvious problems. The most obvious is the price. Available in two models, the iPhone can be $499 or $599. Sounds kind of like something else (*cough*PS3*cough*). That said, the two different models differ in only one aspect, storage space. This brings me to the next inherent problem with the device. It comes in a 4GB and 8GB version, respective to the prices above. The reason this is a problem should be obvious… this thing does everything. It is a widescreen iPod capable of playing video, music, photos, etc. It can organize your life with Contacts, a Calendar, Notes, etc. It acts as an e-mail client and thus allows you to store all your e-mails on it. All of this takes up space, but none more than the iPod functionality. I am already using 8GB of space on my iPod Video 30GB. That includes just my music and three videos. And I only have 1500 songs, something that most people would laugh at. The point is… there is no way you can expect a device that will hold videos to have sufficient storage in 8GB. Am I going to pay $600 to have maybe five movies and some music in my pocket? I don’t think so. Keep in mind that the $600 price is only if you get a 2-year contract with Cingular, and obviously doesn’t include the service costs of this Internet-enabled device. This is going to be reserved for those of us with a lot of cash… that much is certain.

I really wish they would have an iPod with the touchscreen feature, and an 80GB hard drive like the current-gen $349 iPod Video has. I would like all of the features of the iPhone in an iPod-like device, but you can keep the phone functionality. With the steep price and the small storage space, the iPhone becomes pretty useless to the average consumer. It will definitely be a gadget that could “wow” anyone in the room, but I don’t think it is worth the money. That thing needs a hard drive.