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Macworld keynote suffers by comparison to fantasies

Even before Steve Jobs concludes one of his legendary keynotes, the grousing begins. This time has been no different.

Too many Apple fans get caught up in the pre-keynote hype, rumors and wish lists that build expectations for extremely cool but utterly unlikely wonder-toys. Disappointment is almost a given.

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People wanted a 3G iPhone – they didn't get it. People wanted a WiMax-enabled touch screen mini-laptop, but got only the MacBook Air. People wanted to be blown away by another game-changing product like last year's iPhone.

Wall Street has also given the keynote a thumbs-down, slicing $9.74 from AAPL yesterday and so far another $8 today, leaving the stock hovering at $160.

I have been amused over the past few days by frequent glowing references to the 2007 MWSF keynote, which -- benefiting from the hindsight of the iPhone's success -- is considered a classic.

Lest we forget, many Mac faithful were distraught over the absence of Mac news in last year's keynote. Yesterday Jobs gave us a new Mac laptop and new hardware to back up our Macs. Just last week he gave us new pro desktops and servers.

Most of the discontent on what Jobs did announce has centered on the MacBook Air. Critics don't like its sealed, non-user-replaceable battery, its lack of an optical drive, its lack of Ethernet and FireWire ports, its slower CPU (well, slower than a regular MacBook's). Sure it's thin, but it's still too wide and long, they moan. Australia's APC magazine actually posted article listing the top 10 things wrong with the new MacBook.

The new MacBook Air

A few have defended the MacBook Air, noting it is not positioned as a primary machine but as a highly portable companion to a more powerful Mac. It won't be for everyone. But it will have a constituency.

Disenchanted Apple fans weren't the only ones finding fault; several media pundits weighed in as well with a negative take on yesterday's events in San Francisco.

Perhaps the worst example was Lance Ulanoff of PC Magazine, who interprets the keynote's dearth of paradigm-changing products as evidence that Apple has become a tech follower, not a leader.

An ultra-portable notebook, online video rental, a networked backup storage device have all been done, he writes. "There isn't an iPhone in the bunch," Ulanoff yawns.

Of course, that's what the "experts" said one year ago when Jobs introduced the iPhone. There were plenty of smart phones out there already. Apple was late to a crowded market and would get eaten alive. Yesterday Jobs noted that the iPhone had snapped up 19.5 percent of the smart phone market in its first quarter of availability.

Ulanoff undercuts the new iTunes Movie Rental service with the same "others are already doing it" argument. Coupled with the new Apple TV software (the hardware remains the same), Apple appears to have an end-to-end digital video download solution brewing that could someday rival its iTunes-iPod digital music behemoth. It's a big deal.

Others may offer movies over the Internet, but no one combines all the pieces the way Apple does. No one has this kind of integration between the Internet, your computer and your TV, much less offers multiple options for viewing purchased content. Who else can put a rented movie on your iPhone and your HDTV?

True, this year's keynote did not have an iPhone to dominate it. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that while there was less flash, there was more substance. Don't be surprised if the pre-Macworld speculation next year dwells on whether Jobs' 2009 keynote will be as crammed with as many juicy announcements as the 2008 edition.

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