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  1-16-04 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Another Year, Another Macworld Expo and Keynote


By Bob LeVitus

Each January for the past fifteen years I’ve attended Macworld Expo in San Francisco and this January was no exception. I enjoy it and always look forward to the miles of aisles jam packed with the latest and greatest and coolest new Mac stuff. I’ve often referred to it as the “greatest show on earth for Mac enthusiasts,” the ultimate gathering of the faithful and the vendors that serve them, including Apple.

As usual, the show kicked off last Tuesday with a keynote address delivered, as usual, by Apple C.E.O. Steve Jobs. This was a pretty good one. I give it an 85—it had a good beat and you could dance to it, but points were deducted for having no mind-blowing new hardware such as the iMac, iPod, or iBook at past keynotes.

The focus this year seemed to be “new and improved” versions of familiar Apple products. For example, in the enterprise space, Apple introduced new Xserve servers, now powered by single and dual G5 processors, and bigger, faster, more economical Xserve RAID Storage Systems. Yawn.

No new consumer Macs were announced—no desktops, no notebooks, and no displays. So the only new consumer hardware product was the cute and cleverly named iPod mini, a smaller sibling to the portable digital music player we all know and love (including, apparently, HP, which will ship an HP-branded iPod this summer).

It looks great and is quite stylish with its anodized aluminum case in a choice of silver, gold, pink, blue, or green. It’s smaller than an iPod—the size of a business card and half an inch thick, and is lighter in weight as well (3.6 vs. 5.6 ounces). With a 4GB hard disk holding approximately 1,000 songs, the iPod mini for Mac and Windows will ship in February for $249. My teenage daughter has already informed me that she’s partial to pink.

On the software side, Apple introduced a new version of their mid-range video editing software, Final Cut Express 2. The new version, available immediately, now offers real-time effects and transitions and is still an incredible value at $299 (or $99 upgrade).

The high point of the keynote (and the whole show, if you ask me), was the surprise introduction of the brand new and never-before-seen-in-public GarageBand, a new program that turns your Mac into a complete, easy-to-use audio recording studio and includes more than 50 realistic-sounding software instruments including an amazing grand piano, more than 1,000 professionally recorded audio loops, and over 200 pro-quality effects presets, like reverb and echo, each expertly configured by professional recording engineers. It even includes advanced guitar and amp modeling technology similar to the amazing AmpliTube Live (, which makes your guitar sound like it’s being played through several vintage amplifiers and effects. Very cool.

Of course iLife ’04 includes iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, and iDVD, and the ’04 versions are better and faster and come with more “stuff.” And speaking of stuff, there’s no shortage of it to go with GarageBand. Apple offers Jam Pack, a $99 add-on content package for GarageBand with over 2,000 additional audio loops, over 100 additional software instruments, and 15 additional guitar amp models including, “surf, grunge, heavy blues, and atmospheric.” And the Apple Store is stocked with hardware to use with GarageBand like a 49-note, full size, velocity sensitive USB MIDI keyboard for $99; a cable to plug your guitar into your Mac for recording for $19.95; and other keyboards, MIDI and audio interfaces, and cables.

iLife ’04 costs $49 and is available now.

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2003 Bob LeVitus

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