Apple shines at Macworld, even with MVP Jobs benched

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This year's Macworld keynote had the potential to be a real stinker – what with über-CEO Steve Jobs sitting things out for health reasons and the company's announcement that this was the last time it would attend the annual trade show. But even with Jobs out, the Cupertino-based company presented software updates and a new laptop that earned squeals from fanboys.

iTunes

The biggest announcement in the presentation by Apple's Phil Schiller was that the company's iTunes music store would be dropping digital rights management (DRM) from all the songs it sells. Boy Genius Report had one of the first rundowns of the changes.

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Also significant on the music side of things is a change in the company's once-simple song pricing scheme. Instead of a flat $.99 fee per song, some older, "bargain bin" songs may now be scooped up for $.69, while other, more in-demand titles will increase to $1.29. The move is a departure from Mr. Jobs' conviction that the iTunes store's success hinged on a simple pricing model.

Finally, iPhone owners can now download songs over a 3G connection – rather than being limited to downloading music when connected to a Wi-Fi network. Gizmodo has a good overview.

iLife '09

First, Apple updated iPhoto, its photo organization and editing software. Highlights include facial recognition technology for organizing shots and the ability to synchronize with popular sites such as Flickr and Facebook. Also, they unveiled support for geotagging – the ability to sort and identify photos with GPS information from where the pictures were taken.

Then came a revision to the love-it-or-hate-it iMovie video editing program. The Unofficial Apple Weblog has this to say:

iMovie '09 includes a few new tricks, like animated travel maps (think "Indiana Jones") and auto stabilization for shaky video. More impressive features include drag-and-drop editing, which lets you drop a clip between others. The skimming that was introduced in iMovie '08 is still intact, while "Precision Editing" is new. Now you can move audio from one clip onto another. Not exactly the "extract audio" option from iMovie 06, but still slick. They've also added some cute effects like cartoon, x-ray, and aged film as well as sweet dynamic themes.

Finally, Apple wowed the crowd by introducing video tutorials in its GarageBand audio recording, editing, and production suite. Budding Bonos can sample nine simple lessons for guitar and piano, and progress by downloading one-on-one sessions with stars such as Sting, John Fogerty, Ben Folds, Norah Jones, and Sarah McLachlan for $4.99 apiece.

The iLife '09 suite of applications, which also includes iWeb publishing and iDVD video exporting software, ships with new Macs and will be available by the end of January as a $79 upgrade.

Macbook Pro

The flagship of Apple's portable computer line, the 17-inch Macbook Pro, joined its smaller cousins today in making the leap to what the company calls a precision aluminum unibody enclosure that the company claims is both stronger and better for the environment. That move was expected, but what made waves was the announcement that the new workhorse would include a battery that was larger and more efficient, but can no longer be removed by users. Appleinsider has more:

Apple said it uses advanced chemistry, intelligent monitoring of the system and battery, and Adaptive Charging technology to create a revolutionary new notebook battery that delivers up to eight hours of wireless productivity on a single charge and up to 1,000 recharges without adding thickness, weight or cost to the MacBook Pro's design. The longer battery lifespan equals fewer depleted batteries and less waste, which is better for the environment, the company said.

Investor reaction

Despite positive reaction from conference attendees, Apple's stock price fell over 3 percent after the presentation, but looked set to recover most of that in afternoon trading.

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