Keynote Recap: What Apple did today

Well, the Stevenote’s over and we got a new laptop, a wireless hard drive, and an iPhone update. Oh yeah — iTunes movie rentals. Individually each of these announcements aren’t very exciting. The Air looks pretty cool but it doesn’t have a removable battery. The iPhone update upsets the true fanbois because it’s not unlockable even after hackers laid hands on pre-launch software. And everyone can do movie rentals, right? Heck, even Netflix can do that!

But this is Apple. They are a media darling. The Apple TV might have sucked in 2007 but Take 2, the new software, looks like it might be the behemoth that knocks out everyone from Blockbuster to Vudu. Here’s why.

Apple knows iPods. They’ve sold millions of them, iTunes is everywhere, and people know — generally — how to get movies onto their iPods. Some of them know better than others, but most DivX downloads are going straight into MPEG4 and onto iTunes for later consumption.

So now this new $229 Apple TV is waiting in the Apple store. Whereas before the Apple TV seemed like a glorified USB drive, now it offers interactive features including movie downloads and rentals. It’s got HD content, a fat hard drive, and quick streaming. It’s waiting patiently for iPod fans who might want to watch Ratatouille on their HD TV without buying an HD disc player.

In short, this is the beginning of the end for disc formats. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 space that took down the record labels. It made it accessible to everyone and dumped very sexy hardware on the world. The Apple TV has a nice interface, it plays well with iTunes, and it costs about the same as competing devices. Blu-Ray/HD DVD are dead, long live downloads.

As for the MacBook Air, laptops have been pretty ugly for a few years now. Lenovo dropped a few nice notebooks but anyone who is still getting their laptops from IT knows that laptops, on the whole, are ugly and big. The Air is pretty and light.

Again, these are not breakthroughs, they are refinements. Sony and the rest did ultralights years ago — Apple made them drool-worthy. Netflix and TiVo and Amazon all serve up video, but Apple made it as easy as plugging in some cables. Don’t believe me? Watch the space under your cable box for an HD DVD player or Blu Ray. When it doesn’t arrive by next Christmas — “Meh, I never got around to buying one” — then we’ll talk about next steps and, for many people, that next step will be Apple TV.