Macworld 2008: Tech notes

Back from Macworld!

I’d thought Twitter would revolutionize the Macworld social experience, but I was wrong. I’d failed to take into account two factors:

1. The Twitter network slowed to a crawl during Steve’s keynote.

2. The AT&T E network couldn’t penetrate Moscone South, the underground hall that’s the site of the main Expo, so you couldn’t keep up with Tweets using an AT&T mobile phone. The wifi option was no help, as wifi networks in Moscone kept going down (including the one at the Bloggers Lounge).

Nevertheless, I did manage to post my best Tweet ever, announcing that I’d just spotted Barak Obama getting out of a limo and entering the side door of the Westi Hotel at Union Square Thursday a bit after noon.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago (even seven months ago!) there were no iPhones. They are pretty much standard fare around San Francisco now. I usually take a 12″ laptop to Macworld and lug it around, but this year I left the laptop in my hotel room and handled just about everything, including short emails, notes, photos for an article, and even some posts to a photo blog, using the iPhone. I left longer emails for when I got back to my room (again, a place with molasses-like wifi). My back certainly appreciated it…I was able to enjoy Macworld carrying just my regular messenger bag-style purse. My only regret was lack of zoom and flash for photos; next year I’ll take along a little Canon Digital Elph.

Cameras of all sizes were much in evidence, with many people snapping photos of products instead of taking brochures. My strategy was to take a shot of an interesting product and then a shot of the booth’s signage, so I could identify the item by the adjacent signage shot after I’d uploaded the pictures to iPhoto.

The other technology item that was ubiquitous in San Francisco this year was GPS. All the airport shuttle vans had it, and thank god. The driver from the Oakland airport acted as if he’d never ventured into downtown San Francisco before.

My friend Doug Plummer recently rented a car with GPS while on a photo shoot in Boston, a city where the roadways usually confound him. “This time I had an authoritative female voice directing me,” Doug writes in his blog.

I’ve just submitted an article about some noteworthy Macworld products; it’s scheduled for online publication later this week and I’ll be sure to link to it then.

iPhone report

Got the iPhone — and, after this post, I’ll return to writing about writing.

The wait was 12 hours at an AT&T store at a mall north of Seattle, and mildly amusing. The folks in line were geeky, but gadget freaks rather than Mac aficionados. Everyone had friends and relatives coming and going during the day for entertainment and to hold their places in line, which made for a congenial atmosphere. There were two security guys (one in a black suit, with sunglasses and a crewcut!) assigned to keep an eye on us and pretty soon a sort of “reverse Stockholm Syndrome” took hold, with much sharing of snacks and talk about the local club scene. The AT&T store staff were really revved up; they got a briefing on the phones from an Apple rep at 4:30, and at 5:30 came out to let us play with some of the accessories (ear pieces, cases) that would be on sale with the phones. It wasn’t quite as posh as the scene at one California Apple Store, where the store staff treated those in line to coffee from a nearby Starbucks. We had to buy our own.

At 6 p.m. the doors opened and the AT&T store sold us the phones in sealed boxes in sealed bags. I brought mine home and activated it through iTunes in about three minutes. I’d had my landline forwarded to my old cell phone during the wait, and forgot to take off call forwarding, so my first clue that my mobile number from T-Mobile had shifted to the iPhone was when I started getting calls. The iPhone had synced my contacts from my iMac, so it recognized the callers and displayed their names.

Those of you who like Apple products will be delighted to hear that the iPhone takes user friendliness to astonishing new heights. Those of you who are sure the iPhone is an over-rated piece of crap wouldn’t believe a single thing I’d say about it, so I won’t bother. Really. This is a writing blog, not a technology blog.

From a writer’s perspective, the iPhone is not going to be a significant tool. The touchscreen keyboards (one for alphabet, one for numbers and punctuation) are fine for composing short text messages and adding info to a contact file. But you wouldn’t want to take notes or blog with them. The process is crystal clear, but the tapping is slower than with a traditional mini-keyboard.

