Some of the best devices at MacWorld aren’t from Apple
When it comes to gadgets with massive sex appeal, Apple knows how to
get our motors running. The new MacBook Air, is certainly high in style
and by far the skinniest laptop I've seen. But like other ultraportable
notebooks, it compromises some features for svelte design.
A few Macworld attendees I talked to said the Air simply won't
replace their desktop computer. "The Air would be useful for people
whose primary needs involve word processing and Web browsing," said
Nick P., a composer and audio professional who's been attending
Macworld for the past 20 years. (He asked us not to reveal his last
name.) he added. "Or it's a pricey toy for rich nerds," he added.
While Apple's latest offerings—also including Time Capsule, iTunes
Movie Rentals and software updates to the iPhone, iPod Touch and Apple
TV—attracted hordes of Mac loyalists, other vendors unleashed their own
PopSci just received NDP's video game industry sales results for 2007, meaning we finally have the data to close two New Year's stocks: MADDEN and WIISALES. Both pay out at $0. Madden Football didn't even break the top five, let alone hit number one (that honor went to Halo 3). Trading halted at $7.75; most saw this coming. As for WIISALES, it was a closer call. The Wii didn't outsell PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 combined for the month of December—1.35 million units v. 2.06 million—but it wasn't far off. If supply hadn't lagged, Nintendo surely would have been the winner. Trading was halted on this one at $33.
Thanks for playing, and, as always, happy trading!
Ultrathin Laptop, New Updates for iPhone, Apple TV
Macworld Conference and Expo officially kicked off today as Apple CEO Steve Jobs took center stage and unveiled two new products, including an ultrathin laptop called the MacBook Air, and a few software updates to its existing products, including the iPhone.
Holding a manila envelope, Jobs pulled out a slick, wafer-thin MacBook Air. This is "the world's thinnest notebook," he boasted. It measures a mere 0.16 to 0.76 inches thick and weighs only 3 pounds. Even at the laptop's thickest area of 0.76 inches, the MacBook Air is thinner than today's slimmest laptops such as Sony's TZ series, which measure 0.8 to 1.2 inches thick, according to Jobs.
Part of what makes the MacBook Air so thin, Jobs explained, is that the components used inside are smaller than those in other notebooks. The Intel Core Duo processor, for example, is 60 percent smaller than Intel's current Core Duo chips. The MacBook Air's CPU sports the width of a dime and it's as thick as a nickel, said Intel CEO Paul Otellini.
Another reason the MacBook Air maintains its svelte figure is the lack of an optical disc drive. However, users will be able to buy an optional USB-connectable SuperDrive (CD- and DVD-burner) for $99 extra.
The MacBook Air has an estimated battery life of 5 hours, Jobs said. The notebook will be available at the end of January for $1,799 for the base model. The price for the 1.8-GHz or the 64-gigabyte solid state drive (in place of an 80-GB hard drive) versions have not been announced. (See the Air’s nitty-gritty specs at the end.)
A company called PhotoThera is testing a laser-based treatment for stroke victims that's designed to stimulate the brain, and help patients recover faster.
The device directs an infrared beam through the scalp, towards several different target areas in the brain. The treatment is supposed to be administered 24 hours after the onset of symptoms, and is believed to promote metabolism in the areas of the brain that receive the infrared tanning session.
So, does it work? We should find out before too long, as PhotoThera is in the midst of a large double-blind clinical trial.—Gregory Mone
The FDA announced today that meat and milk from cloned animals are just as safe as the normal stuff. Other nations have already come to the same conclusion, but this is still a major regulatory step here in the U.S. That said, clone-burgers and clone-shakes aren't going to be on sale right away. The FDA has asked clone companies to hold off selling the stuff for now. Which is probably painful, since the potential market for cloned food products has been estimated at $20 billion. One reason is that there's some serious PR work to be done before the American people are ready to swallow these not-quite-natural goods. There are also a few economic hold-ups—the animals themselves are expensive, and it may be the offspring of clones that head to the butcher. There are also some big questions about the long-term health of clones that need answering. So it's probably safe to say that Dolly stew is at least a few years away.—Gregory Mone
Stanford researchers have figured out a way to incorporate silicon nanowires into rechargeable lithium ion batteries and extend their life from 4 to 40 hours. The work, described in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology, could lead to iPods, laptops and camcorders that could be run nearly for an entire weekend without requiring a re-charge. Of course, this is still in the lab stage, and there are undoubtedly quite a few steps and hurdles between the campus and commercialization, but we're optimists. So, here's to the end of the ABC (Always Be Charging) Rule of electronics.—Gregory Mone
Why wait to buy when you can download now? While the MacBook Air was certainly the sex symbol of Steve Jobs’s MacWorld keynote today, the product with the biggest impact may be the new Apple TV.
One of the big news items at last Week’s CES was that Blu-ray appeared to have finally won the high-definition disc war. Well, it may have been a brief victory.
