We take a look at how Apple's renewing its love for the Mac and dig into what the new version of Mac OS X, Lion, may mean for Mac users going forward.
FaceTime gets ready for its close-up
Many users have been hoping Apple would make FaceTime video calling available to a wider audience than just iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch owners. While most commentators surmised that Apple would build FaceTime into iChat, it turns out that FaceTime will be a separate application (for now, anyway). Given that most Macs include a built-in camera for video chat and taking photos, this is a natural way to extend FaceTime to a larger audience.
In beta now, FaceTime is available for download from Apple's site. It has potential both for keeping up with friends and family and for conducting virtual business meetings. It will be interesting to see if Apple keeps FaceTime limited to two-party calls or expands it to the multi-party calls that iChat supports.
It will also be interesting to see if Apple bundles FaceTime into the next generation of Mac OS X Server; current and previous releases include a free IM/voice/video chat feature based on the open source Jabber protocol dubbed iChat Server. As Snow Leopard Server and the Mac Mini server hardware provide a simple and very low-cost server solution for small business or workgroups in a larger organisation, FaceTime could become a powerful selling point for the platform.
It's worth noting that despite Apple's attempt to push the FaceTime protocol as an open standard that could have compatible apps for Windows 7 and/or Android devices, FaceTime remains an Apple-only technology, while competing products such as Yahoo Messenger offer broader video calling capability:.
An interesting side note is that Apple's slides and details about the new MacBook Air refer to the built-in camera as a FaceTime camera instead of the iSight moniker that Apple has used up to this point.
The new MacBook Airs
As expected, Apple introduced two new MacBook Air models that feature several weight-reduction design elements borrowed from the iPad. With 13.3in and 11.6in displays, both models measure less than an inch thick (0.68 in. at their thickest point and 0.11in at the thinnest). Eschewing both optical drives and HDD drives, they use only SSD flash storage, which is built right onto the board rather than fitted into a hard drive slot.
Although there's no iPad-style touch screen, the new models do sport a full-size glass track pad (already found on other MacBook models) that supports multi-touch gestures (swiping with varying finger combinations, rotating content, pinch to zoom, etc.) as well as a full-size keyboard. They ship with 2GB of RAM, the Nvidia GeForce 320m graphics chipset and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (1.4GHz in the 11.6-in. model and 1.86GHz in the 13.3-in. model).
Prices range from £849 for an 11.6in model with 64GB of storage to £1,349 for the 13.3in model with 256GB of storage.
Jobs has repeatedly said that Apple wouldn't launch a netbook, but the size, weight and battery life of the new Airs (Apple claims seven hours for the 13.3in model and five hours for the 11.6in) will draw inevitable comparisons to netbooks. While the new Airs aren't likely to win any speed tests against other Mac laptops (or indeed many PC laptops), their specs do put them ahead of mainstream netbooks when it comes to power and performance.
The 11.6in model in particular gives Apple an entry into the sub-notebook space at a much lower entry price than the previous generation of MacBook Airs. It will be interesting to see how these fare in the market compared to iPads.
NEXT PAGE: Enter the Lion