From a business person’s perspective, an iPhone could become an essential. Today I found myself using the phone, the text messaging, Google Maps, and the web browsing capability as I headed off to brunch with Chris Barnes (another ex-Apple person) and then went in search of a store that sells Tom Bihn bags. It seems odd to call it a phone, because it feels more like having a computer in my purse.

Chris and I ran into Monica Guzman, who blogs about the Internet for the Seattle P-I, at brunch. We demo-ed our iPhones for her, and then Chris used the Apple website to locate nearby stores at which iPhones were still in stock. Monica’s off on vacation for a few weeks, but I’ll be watching her blog when she gets back to see if she’s iPhone-equipped!

Nothing lost in translation

I’m back from three days of dancing at the Saratoga Dance Flurry in a very good mood. That’s what lots of oxygen will do for your cells. I kept up with email on the trip, thanks to pretty much ubiquitous airport/hotel/coffee shop wifi, but didn’t follow any blogs.

This morning I’ve been catching up on those. Many of the writers seem to be in exceptionally good spirits (early spring fever?). I particularly enjoyed John Gruber’s post at Daring Fireball, which is a translation of the Macrovision CEO’s reply to Apple’s recent “Thoughts on Music” about digital rights management.

As usual, the translation from Corporate-Speak to plain English made things considerably shorter; I thought Gruber’s rendering of the opening paragraph was exceptionally succinct.

Apple announces a new era

“Go to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” — Wayne Gretzky

Steve Jobs ended his keynote this morning with that quote, but I’ll start with it because it pretty much sums up the news from Apple.

Jobs announced a new phone, a new iPod, and a new internet device. They’re all the same product — the Apple iPhone.

Is it as revolutionary as he claims? In a word, yes. I’ll refer you to or one of the Mac news sites for more information.

In my favorite part of the demo, Jobs was listening to music on the iPhone in iPod mode (he also could have been watching a movie on the 3.5″ screen — which automatically switches between portrait and landscape mode depending on how you hold the device) when a phone call came in. The iPhone automatically turned off the music (faded it out tastefully, of course) and gave him a choice with on-screen touch buttons of declining or accepting the call.

He answered the call, and the caller asked him for a photo, which he located in the phone’s iPhoto (did I mention the phone is running OSX? Yeah, really) and then he emailed it to the caller using an address in his Contacts (synced from his address book). He typed the message with a Qwerty keyboard that appears when you need it for email, search, or chat. With the caller still on the line, Jobs moved into internet mode (Safari is part of the iPhone software), went to his Fandango bookmark, and looked up local movie offerings.

After relaying the information to the caller, he touched the pulsing button that indictates an active call and ended the conversation. When he hung up, the song (remember the song?) faded back up.

Jobs then used Google Maps (part of the iPhone software) to locate the nearest Starbucks. He called and ordered 4,000 lattes, to go. “Sorry, wrong number,” he said as he ended the call with an astonished Starbucks employee.

Four other mind-boggling iPhone features:

  • The screen covers the entire device, bringing up an on-screen keyboard only when you need it for email or text messaging (the text message interface has colored balloons, like iChat).
  • All scrolling is done with your finger. A pinching movement (also tapping in Safari) increases the size of the screen image.
  • iPhone (developed in conjunction with Cingular Wireless) offers controlled access to voicemail messages. You see a list of the messages showing numbers (and, if available) the names of the callers. This means you can go right to the message you want instead of listening to a lot of blather. (I have to say, for me, that’s the “killer app.”)
  • If you have two calls on the phone, the phone presents you with a merge button (looks like a traffic merge sign) you can tap to create a conference call. This simple solution to a perennial phone nightmare of conferencing got gasps and applause from the crowd.

“You know, I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Jobs said, as he ended the demo. “I was so excited about today.”

Jobs had opened the presentation by saying the new product would rank with the 1984 intro of the Mac and the 2001 intro of the iPod. I have to say I agree. And, as a former member of the iTunes Music Store team, I feel truly retired now. The era of the iPod is over. The era of the iPhone has begun.

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