Apple Drops the Computer, Picks up the Phone, and Streams to the Living Room

After the annual Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld San Francisco in early January, it’s traditional to bolt to the show floor, enter the Apple booth and play with the just-released hardware or software product. It’s been this way for years and, alongside the running of the bulls at Pamplona—and the media dash up the Moscone Center escalator just prior to the keynote—the post-keynote trek to the show floor has never failed to satisfy.

This year, though, the hottest Macworld product, the one that Steve Jobs spent the majority of time talking about, had as much in common with the Mac platform as the Motorola StarTac does with Microsoft 2000 Professional. And the product, named the iPhone months after Cisco’s Linksys arm released a VoIP phone by the same name, was only available for viewing behind glass at one end of a booth that was a bit sparser than the traditionally minimalist Apple booth.

At the outset of the keynote, Jobs announced a single Macintosh fact—that the majority of Macs bought in the last year at its retail stores were now being sold to first-time Macintosh users—before commenting that the fact was all the keynote time he was going to give to the Mac. No computer product upgrades were announced, nor was the highly-anticipated yearly update to iWork and iLife.

At the end of the keynote, he announced that Apple—due to its move into three product lines beyond the traditional Macintosh computer—was dropping the "Computer" from its name. Now that the lawsuit with Apple Corps. Ltd. is history, the company formerly known as Apple Computer, Inc. is now just known as Apple, Inc.

Between the introduction and the finale, Jobs focused on two products—the iPhone and a home entertainment delivery device named Apple TV.

The phone product, according to Jobs, was more than three years in the making. It pushes the iPod side of the triangle of iPod-Phone-Internet Tool equation forward by natural bounds, introducing a widescreen video playback device that many rumors had been noting as the "true video iPod."

The screen itself is 3.5" diagonal and has the ability to change both position (automatically from portait to landscape, thanks to a built-in accelerometer) and aspect ratio—the latter by tapping the screen to move from pan-and-scan to full cinema aspect ratios. A single button on the phone’s front is a "panic button" of sorts, bringing the user back to the home screen. The phone contains a 2-megapixel camera designed both for video and still-image capture, along with a sleep-wake button and a tactile volume control, but the majority of the features are accessed via the touchscreen.

One specific benefit to Apple’s approach to touchscreen user interfaces—a patented touchscreen technology it calls MultiTouch—allow s simultaneous multiple finger touches to the screen. The practical application of MultiTouch is the ability to "pinch" or squeeze or expand images, video, and contact information, in much the same way that the Macbook or Powerbook touchpads allow.

The crowd was with Jobs from the first time he showed MultiTouch, and the benefits of the device even without the phone capabilities are myriad—WiFi browsing on a full Safari browser and built-in widgets patterned after OS X Tiger widgets, but the double-edged fly in the ointment that many attendees expressed after the keynote was the fact that it appears Apple will only sell the device bundled with a two-year subscription from Cingular and that there was no price noted for an unlocked, contract-free devices.

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