By Jon Fortt
January 16, 2008

Last year’s iPhone introduction was an A+, with a beyond-cool gadget, new software and new services. So how did Apple (AAPL) score this year with its Macworld presentations? A slim laptop with Intel (INTC) inside won bonus points, but aside from that, CEO Steve Jobs had to rely on his top-notch presentation skills. This is how we graded his keynote announcements:

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

Apple’s gorgeous ultra-slim laptop was the star of Macworld 2008, and its dimensions are truly amazing. When I picked one up, it felt like half of a laptop, yet its solid, curved design assuaged my fears about whether it’s sturdily built. But Steve Jobs stretched reality a bit when he said it brings portability without compromises. (The biggest two are that it lacks a DVD drive and a removable battery, so you can’t pack extra juice.) Still, at $1,799 with an 80-gigabyte hard drive, this pixie is well priced for the category, and puts Microsoft (MSFT)-based offerings to shame. GRADE: A

Time Capsule

The only other new piece of hardware Jobs unveiled looks just like an AirPort Extreme wireless base station, only it’s packing a 500-gigabyte or 1 terabyte hard drive. Time Capsule uses a speedy 802.11n connection to wirelessly back up all of the files on your network (provided your computers all run Mac OS X Leopard). It’s a great idea, but it appeals to a narrow audience: Owners of multiple Leopard Macs who care enough to back them up centrally. Bottom line, Apple won’t sell boatloads of these. GRADE: B

iTunes Movie Rentals

It had to happen, but Jobs can’t be thrilled about it. If he had really wanted to offer rentals, Apple could have tried that approach a year ago, when instead Jobs announced an iTunes movie download store. But movie executives mostly boycotted the iTunes download-to-own model in 2007, forcing Jobs into this compromise. The problem with Apple’s latest rental plan? If you rent a DVD from Netflix, you can take it on a trip, bring it home for the kids to watch, and keep it as long as you want. But with iTunes, once you start watching the first time, you lose access after 24 hours. Ick. Digital downloads should be more convenient than DVDs, not less. GRADE: B-

Apple TV Do-over

After calling its first effort with Apple TV “the DVD player for the 21st Century” and then referring to it as “a hobby,” Steve Jobs finally called it what it is: A failure. But Apple’s not giving up. Thanks to a software update, the new Apple TV no longer requires a computer to pull content off of the Internet, and it now offers movies in high definition. Will Apple TV 2.0 fare much better, at its new $229 price? I doubt it. Why? While this is an improvement on Apple’s first effort, you’ll have a better movie-watching experience buying a $200 upscaling DVD player and subscribing to Netflix (NFLX). GRADE: C

New apps for iPod Touch

The iPod touch got a bit more iPhone-like, inheriting a set of programs: Mail, Maps, Stocks, Notes and Weather. With this move, Apple nudged the touch closer to being a little wireless handheld Mac. Apple didn’t have much choice: since the company is set to give software developers tools to build their own programs for the touch in about a month, someone else would have created their own versions of these nifty programs if Apple hadn’t made them available. Moving the old iPhone apps to the touch is a fine decision. But offering no innovative new programs for the Macworld crowd? Sort of a letdown. GRADE: B-

iPhone features

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Though the iPhone still doesn’t have GPS, Apple has begun using Google’s location service that relies on cell towers, and Skyhook Wireless’s service that uses WiFi base stations. The advantage here is that unlike GPS, this service will work indoors – which can’t be said for location services in Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry. The disadvantage is that iPhone location is likely to work better in urban settings than it will in rural areas or on highways. (It’s no replacement for in-car GPS.) Another great new iPhone feature: Web Clips, which have been carried over from Leopard. It should speed the process of visiting your favorite websites. The new software is free for iPhone owners; iPod touch owners will have to pay $20. GRADE: B+