Another year has all but past. I'm sure for most of us, it has been an interesting year. The economy and the war in the gulf weighed heavily on most people's minds. Technology companies suffered from the effects of a poor economy, but there were some interesting trends and new products that came about this year. Surprisingly, Apple had one of its best years ever.
First and foremost was the return of Steve Jobs, who had taken a six-month medical leave from Apple. It had finally surfaced that Jobs actually underwent a liver transplant. He returned as planned in July and took the stage in September for the release of new iPods. Many stories were written about Apple and Jobs and could they survive without its charismatic CEO and original co-founder. While he was gone, Apple went on releasing new products and having amazing financial success, even with a dismal economy.
The year started out with the last ever Apple Keynote for MacWorld Expo. The Expo will go on in 2010, but without Apple. This was sad to hear, but many companies are choosing not to attend big expos like this. The cost of manning a large booth is extremely high. Phil Schiller, who stood in for Steve Jobs, gave the keynote address.
Schiller demoed a new version of iLife, which of course is called iLife 09. It is a typical version upgrade with some nice new features. Most notable was the new 'face recognition' feature in iPhoto and a much-improved version of iMovie. Garage Band added some cool video lessons, with some well-known artists. Apple also showed the new iWork 09, which is their office-like suite of word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program.
The Mac OS was updated to 10.6, a.k.a. Snow Leopard. This time around Apple decided to price the new OS at a mere $29. Since this was more of an update of Leopard than a whole new 'cat', the pricing seemed right.
This new OS release didn't bring a bevy of new features but internally there were plenty of changes. Unfortunately, these internal changes did cause a few minor problems with some Leopard users, mostly compatibility with older software and peripherals. This update was also limited to Intel Macs. G5 and older Macs weren't invited to this party. If you had an Intel based Mac, upgrading to Snow Leopard did bring some speed improvements. Nothing earth shattering, but the Mac just seemed to be more responsive boots faster, programs launch faster, emails pops up faster, web pages appear faster, etc.
Throughout 2009, Apple revamped the entire Macintosh lineup. We got new MacBook Pros, MacBooks, iMacs, minis, and Mac Pro towers. All of the aluminum unibody laptops are now called MacBook Pros, even the 13-inch. They all have non-user replaceable batteries, which by the way can last for up to 7 hours. The white MacBook, Apple's least expensive laptop, is now a unibody design, but out of white polycarbonate plastic not aluminum. They all now have LED backlit wide-screens.
New Mac Pros were released using Intel's new Core i7 quad-core processor, instead of Intel's Xeon quad-core. To most that doesn't mean much, but to those who compress video, render 3D animation, or just plain crunch tons of scientific data, it was great news. The Core i7 uses a technology called 'hyper threading' that allows each processor core to perform two tasks at the same time. This means that one i7 can do 8 processes at one time, while a dual i7 system can do 16.
The iMac was updated with faster processors and larger LED backlit screens 21.5 or 27-inch wide HD format. The top-of-the-line iMac 27-inch is available with either an Intel Core i5 or, by special order, a Core i7 processor, making it the first iMac with a quad-core processor. If you choose the Core i7 you actually get 4 processors that are 'hyper threaded', meaning it can work on 8 processes at a time instead of 4.
The LED backlit screens on the new iMacs are gorgeous. They have an even wider color gamut than the previous model, plus with the LED backlighting it is slightly thinner. The 27-inch model has the ability to act as an external display. This allows you to connect it to a compatible computer, like a Mac mini or MacBook Pro, or even a device like a Blu-Ray player or game system. The iMac 27 is destined to be a multimedia hub, just add an HD tuner and you're all set.
In a surprise move from Apple, iMacs now ship with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is the smaller non-keypad model, but the mouse is all new. Now called the Magic Mouse, this new model is much sleeker than the previous model, the Mighty Mouse. There are no buttons, plus it doesn't even have a little scrolling ball or wheel. The idea behind the Magic Mouse it that the surface of the mouse is the button and is also touch sensitive. You can scroll in any direction using your finger. It uses gestures in a similar way to the MacBook's trackpad or the touchscreen of the iPhone.
Summer brought a new iPhone. The 3G was updated to 3GS, supposedly the S was for speed. And speed it had. The new processor and video system definitely made a difference in some iPhone Apps, especially games. The 3GS got a new camera with a 3-megapixel sensor. Better yet, this new camera could also capture video you could even do basic video editing on the phone. The new iPhone OS, version 3.0 was also released a much needed improvement. Simple things like cut-and-paste were finally added.
What some thought was even bigger news, the fact that Apple didn't just drop the 3G off the books but lowered the price to $99. Having that lower priced iPhone seemed to capture those who wanted one but balked at the $200 or $300 price tag. If you didn't need the newer camera and could live with the slightly slower processor, the iPhone 3G is still a great smart phone (don't forget the built-in compass).
In the world of iPods we got a new even smaller Shuffle, new Touch (without the expected camera), new Nano (with an unexpected video camera), and the still alive Classic now with 160GB of storage. The Nano really stole the show with its new video camera. It's not going to replace your camcorder or maybe not even one of those small HD Flip Video recorders, but it is super convenient to have a little digital video recorder with you where ever you take you music.
One of the lasts things to get updated was my favorite Mac, the mini. Surprisingly, the mini was updated back in the beginning of the year and then again at the end of October. The first update carried the biggest changes. The design didn't change, but internally the video system got a much-needed boost. The previous mini used the Intel GMA950 integrated video chip. This was decent for 2D applications, like web browsing, word processing, Photoshop, etc., but not for the new crop of 3D games that were finally appearing for the Mac.
The new mini now has the same nVidia 9400M video chip used in the MacBook. While no speed demon, it is up to 5x faster than the GMA950. The late October update basically brought slightly faster processors, more RAM, and larger hard drives, for the same price. The mini is available as a 'desktop' model or as a 'server' model, which includes a copy of Snow Leopard Server. The server model has no optical drive slot, but does have room for two hard drives inside the tiny case.
In 2009 Apple showed that it was financially sound, outperforming most all other computer companies, many of which had poor sales and had to lay off employees. For 2009, Apple's stock almost doubled in value, an amazing feat considering the fall of Wall Street and the banking industry. This was a very impressive year for Apple and with the return of Steve Jobs Apple can look forward to 2010 and all that it may bring.