BD players are still pricey items, while Apple TV starts at just $229. And Blu-ray still lacks support from two major studios. Apple TV is starting small—with about 1000 films at its launch at the end of February. But all the major studios—Fox, Warner, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony (plus several minors)—have already signed on (ironic, since Sony Pictures’ parent company created the Blu-ray format). If it catches on, it could grow very fast. Remember, Apple transformed the digital music download business and could very well do the same for movies.
Critics might point out Apple’s so-so record selling TV content—especially with NBC pulling its content from the site. (Good thing I downloaded all those Battlestar Galactica episodes before that happened.) But TV is different from movies. The networks are in the business of broadcasting, whether it’s over an antenna, cable, satellite or now the Web. It wasn’t hard to predict that they would eventually want to take Internet broadcasting in-house. Movie houses, on the other hand, have always relied on other players for distribution—whether it's theaters that show first runs, stores that sell or rent DVDs or cable TV companies that broadcast or sell films on-demand. Apple is just another one of these players. If working with Apple makes them money, why wouldn’t the studios partner with Apple?
Sure, there are other movie download services—like CinemaNow, or Vudu. But Apple TV offers more. Unlike CinemaNow, it doesn’t require a computer—which few want in the livng room, no matter how well companies build Media Center PCs. And unlike Vudu, it also works with PCs for streaming music from the killer PC application, iTunes. Apple TV also lets you transfer rented movies to other devices. It doesn’t lock them inside the box as Vudu does. And Apple TV provides access to other online content like YouTube and Flickr photos.
And all of these features are way better than what you get with a Blu-ray player, which is just a one-trick disc-playing box. The appeal of Apple TV goes beyond just watching movies and plants another flag in the soil of the connected living room that electronics companies have been trying to conquer for years.
I predict that Apple will win this war, too.—Sean Captain
What's the crummiest phone out there? Probably an issue of personal preference, unless you're basing it on which breaks most easily. In that case, it's the Razr V3. SquareTrade, an independent warranty company, just released data on phone reliability based on its records. Motorola's Razr had an 18 percent failure rate across a two-year, normal-use time period. Even worse, in nearly 60 percent of those cases the phones became completely and inexplicably bricked. Of course, there might be more to phones than function; this data comes on the heels of CES, where Motorola phones garnered more nods than any others. Lets just hope the ROKR and T815 can do one better than their predecessor.—Abby Seiff
We have a few delistings and halts going on today. First, despite the bad news for HD-DVD that surfaced last week, there were more titles available on HD-DVD than Blu-Ray at the year's end. And so our HDVSBLU prop pays out at $100. The market missed out on this one: trading was halted at $47.25 per share.
Meanwhile, at the Macworld keynote speech this morning, Jobs finally publicized the iPhone sales figures: 4 million since its June 29th debut. IPSALES was set to pay out if Apple sold more than 4 million; falling ever so short, it closes at $0. High hopes for Apple, here: It halted at $69.50.
Two other Macworld-related stocks, 3GIPHON and NWTON, have been halted. We'll make the official call once the expo is over. Thanks for playing and, as always, happy trading!
Welcome to the inaugural posting of The Grouse, where once a week I’ll be ranting (and very occasionally raving) about tech, gadgets and the like that I find to be frustrating, or lacking, or stupid, or offensive, or even downright criminal (and maybe all of the above). And because misery loves company, I welcome your personal complaints for exploration in future grousings, as well as more positive comments, of course, which I will summarily dismiss if they bug me for whatever reason. That’s how I roll.
This week, I’m giving the stinkeye to an entire industry: the big bunch of liars who, for a couple decades now, have conned us into believing that optical media (CDs and DVDs) are an easy, reliable, stable method for long-term archiving of data. See, when burnable CDs and PC drives became common in the late ’90s, they were billed as having life spans of 75 to even 200 years. But although independent sources like the Council on Library and Information Resources sort of confirmed it, saying that under optimal conditions optical media can last at least a few decades, the rub is that it really applies only to high-quality, factory-pressed CDs stored under very specific conditions—which is to say, not that stack of 20-cent CD-Rs burned at 42x and then crammed into the back of your desk drawer.
At least one IBM researcher has recently found that using typical cheap, low-quality bulk CD-Rs and DVDs (which can fail for a host of reasons), we can expect our data to be reliable for, oh, more like a piddling two to five years, or about the same life span as a hard drive. In my book, this constitutes not only fraud but gross negligence on the part of manufacturers. I’m making the prediction now that in the next five or so years, a real humdinger of a class-action lawsuit is going to come out when millions (or billions) of us discover that all those backups of irreplaceable family photos, music and home movies, as well as financial records, letters and e-mails that we’ve carefully burned to disc will simply be gone—poof!—like Keyser Soze. Or perhaps more aptly, we’ll all be like a bunch of Marty McFlys in Back to the Future, watching our memories fade away before our eyes. Fortunately, there is a remedy (after the jump, of course).
Microsoft wants to stop selling Windows XP on June 30, but not all of its customers are happy about that, or excited about the prospect of switching to Vista.
