More on Macworld

Contrary to most of what you read around the internets lately, his Steveness did actually talk about things other than the iPhone during his keynote on Tuesday.

Well, one thing, anyway, and it’s not nearly as interesting as the iPhone so its being overlooked is forgivable. This other thing is the AppleTV, which is an interesting idea, except that it isn’t something I have any use for. It’s basically just a way to stream music, movies, and other video over the network from your computer to your TV, similar to the Airport Express, but for all sorts of media, not just music. But only if your videos are in one of the supported formats, and only if your TV is one of the supported models (widescreen only). An interesting idea, and probably nice for people who have this exact need, but I already have an AppleTV, although in a slightly different way.

What wasn’t mentioned was one other hardware item that Apple rolled out quietly, the new Airport base station in a new form factor and 802.11n support which, with a maximum data rate of 540 Mb/second, is quite an improvement from 802.11g. The form factor alone makes this a welcome upgrade, as the old flying saucer-shaped base stations are little hard to fit into small spaces, but 802.11n finally makes wireless networking comparable to traditional wired ethernet. Even more surprising was discovering that our new iMac supports 802.11n. It wasn’t listed as a feature when we bought it, but our model appears in the list of supported systems, along with the current MacBook and MacBook Pro. Sadly, Sarai’s Titanium Powerbook only does 802.11b, so we’re not even using the full capability of our 802.11g Airport, so I don’t expect to pick up one of these until we can actually use it.

They’ve added a nice new feature as well as supporting a newer wireless standard. Airports have always had a USB port for sharing a printer to the network — we’re using our older model with our printer in this way now — but it now supports multiple devices including USB hard drives, so it can be a file server as well as a print server. No word yet on whether it runs SMB only or both SMB and AFP. The only problem with this mulitple-device idea is that the Airport still only has one USB port, so a USB hub is required if you want to attach more than one thing. Yet another piece of hardware to clutter things up. They should have included at least two USB ports.

Still, the file sharing is an interesting idea. We currently have our iMac backed up every night to a Firewire hard drive sitting next to the computer, but this isn’t ideal from a security perspective. Someone breaking in to steal the iMac will likely take the external hard drive too (this risk is mitigated somewhat by automated nightly off-site backups of the important stuff). But our Airport and other infrastructure hardware lives in a closet, so attaching the backup drive to the Airport means it would be hidden. I’ve actually briefly toyed with the idea of getting a Mac Mini for backups and file serving and keeping that in the closet, but that’s kind of overkill. The backup drive has a USB port as well as Firewire, so it would be perfect. The only problem with doing this now though is the wireless network speed we’re stuck at due to the TiBook. I’ll probably pick one of these up once everything in the house is 802.11n-capable.

The real head-scratcher with the new Airport is that it comes equipped with three 10/100 wired ethernet ports rather than gigabit. Apple has been shipping gigabit ethernet on select systems for how long? Five years? And now everything they sell is gigabit, so why restrict this device to 10/100, which is actually slower than its wireless speeds? The existence of multiple ethernet ports means that it’s obviously meant to function as a switch for wired devices as well as wireless, so throttling it like this makes no sense.

I’ll be at Macworld Expo on the exhibition floor on Friday, taking pictures and visiting the shrine of the iPhone.