There was loads of speculation that Apple CEO Steve Jobs might make a surprise appearance at the company's annual developer conference in San Francisco today. In typical Apple fashion, the company did nothing to stamp out those rumors. For example, they might have simply told people that the rumors were not true and that Jobs would not attend the show. Instead, Apple exploited the hype and let everyone sit there waiting for Jobs to show up, proving once again that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, these guys won't do to get their fanboys worked into a frenzy. Alas, in the end, Dear Leader did not show. But the company unleashed a barrage of new products, including a new iPhone that sets Apple even farther ahead of its rivals in the smart-phone market. In fact, at this point Apple appears to be almost untouchable in this space, which is turning out to be the most important sector of the computing market.
The new iPhone, called iPhone 3GS, looks like the current model but is faster and has loads of new features, including longer battery life, faster Web browsing, voice control so you can dial numbers and even change songs using your voice, and a better camera that can take videos as well as still photos. The new phone ships June 19 and comes in two models—a 16-gigabyte model that costs $199, and a 32-gigabyte model that goes for $299. Apple will continue selling the current model, called iPhone 3G, but has slashed the price to $99 for an 8-gigabyte model. That move will push Apple down into a lower end of the market and protect it from new rivals like Palm, which introduced its long-awaited Pre smartphone over the weekend. (That giant sucking sound in Silicon Valley was the sound of all the hope and optimism rushing out of Palm's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. Apple's new stuff didn't just widen the gap between iPhone and Pre—it was more like a boot across Palm's throat.) Also on display today: new operating-system software for the iPhone; a new desktop operating system; loads of new iPhone apps; and a new lineup of notebook computers with lower price points—a nod, perhaps, to the recession, which has hurt Apple's business and given rival PC makers, which sell less-expensive machines, a boost. Here's a quick rundown:
New iPhone operating software. The iPhone OS 3.0 will ship June 17 and will let owners buy and rent movies over the air from iTunes. It will also let users "tether" an iPhone to a laptop, using the iPhone to access the Internet—except in the U.S., where AT&T won't support this. There's also a new feature called Find My iPhone, available to MobileMe subscribers (a.k.a. suckers like me who pay a hundred bucks a year to get an Apple e-mail account) that calls up a map and pinpoints your phone on it. So you can find a lost phone. Or your friends can use the same feature to find you. If the phone has been lost or stolen, you can send a message to the phone asking whoever found it to call you so you can get it back. There's even a new feature that lets you wipe out all of your personal data remotely.
New desktop operating software. Apple showed a sneak peek of Snow Leopard, the next version of its OS X operating system. (The current version is just plain old Leopard.) The new OS will be speedier and will be available for only $29 as an upgrade. The new system will include smooth integration with Microsoft Exchange, meaning Apple's desktop applications like iCal, Address Book and Mail will interoperate smoothly with Exchange. Apple says it will ship in September, a month before Microsoft ships its next version of Windows, called Windows 7.
New Macs. Apple has refreshed its notebook lineup, focusing on affordability. The new MacBook Pro starts at a lower price point than before—$1,699 now gets you the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro, a price cut of $300 from the current model. Biggest new feature is a built-in (as in, "can't be removed") battery that Apple claims can deliver up to seven hours of use. Also refreshed is the high-end 13-inch MacBook, which has now been promoted to MacBook Pro status. There's also a new MacBook Air, with a starting price of $1,499, and a price of $1,799 for one with a 256-gigabyte solid-state drive, a $700 price cut from the current lineup.
New apps. Apple showed off a bunch of new apps that other companies have developed for iPhone. One lets you find and rent a Zipcar with your phone, and even unlocks the car's door. Another turns your iPhone into a TomTom GPS device. Another is an e-reader application from ScrollMotion that promises to offer 50 magazines, 170 daily newspapers and 1 million books on the new iPhone platform.
All told, it was an overwhelming show from Apple, which continues to push ahead of everyone else in the computer and consumer electronics space. It almost didn't matter that Steve Jobs wasn't there.