Infoworld has started an online petition designed to rally support behind the old operating system—the site has even been soliciting support videos. Even if you don't share the passion of the XP support community, Infoworld's list of reasons for saving the operating system, culled from a variety of sources, makes for interesting reading. Fewer business are planning to switch to Vista, some analysts say it's never going to be the right choice for most enterprise IT outfits, and several reports indicate that it's just not performing as well as it should. PCWorld.com even shows you how to switch back from the new to the old.—Gregory Mone
A black hole wreaks all sorts of havoc in its cosmic neighborhood, pulling in and stretching out matter, spewing jets and slowing time to a near stand-still. Now astrophysicists have added a new phenomenon to the black hole's list of tricks: Light echoes.
Black holes are often surrounded by spinning discs of burning gas that can emit X-ray bursts. Because the black hole warps the surrounding space-time so intensely, though, the photons from a single one of these bursts don't always arrive at the same time. Read more on the new phenomenon, announced at this week's American Astronomical Society Meeting, here.—Gregory Mone
USA Today is reporting that A La Mobile, a small software developer, plans to announce today a host of new applications designed to run on the Google-backed operating system, Android. For now the applications are installed in an HTC smartphone, and include a browser, camera, games, contacts manager, audio player and more. HTC is just one of 34 companies in Google's Open Handset Alliance, so this is really just the start. Google says to expect an Android-based phone later this year.
As best we can tell, this pup's legit. It's a prototype from the Sky Commuter program that Boeing evidently sunk $6 million into back in the 1980s. The program was dismantled—presumably because the concept didn't, er, fly—and this is the only surviving piece of hardware. Of all the flying car concepts that we see here at PopSci—and believe me, we see a lot—this one appears to be one of the most viable designs. It's lightweight, compact, and looks nicely balanced, with a single horizontal fan out front and two aft. The seller offers no explanation as to why the program failed, but most likely it had to do with technological limitations in both power and control, the two essentials of vertical-takeoff and landing vehicles. The craft evidently conducted hover tests, but not much more. The seller implies that it might be flyable, but the buyer would be a fool to attempt it. The same limitations that existed then exist in that hardware now, so all you'd achieve is a low hover and the strong likelihood of a crash. All that aside, this thing's a beauty—elegant, seemingly very well-built, and rich in history. That canopy alone is a work of art. Check the pics to see the cartoonishly white-suited Air Force Thunderbird pilots checking it out. Let's hope it lands in a museum someplace... —Eric Adams
We did catch someone saying "this makes the Wii look stupid." And, actually, it kind of does. The 3DV Z Cam is a minuscule video camera equipped with an infrared beam, roughly the size of a web-cam, that sits on the bottom of your TV. That's where the fun starts. Flash gang signs to change channels or flick various components on or off; have a virtual dance-off outside of a specific square; KO a cartoon boxer with real jabs. But don't just take our word for it, check out the video above.
Guitar Hero's a terrific game, but doesn't do much in the way of teaching. (Unless you want to learn how embarrassingly uncoordinated you can be; in which case, kudos.) Enter a real maestro. Guitar Wizard and the forthcoming Piano Wizard go where few games dare to tread—they claim to make you more knowledgeable. Though initially skeptical, we have to admit, it seems to work. Their spokesperson promised to have web editor Megan Miller playing a song and reading music within 10 minutes. Lo and behold . . .
We test plenty of cars here at PopSci, but it's not everyday we get to try one as forward-looking and promising at the Equinox. The car runs on hydrogen fuel cells; turn the ignition and the car instantly (and silently) churns out enough electricity to power six houses. So how does that much raw, green power feel? Check it out as senior associate editor Sean Captain takes the Equinox on a spin up the Vegas Strip.
Green tech guide MetaEfficient has two guides to new electric bikes—one that reviews Schwinn's latest offerings, and another that pushes a collection of European-made bikes. The eZee electric bike, made in South Africa but available here, can help riders with hills, cruise for miles on a single charge or even race faster, depending on the model. They range in price from $1,150 to $2,200. The bikes are ideal for short-range city commuters, but at that price, you'd probably want to wheel them inside, and clear some extra space in your cube, lest some green-minded thief ride off with it.—Gregory Mone
Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology announced yesterday that they've derived colonies of stem cells from human embryos without doing any damage to those original embryos. The work is significant because it may meet the ethical guidelines of the Bush Administration, which insist that no harm be done to the embryos in pursuing this brand of stem cell research. At the same time, it might not be that clear cut, since the definition of "harm" is a bit tricky in this space, as this Washington Post article points out. The work differs from this past summer's big advance, in which scientists dodged the ethical issue altogether, and derived embyonic stem cells from mature cells.—Gregory Mone
The former CTO of the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which builds inexpensive notebook computers for kids in developing countries, now plans to build an even cheaper version. Mary Lou Jensen hopes to succeed where OLPC failed: She wants to produce laptops that sell for under $100. Way under, in fact. She says she should be able to commercialize one with a price tag of only $75. Given that the price of the OLPC version is currently north of $180, this might sound unrealistic.
But that price point may just be a long-term goal for Jensen's new company, Pixel Qi. They'll also be pursuing the idea of bringing sunlight-readable screens to other products, including laptops, cellphones and digital cameras.—Gregory Mone