On the heels of introducing new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops, Apple just made another announcement: It's done for the year.

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On the heels of introducing new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops, Apple just made another announcement: It’s done for the year.

Squelching online rumors of updated iMacs or Mac minis, Apple spokesman Bill Evans told Macworld magazine, “Our holiday lineup is set.” For those of us who track the company’s newest products, that’s a little disappointing — after all, in the realm of shiny new toys, Apple’s products rate pretty high — but also understandable.

With the release of the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 software, redesigned laptops, a newly designed iPod nano, and updated Apple TV software during the year (among others), I can’t imagine anyone in Cupertino has had much sleep.

Not that they’re slacking now; if anything, the news makes me more excited about what Apple might do at Macworld Expo in early January. (I’ll be there reporting and also presenting a session on using iMovie ’08.)

Of course, Apple is only the central figure in the Mac/iPod/iPhone universe, and I want to talk about a few related products I’ve used recently.

iPhone third-party apps

Shortly after the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 software for first-generation iPhones were released, I wrote about some of the interesting applications that had been developed for the iPhone platform (Practical Mac, July 19). Four months have passed. What’s still on my iPhone, and what’s worth adding?

Apple is pushing the iPod touch (which runs the same software as the iPhone) as a gaming platform, and games are some of the most popular applications at Apple’s App Store. Although I was impressed with the ambitious 3-D driving game “MotoRacer,” I stopped playing it because of its signature feature.

Controlling your motorcycle racer using the accelerometer in the iPod touch or iPhone feels just enough off that my frustration level went up as I played the game.

I don’t think it’s the fault of “MotoRacer’s” designers, because I experienced the same low-level aggravation playing the racing game “Asphalt 4: Elite Racing.”

Instead, I can spend an inordinate amount of time playing Apple’s “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the solitaire game “Sol Free,” and “Lux Touch,” an iPhone version of the Risk-style Lux game, despite the aggravating fact that the game does not save when you exit the application. That forces you to start a new game when you reload it.

To my surprise, I almost never launch one of the online-radio apps such as Pandora and AOL Radio that I raved about in my earlier column. However, that’s more because of my own usage patterns: I don’t have a lengthy commute, and if I’m working and want to listen to music, I usually do so in front of my Mac with iTunes playing in the background.

I thought I would use the New York Times application to check headlines, but it’s been slow and crash-prone, so I just continue to get my news using the Safari Web browser.

On the other hand, I’m addicted to Twitterific for keeping up with Twitter, and even pop into AIM for quick instant-messaging sessions.

Definitely worth checking out is the free Google Earth, an iPhone version of the desktop application that interactively loads satellite data to visit nearly any location on the globe. We now have a science-fiction movie device in the palm of our hands.

Notable Mac applications

In my last column I tackled Adobe’s massive Creative Suite 4, and I continue to regularly use applications such as Microsoft Word, Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, and NewsGator’s NetNewsWire.

But this month I’m also branching out by using Scrivener, a $40 word processor from Literature and Latte (www.literatureandlatte.com), in my quest to complete NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month, www.nanowrimo.org). I’m insane, writing a 50,000 word novel by Nov. 30, along with thousands of other people around the world.

Fortunately, quality of writing is not a consideration; the goal is to hit that 50,000 word mark and be able to say, “Why, yes, I have written a novel!”

Scrivener is geared toward creative-writing projects such as novels or scripts, breaking documents into scenes and notes that you can pin onto a virtual corkboard for easy organization. You can color-code, categorize and otherwise manipulate elements of your story in plenty of different ways.

However, given that I’m trying to write a really rough first draft, all that organization feels a bit counterproductive. But I’m also the type who likes to have at least the bones of an outline in place (whether that’s fiction or not), so I can see how Scrivener would be useful to people not under a crazy one month deadline.

What’s most appealing, I’m discovering, is a full-screen mode that minimizes distractions by dimming everything else except the document page. The $25 WriteRoom (www.hogbaysoftware.com) does the same thing. You’d think you were working on an old IBM desktop.

As ever, even when Apple takes a break from releasing products, other companies and small developers are actively keeping the Mac ecosystem alive. Take a few minutes this week to go discover something new.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.