Mac Skeptic: Preview of Macworld Delights

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Sure, this week the humongous Consumer Electronics Show is grabbing all the headlines--but for the Apple faithful, the smaller Macworld Conference and Expo, which opens on Monday in San Francisco, is the only show that matters.

Last year was very eventful for Apple, and I'm wondering what surprises Steve Jobs will reveal during his keynote address on Tuesday morning. Apple never discusses products before their actual announcement, but here are some likely candidates:

Apple on Intel. Macintoshes running on Intel CPUs, as projected last June.

Front Row Rollout. Apple's Front Row media playback software on more Macs, such as the Mini and PowerBooks.

Video on iTunes. Licensing deals that will mean more videos available for purchase from the iTunes store. There have been a couple of announcements along these lines in recent weeks: In early December a raft of TV shows from NBC Universal were put online, and last week ABC Sports and ESPN began offering edited-down football games and other ESPN programs; I wouldn't be surprised if Steve has saved a big, flashy deal to announce at the show.

Next-Gen Rokr. A revised iTunes phone. The first Rokr, released in September, received pretty mediocre reviews, partly because of its 100-song storage limit. Motorola has announced a second version of the Rokr phone that will include software for a subscription music service, not iTunes. But rumors are coming out of CES this week that there will be a Motorola SLVR model with iTunes compatibility this year.

Here are a couple of announcements I'd like to hear, but think they're pretty unlikely:

iWork Update. An updated IWork productivity suite, with a spreadsheet application and more efficient export to Microsoft Word.

Lightweight Aperture. A "lite" version of the digital photo app Aperture--the program is too new to be ready for a spin-off yet. It's possible that some of Aperture's interface flourishes, like the Full-Screen mode and the Loupe, will be folded into iPhoto, but I don't expect to see an update of the iLife suite this year, since there was a major upgrade last year, and iTunes (part of the suite) has undergone two upgrades.

At the Show

Macworld Expo is where vendors who develop for Apple products strut their stuff, and the phenomenal success of the iPod means that add-ons for the players will be all over the place. Here are some highlights.

DLO HomeDock

Play iPod Tunes on the Stereo: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters has received a lot of attention for its recently released $100 HomeDock, which lets you play the contents of your iPod on your home entertainment center. It includes a remote, and you can power up and sync your iPod from it. DLO will be featuring the HomeDock in its booth, along with the TransPod, a car dock for iPods that combines a radio transmitter and recharging capability. DLO promises that it will have an announcement at the show. The company also has a varied line of stylish iPod cases.

iPod Cases: Eleksen will be showing an iPod case that has player controls built right into the fabric. The case, as well as bags and backpacks by Goodhope, use Eleksen's ElekTex smart fabric.

Exercise Guides: The color screens on all current iPod models open up possibilities to use the device for more than just music, photos, and movies. PumpPod has developed a series of exercise guides--featuring color how-to photos--that are downloadable to iPods and other portable devices. If you're taking your iPod to the gym anyway, you might as well get a little more out of it than music.

Of course the show won't be all iPod, all the time: Macs will get their share of attention as well, including in their role as a hub for rich media. One promising application that's expected to launch at the show is VideoEgg Publisher for the Mac. This browser plug-in uploads video to the Web, including to Weblogs. VideoEgg Publisher for Windows launched late last year; it's great that the company is making it available for Macs as well. Since the plug-in grabs and compresses video from mobile phones and Web cams (in addition to digital video and still cameras), it's going to make those devices a whole lot more useful. I won't get to try it until the show opens, but I'm very intrigued.

This is only a taste of what there will be to see at Macworld Expo--visit our site again soon for more news from the show.

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