By Dave Hecei
2008 has been an amazing and interesting year for Apple and Macintoshes. We have yet again reached another years end with 2009 rapidly approaching. There have been new products released, software upgraded, and some odd things have occurred.
As usual, the year started out at the MacWorld Expo 2008. The major release at the expo was the MacBook Air, something new for the MacBook line. The Air is a super thin ultraportable notebook, touted by Apple as the world's thinnest notebook. To get the Air so thin, Apple did have to remove some stuff. There is no optical drive, but a small external USB Superdrive, DVD burner, is an available option. Apple, in their usual way, came up with a clever way to 'borrow' another computer's DVD drive, as long as it was on the same network. This was software that works on both Macs and Windows PCs. Also missing were most of the ports. There is only one USB port, a video port, and a headphone jack. Talk about minimalism.
One of the major features of OS X Leopard is Time Machine, an automated backup technology. Before Leopard was released, one of Time Machine's features included backups over a network. When Leopard was finally released, network Time Machine wasn't there. Time Capsule brought this feature back, at a price. Time Capsule combines an Apple Airport wireless router with a built-in hard drive for backups or storage (either 500GB or 1TB starting at $299).
In the spring, the iTunes Store, and the Apple TV, started offering movie rentals. A few months later, Apple finally released an official SDK (Software Developers Kit) for the iPhone. With this kit, those who were registered could create applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. When these Apps became available, sales were threw the roof. These new Apps, and a new 3G iPhone released in the summer, gave Apple one of its best years yet. The 3G iPhone, named because it uses the faster 3G cellular data network, had more up its sleeve. Along with the faster 3G data speeds were things like GPS hardware and better battery performance.
Over the summer some odd things occurred. There was the reported ''health concerns'' of Steve Jobs, Apple CEO. Jobs gave another one of his keynotes at the summer's WWDC conference. His appearance, thinner than usual, caused a major stir for online bloggers. So much so that it actually made its way into traditional news venues. In October, a fake report stating Jobs had suffered a heart attack found its way onto CNN's iReport, an online citizen journalism site. It caused a serious drop in Apple's stock, momentarily, and caused an SEC investigation finding an 18-year old was to blame.
Along with all this, there was a fairly major fire in one of the buildings on the Apple campus. Another rocky road was the transition of .Mac to MobileMe. Things didn't work as planned and Apple was forced to credit accounts with extra months of service.
The fall of 2008 brought us a whole new lineup of iPods and MacBooks. The MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air all got updated. The MacBook and Pro even got a new 'body' made from a solid piece of aluminum. A solid slab of aluminum is machined out by a computer controlled (CNC) robot. The result is an extremely stable case to put the internal parts inside. The aluminum is perfect for lightweight, strength, and heat dissipation. These new MacBooks also got an upgraded video system. The MacBook and Air got the new nVidia GeForce 8400 chipset, a vast improvement to the generic Intel video. The Pro also has the 8400 chipset, but also has a separate discrete video 'card' using the even faster GeForce 9600 chipset. This allows the Pro to run either a slower, but more energy efficient, video system and when needed - like doing graphics, 3D work, or gaming can engage the better 9600 video.
The entire line of iPods was either changed or updated. The Shuffle, Apple's least expensive iPod it has no display didn't change, except for colors. Totally new was the Nano. It became tall and skinny again, replacing the ''fat'' Nano, but still had a 2-inch wide-screen color display for pictures and video. The new Nano is available in several colors and with 2, 4, or 8 gigs of flash memory. The iPod Classic, the only iPod with a hard drive, is now available in only one size, 120GB. Another update was the Touch, basically an iPhone without the phone. The 2nd generation Touch, which could be considered a pocket computer, got external volume controls added along with a built-in speaker. What really made the Touch's day were the new operating system update and all the new software available on the App Store.
While Apple's financials were some of the best in the industry, even in the current tumultuous economic climate. But even Apple is feeling the pinch. Just recently, Apple announced that Jobs would not give the keynote at the January 2009 MacWorld Expo and that afterwards they would no longer be participating in the Expo. While some chose to try and read between the lines, most seem to understand Apple's reason of not wanting to be tied to specific trade shows for announcements of new products.
It definitely was an interesting year. Can Apple keep things moving next year? Only time can tell. Rumors include new iMacs and Mac minis available in the beginning of the year. 2009 will also bring a new OS X, code named Snow Leopard. Instead of adding new technologies Apple has decided to tighten up the current OS X. Snow Leopard should be faster, Apple is rewriting the code for most of the OS to run fully in 64-bits. Apple is also rewriting components, like Mail, iChat, Quicktime, Preview, etc. making them smaller and faster. Should be an interesting year.