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Apple announces a passel of new products

By  Aug 8, 2007

Topics: Apple, iWork, iLife

I'm not sure whether that's a metric passel or an Imperial one, but either way it represents a whole lot of stuff unveiled by Steve Jobs at a special media event held at Apple headquarters this morning.

Most of the announcements were not entirely unexpected—the products had all gone longer than usual since their last updates—but there were many surprises nonetheless.

First off, the iMac got a sleek new skin as well as a beefed-up interior. Apple's design wizards wrapped the machines in a new iPhonesque aluminum and glass shell. It looks great in pictures, but I can't wait to see one in person. A new, slimmed-down (almost fragile-looking, in fact) aluminum keyboard ships as part of the package, and its flat square keys bear a family resemblance to those on the MacBook keyboard.

But what about those innards? Faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors (still just one per machine), zippier video cards, more capacious hard drives (no word on whether this is user-upgradeable), and support for up to 4 GB of RAM promise better performance than previous models. The 17-inch model is no more—the low-end iMac now has a 20-inch screen, with 24 inches at the high end. Prices remain reasonable, with the basic models costing two or three hundred dollars less than the models they replace. But with the loss of the 17-inch model, the cheapest iMac jumps from around $1,000 to $1,199.

There were software announcements, too. Sticking with the consumer-friendly theme established by the iMac, Jobs also showed off iLife '08 and iWork '08 for the first time. Both suites enjoyed significant upgrades, including one entirely new program. Pricing is still $79 apiece, with no discount for upgraders (unless you happen to buy a new Mac without the new software installed, in which case it costs only 10 bucks).

iPhoto has learned a trick or two from its big cousin, Aperture, as well as the scary new kid from down the block (Adobe Lightroom). It's got new organizational tools, such as?Events, that automatically group photos by date (not unlike Stacks), and new editing tools, including a feature that lets you copy changes made to one photo and paste them to others. More options for sharing photos are provided in the update, including the spectacular new Web Gallery. Ths feature goes hand in hand with the major changes made to Apple's .Mac Web services, where standard user storage space has increased 10-fold to 10 GB.

iMovie, according to Jobs, received the most radical rewrite (symbolized by its pointy new icon), with new methods of organizing video clips and a new storyboard-like movie editor. The latter allows for more flexible rearranging of clips than does the old timeline model. A new feature allows direct uploading of your cinematic creations to YouTube. Again, closer integration with .Mac simplifies the task of sharing movies.

iWeb has been streamlined and made more flexible. Photo pages are enhanced, and the update offers more options for customizing Web pages with easier theme switching, widgets, and the ability to add maps and ads from Google.

GarageBand
is no longer limited to CD-quality audio and now handles 24-bit audio. Its most intriguing new feature is Magic GarageBand, which lets you drag a bunch of virtual instruments onto a picture of a stage and then jam together with them. Haven’t quite figured out how that works yet...

iDVD wasn't overhauled to the same degree as its suite-mates, but it did get some nifty new animated themes, more customization features, and better performance.

And for those who use their Macs? not only for play, there's iWork '08. Apple turned the duo of Pages and Keynote into a trio by adding Numbers, Apple's answer to Microsoft Excel.

Numbers '08 seems to be a ground-up rethinking of the traditional spreadsheet application. Enormously flexible, it lets you place multiple Intelligent Tables, each with their own formatting and grid setup, into a single document, along with text, images, and graphs (2D and 3D). It even reads and exports documents in Microsoft Excel formats.

Pages '08, which used to seem more like a page-layout program than anything else, now acts more like a real word processor with Change Tracking and automatic list formatting (as with Microsoft Word). More powerful graphics tools (such as Instant Alpha) let you remove backgrounds from pictures without having to resort to a graphics application.

Keynote '08 also supports Instant Alpha and ships with new text effects and transitions as well as new animation tools. You can even record a voice-over narration, so your presentation can give itself when you're not there.

But wait, there's more! News of two more hardware updates dribbled out in the course of the day. The Mac mini finally shrugged off the ignominy of its original Intel Core Duo CPU by stepping up to a higher-speed Core 2 Duo processor, with a bigger hard drive and support for more RAM thrown in. In other news, the AirPort Extreme base station's Ethernet ports were upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet speed, thus handily silencing one of the principal criticisms that has dogged that product since its introduction.