Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Apple's WWDC 2013 Keynote

I watched the live stream of the keynote at Apple's developer conference yesterday. They announced updates to the Mac and iOS operating systems and some new hardware.

On the hardware side, the MacBook Air got an update. It seems that Intel's new Hazwell processors really do work at preserving battery life. The 11" Air will run for 9 hours (up from 5) and the 13" will run for 12 hours (up from 7). Those are big differences as if the numbers are right (and Apples battery life numbers usually aren't exaggerated) they now qualify as running for all day. I think the prices are all $100 less than previous models and the storage, which is all flashed-based doubled which is also a big deal. The Air's previously had very limited storage and now you can get with 256GB which is what the laptop I just replaced had. They also announced support for 802.11ac a new faster wifi standard and that came with new AirPort routers that support it. Nice but not something I'm going to need anytime soon.

They also showed a sneak peak at the new Mac Pro. They usually don't do this but it's the right audience and the obsolescence of the current Mac Pro is practically a joke. I'm sure they would have liked to have released it for this event but I guess it's just not ready yet. It's a completely new design and radical enough that it now seems obvious. Even the website is pretty gorgeous. The new machine is a black 10 inch tall and 6.6 inch diameter cylinder. It uses Xeon processors, PCIe flash storage, very fast RAM and has two FirePro GPUs. It will support up to three 4K displays. All of that is assembled around a triangular cooling core with a single fan that pulls the heat out and up. This thing will probably heat a room, but quietly. It has six of the new Thunderbolt 2 (and six USB 3) connectors and and all the expandability is through them. That keeps expansion external but allows it to be fast (and expensive). They said it will be available later this year and didn't announce pricing, but I'm sure it will be very expensive.

In describing it Phil Schiller said "Can't innovate anymore my ass." It was one of several snarky comments. Craig Federighi had a few in describing the new looks of OS X and iOS.

  • "No virtual cows were harmed in the making of this app".
  • "Even without the stitching, the app still sticks to the screen."
  • "We completely ran out of green felt. And wood, as well—this has gotta be good for the environment"
  • at one point he called Firefox's performance "just sad" and that went a little too far for me.

Apple's best name for OS X 10.9 was Sea Lion but they weren't happy with it. So the cat names theme has been replaced with a California theme, starting with Mavericks. Okay. They have made a number of internal improvements that mostly seem to be concentrated around reducing power consumption. Instead of paging to disk (which I guess is usually flash now) they compress memory and store it in RAM. They say it's faster, more power efficient, and works well with multiple cores. They now coalesce system timers so they go off together, allowing the CPU to handle more of them at once and idle for longer. They claim this gives up to 72% cpu performance improvements. Finally apps that aren't visible can now be throttled and given lower priority. We'll see how well this works.

The Finder now has tabs, not sure I'll ever use that. They also added tags to files which is something I'll try but not sure it will do a lot for me over folders. For those with multiple displays (like users of the new Mac Pro) they improved support for them with menus and docks and Spaces and Mission Control. I don't really use them but maybe they finally work well.

Safari got some performance improvements and apparently uses less power which will help the most common use of a laptop. There's a new home page with top sites and an improved sidebar which incorporates links from twitter feeds and other social media accounts. Cute but not that interesting. Notification center now supports push notifications and some syncing across devices as well as some controls to allow actions directly from the notification.

The keychain gets more iCloud support making it a 1Password competitor. The Calendar removes the leatherette and finally does more with locations, including allowing for travel times based on current traffic. There's also a new Maps app that looks nice and syncs bookmarks and directions well with the iPhone. I think I'll actually use that. And also moving things from iOS there's now an iBooks app for the Mac that looks very useful for textbooks.

iOS got the biggest changes with a whole new look and some fixes for long standing complaints. Swiping up brings up Control Center with one button access to various settings (bluetooth, brightness, a flashlight, music controls, etc.). Swiping down brings up a more featured Notification Center. Swiping from the left edge of the screen to the right seems to be a back button for many apps. Hopefully it's less confusing than I understand Android's back button to be. The app switching UI changed and now includes screen shots of the apps. Under the hood, there are some performance improvements and new features to allow apps to do more in the background without killing the battery.

There was a lot about Jonny Ive's new design for iOS. It makes some sense and many of the apps are vastly improved (particularly Calendar) but the icons are weak and I'm a bit nervous about the use of translucent layers. I thought that proved to be a failure with the OS X menu bar (and now turn it off immediately). Share sheets seem more useful, with more places to share and easier sharing and AirDrop support. I would have used that a couple of weekend ago.

Safari is more full screen and the tab UI looks more like an infinite rolodex. The camera adds filters and now does four things (photos, video, square photos (why?) and panoramics). Photos now automatically organizes photos by "moments" and "collections" based on locations and dates. There's some overlap with iPhoto's events but it seems to be an improvement. The Music app nows shows not just your music on the device but also your iTunes in the Cloud songs. And there's iTunes Radio which seems to be a Pandora killer. Every other Apple app seems to have changed from Calendar, Reminders, Weather, Calculator to the phone and messages apps.

Siri is supposed smarter and at least now can toggle bluetooth settings. Oddly the default web search has been switched from Google to Bing. Seems like Apple has done a 180 on the lessor of two evils. Coming in 2014 there will be cars with Siri integration in the dashboard display. Looks like I'll be holding off on a new car for another year.

The App Store will now know where you are (and how old you are) and be able to make recommendations based on that. Also apps will update automatically in the background which I think I'll like.

There are a bunch more features, here are 27 new iOS 7 features Apple didn't talk about. Tim Cook just did the company wide stuff (citing big numbers like 93% of apps have at least one download a month) but he made two points about iOS over Android that I've always considered significant. From satisfaction surveys iOS users are much happier with their devices than Android users. And second, virtually all iOS users are using the latest version of the OS rather than an older one (which probably influences those survey results). Apple does the OS updates, not the phone companies which is the opposite of how it works for Android. Phone companies have less incentive to upgrade you for free.

There were a number of things not mentioned which seems a shame. A lot of people want a way to designate a new default app for different features and there still is none. If you make a web browser, links in other apps will still open in Safari. Also there's no way to replace the keyboard with something different (and potentially better).

There were some iCloud updates announced as well, but oddly it mostly seemed to be a demo of iWork now running completely inside a browser from icloud.com. It looks like they did a very impressive job, but I can't see myself wanting to use this. It does seems useful if you want to collaborate on documents with PC users as it also works in IE and Chrome.

So that was it. Lots of new stuff, but some things were missing. It was less a developer event then a general Apple event. I was surprised to see no new MacBook Pros. I guess they'll come out in August (for back to school) or Sep/Oct (for the holiday season). I wasn't expecting an iLife or iWork update but they're needed too. I'm sure iWork in the Cloud and the iOS versions are hard to do, but iWork '09 is a bit long in the tooth. I wonder if they'll be a retina desktop display. I don't think I'd want a Mac Pro, but if they used that design to make a Mac (between the Pro and the Mini) with a single good graphics card and an external display I think they'd have a real winner. Maybe in 2014 or 2015.

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