I’ve held off a while on writing this post to be sure the Apple Distortion Field had fully dissipated before I committed my thoughts to record. First and foremost, Phil did good. He was not as good as Steve, but when you compare him to that AT&T guy who came on during the iPhone Keynote back in 2007 with his cue cards, Phil was fantastic! He did show some signs of nerves if you paid close attention, but who wouldn’t on that stage!

I’ve heard a lot of very negative things about the keynote and to be honest, I doubt we’d have heard half as many if Steve had presented the keynote. The basic reality is that the iPhone announcement at MacWorld 2007 was the exception, not the norm. Just about every MacWorld keynote pails in comparison. There’s a very good reason for this, no company, not even Apple, can come up with something as revolutionary as the iPhone every year. We’re now two years on and none of the copycat devices come close the fit and polish of the iPhone. Apple have completely changed the Smart Phone industry, despite all the scoffing from people like Steve Balmer less than two years ago. The iPhone keynote was amazing, and people have very short memories, so the expectation now is earth-shattering new hardware every year, and Apple simply cannot deliver that. Sure, the expectation is unreasonable, but it’s there none-the-less.

I have another theory as to why some people were not impressed with this keynote. I think many people don’t value software. Shinny gadgets are great, but software, that’s boring. If you don’t own a Mac, this keynote had very little for you, since it was heavily focused on Mac software. But, since it is MacWorld, surely that’s a good thing? I certainly think it is. I remember one criticism of the great iPhone keynote of 2007, a few people complained bitterly that this is MacWorld, and that Apple should have focused on the Mac instead of hijacking MacWorld for a mobile phone announcement. I could see their point to be honest.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I was very happy with the keynote. I’m a heavy user of both iLife and iWork, and was delighted with some of these updates. In fact, I’m writing this post in the new Full Screen mode in Pages 09. The only thing that I found a bit underwhelming was iWork. There are worthy tweaks in it, in particular in Pages, but the argument could certainly be made that this should be a free point release rather than a paid update. I did go ahead and buy it, mainly because of the integrated outliner and new full screen mode in Pages, but I do feel it was not the best value for money I’ve ever gotten from Apple. I’ve also heard that argument made about iLife though, and I couldn’t disagree more. Software doesn’t come out of nowhere, each new feature is the result of hours of toil by the designers and developers of the software. I often feel people don’t get this fact. Since software is intangible, the work that goes into it is often forgotten. When you look at the new features in iLife 09 it’s clear a lot of work went into them.

The iMovie demo was impressive, but since I know sod-all about video editing, I can’t really say much about it. What I can talk about though, is iPhoto. This app has received a lot of attention from Apple, and I’d pay $79 for the new iPhoto alone! I take a lot of shots, so organisation is very important to me, without it I’d never be able to find anything again! Both the new features are all about automating organisation to help track the two most critical things about your photographs, the people and the places in them.

Neither face recognition nor geo-tagging are new concepts, but Apple’s implementation of both is astounding. I currently track the people in my photos through a combination of keywords and photo titles and descriptions. As such I can quickly find the people in my photos, however, this takes a lot of discipline, time, and effort on my part when importing photographs. With the new Faces features that all goes away. iPhoto finds the faces in your pictures, offers you the chance to name them, and once you do, finds all the other pictures of that person in your library automatically. You can easily help it learn by confirming its correct assumptions and flagging its incorrect assumptions. Very quickly and very easily you have all the people in your photos tagged and organised. When you make slide-shows the faces are always the centre of any zoom effects, and you’ll have no more cut-off heads without any effort on your part.

The story is very similar for locations. I use keywords to help me find where photos are, and I sometimes store the co-ordinates (obtained manually with Google Earth) in the description of photos because I don’t have GPS in my camera. This all takes a lot of time and effort, and isn’t even nearly as useful as geo-tagging could be. With the new integration of Google Maps into iPhoto that’s all gotten way easier. iPhoto lets you quickly geo-tag photos based on the name of a place if your camera doesn’t have GPS, and does it automatically if it does. It knows where places are, so you can ask it generic questions like “show me all my pics in France”, or “all my pics in Paris”, with just a few clicks in it’s hierarchical view of all the places you have photos from. Simply put, this is the kind of geotagging integration I’ve dreamed of for years. I’ve seen other geo-tagging software, but nothing as well thought-out and implemented as this.

The only thing I use Garage Band for is making podcasts, and that function doesn’t seem to have changed significantly, but I do still think the integrated music lessons are cool. It’s hard not to be impressed by the ability to be thought Proud Mary by John Fogerty! It’s also a nice new revenue stream for Apple. Very smart of them really.

The iTunes “one last thing” at the end was also spectacular. An end to DRM in iTunes music. The largest digital music reseller in the world, will be completely DRM free by the end of this quarter. The largest music reseller in the US, completely DRM free, that’s fantastic news, and very much the death-knell for DRM in the music industry. Unfortunately DRM lives on in the movie industry, but that doesn’t take away from the greatness of this move. Also, not only do we get the music without DRM now, we also get it at higher quality, 256bits of AAC goodness for all! Yes, Apple had to pay dearly for this, there are now three price-points for songs on iTunes, 69 cent, 99 cent and $1.29. Depending on how greedy the music industry is this could be a good or a bad thing. Time will tell on this one. The last iTunes announcement didn’t get much coverage, but it’s actually quite remarkable. Apple are selling music over cellular networks at the standard price. Sane human being would see this as normal, but the record labels do not. On other mobile stores they make you pay extra for the convenience despite the fact that they had nothing to do with providing that convenience.

As I already said, this keynote was a bit of a washout when it comes to hardware. Everyone expected a new MacMini, and most people expected a speed and graphics bump for the iMac, we got neither. The only hardware we got was the 17” MacBook Pro Apple promised us they’d have “in early 2009”. I have the first 17” MacBook Pro, and I’m really happy with it, but it’s two and a half years old now, and starting to feel a little under powered. These new machines look fantastic, and I definitely want one. The LED screen is the big thing for me, and you can’t help but be impressed by the option of 8GB of RAM in a laptop! The 512MB graphics chip is also rather impressive. However, all the good features of the laptop will be over-shadowed by the controversy over the non-replaceable battery. Apple point out that this thing has a spectacularly long life, both in terms of use on a single charge, and over-all durability, claiming up to 8 hours on a charge and 5 years of life. The batter is custom-made and contains fancy electronics to tweak the charge going to each cell to ensure cut down wear. Personally this wouldn’t bother me. BUT, I can see it bothering a lot of people. It’s a typical trade-off. You gain a small, light laptop with a long life on a single charge and a long life before the battery wears out, but you loose the ability to swap out the battery yourself. For my use the pro ledger out-weights the con ledger, but that won’t be the case for everyone.

Finally, how did I do on my predictions, about 50/50 really, I was right about iLife & iWork, right about this not being an iPhone event, but very much wrong about the MacMini and Leopard, ironically, the two things I was most sure of!