Page last updated at 01:53 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Apple 'underwhelms' at Macworld

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, Macworld, San Francisco


Rory Cellan-Jones reports from California on the opening of Macworld 2008

Apple went out with a whimper at its last Macworld expo according to the Mac faithful who gather here every year.

The company stayed on script with no game changing-gadgets - unlike previous shows where the iMac, iPod and iPhone were unveiled.

Instead, Apple announced a range of upgrades, with the most significant change being an end to copy restrictions on music downloaded from iTunes.

Apple lowered expectations when it said this was its last Macworld along with news that chief executive Steve Jobs would not do the keynote address.

Taking centre stage this time was Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, who did not "rock the house", according to Gartner analyst Van Baker.

But then Mr Baker pointed out that he had "played it subdued even for Phil. He isn't trying to be Steve. Nobody can be Steve. Steve is a unique personality."

Indeed the Macworld keynote has become a must have ticket for Mac lovers as a result of Mr Jobs's energetic performances and his ability to wow the crowd with his legendary phrase "one more thing" which he says before revealing a knock-out product.

Mr Jobs sent a letter to the Apple Community before the show started to explain his decision not to attend following fevered speculation he was seriously ill. In it he said he had been suffering a "hormone imbalance" and he would recover and remain CEO of the company.

'Low key event'

Mr Jobs's explanation turned the spotlight back to Macworld which Mr Baker said was all about "evolution not revolution" for Apple.

Phil Schiller at Macworld
Phil Schiller failed to ignite the crowd

"There just weren't any stand-out announcements. It was a low-key event for Apple," he told the BBC.

The upgrades that were announced to less than enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience were for iLife and iWork.

iLife 09 will include jazzed up editing software that integrates with Google Maps to let users create maps of where their videos and photos were taken. The iPhoto software will have new face recognition features that will also be integrated with Facebook and Flickr.

The new Garageband 09 software comes with piano and guitar lessons for beginners with a little bit of help from some superstar musicians like Sting, Norah Jones and John Fogerty.

Mr Schiller said: "It's so simple and such a breakthrough way to learn music."

Not unlike Google Docs, the iWork upgrades will let users share documents and spreadsheets through an online service to be launched later in the year. A beta version is available now so "customers can get involved and try it out and help us make it really great", said Mr Schiller

From a hardware standpoint, Mr Schiller announced a new 17-in MacBook Pro with a longer battery life of 8 hours, which many expected last year.

His "one last thing" failed to excite and centred on an end to Digital Rights Management restrictions on iTunes and a new pricing plan.


So how did the audience rate Apple's final contribution at Macworld?

For Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat, it was much ado about nothing.

"I was so underwhelmed by it all. There were rumours of exciting things to come like a new version of the iPhone, the iPhone Nano but they didn't talk about that," said Mr Takahashi.

Mark Higbie at Macworld
Mark Higbie said Macworld without Apple will be a very different show

"They really bored me with the iWork demo. Better features in spreadsheets and work processing programmes. I just can't get excited about that. It made me feel like I was in the middle of a Microsoft keynote," he quipped.

Tom Grant of Ultra Graphics in Beverly Hills, California is a 20-year veteran of Macworld and for him this was by far the worst he had been to both in terms of presentation and context.

"It was the flattest one I have ever seen. Schiller was okay. Upgrades to iLife and iWorks were okay. The new 17-in notebook was to be expected. I just felt it was a waste of time going to the keynote," he told the BBC.

Steve Cheung of Question Smart from Hong Kong said "expectations were set low and Apple delivered".

Jason Portorti of was in agreement:

"This year I am pretty underwhelmed. The Macbook Pro was expected. The iLife refresh is nothing spectacular. Maybe this all fits in with the company paring down its trade show presence and releasing things on their own timetable."

Tony Bennet at Macworld
Tony Bennett wowed fans at Apple's last keynote for Macworld

Mark Higbie of Higbie Visual Partners of San Francisco said after a decade of attending Macworld, the show will not be the same without Apple's presence.

"Clearly Macworld is a gathering of the faithful. It's an important movement and I don't know how you replicate this. I have had a ball coming here the last 10 years and being among the brotherhood and sisterhood that gathers here, " said Mr Higbie.

While the review of Mr Schiller's performance was described variously as "boring", "outstanding" and "lacking charisma", the one person who perhaps brought the magic back to Macworld was Tony Bennett.

The legendary crooner knocked out his old favourite I Left My Heart in San Francisco to rapturous applause. His opening number The Best is Yet to Come perhaps signifies for Apple fans there is so much more to look forward to in the coming months.

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