updated 06:37 pm EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
Event showed company still capable of surprises
A great deal of conversation between the MacNN and Electronista staff happens behind the scenes, especially when something like keynotes are ongoing. This week's software-centric Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference is no exception. Along with a recommended previous editorial from our colleague Sanjiv, writers Mike and Jordan, along with editor Charles, tackle some of the thornier issues that Tim Cook addressed and unveiled to the world in the WWDC keynote, broadcast on Monday.
First, some background. Mike has been with Electronista for just over two years, is ex-military, and has worked at a half-dozen independent Apple shops over 30 years. He's been using Apple computers since 1979, with his first Apple an Apple ][ (not +, e, c, or GS) and his first Macintosh a Mac SE in the dawn of version 6 of the Macintosh Operating System on a 20MB hard drive. Once upon a time he bled in six colors, as the saying goes, but the saying itself dates how long ago this actually was.
Jordan is relatively new to the MacNN family of sites, having started with gadgetry reviews in the tail-end of 2013. He's now a full-time staffer, with a wide-range of cross-platform experience dating back 15 years. Jordan is primarily a Windows guy, but has been brought back into the OS X fold with a 2011 MacBook Pro. He has faded in and out of Apple hardware for the last 20 years.
Charles has been with MacNN off and on since 2000, and contributed to many other Mac-oriented print and web outlets. A decorated soldier in the Platform Wars of the 80s and 90s, he now finds himself in the odd position of believing that Microsoft is doing some of its best work ever, even as the Windows crowd turn their nose up at most of it. He is old enough that he is not just in the Apple ecosystem, he's actually part of it, like a mold that's hard to get rid of.
We all watched (and in some cases, re-watched) the live video of the WWDC keynote video, and put together our "takes" on what was said (and not said) in the presentation. We deliberately skipped over talking about Swift, as there wasn't enough information given in the keynote to make a solid judgement on it -- we'll defer to developer views on it as they emerge. We'd love to hear from our readers, however. Share your take on the keynote in the comments below.
Aren't many of the "new" features unveiled for iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 available on other platforms already?
Jordan: Definitely. Immediately I can pick out a number of features from Android and Windows. Given how incestuous computing seems to be, this hardly comes at a surprise. It feels like such a letdown when it comes from Apple though, a company that has been trying very hard to differentiate themselves from the rest of the technology world. Most of these items are only going to bring them trouble since so many can be pulled from Android.
It was nice to see work be able to cross devices, I don't know that it was enough. The lock screen now seems like it is replacing the home menu. Then the voice messaging are sure to raise flags for competition in the United States and other parts of the world where top level messaging has already irritated carriers for bypassing SMS. Bringing a function like this to the table will probably be worse than some of the pushback Skype saw in its early days.
Mike: Yeah, and that's my major problem with them. One one hand, Apple is wielding "slide to unlock" like a cudgel in the courts, and took a lot of heat about the notification center in iOS7. What am I seeing here that differentiates Apple from the competition? Why isn't Google deciding to take a legal tome to the back of Tim Cook's skull for some of these "advances?"
Charles: I suppose they will if they can find any evidence of patent lifting, but this hardly the first time Apple (or any other company one could name) has seen a good idea from a competitor and then done its own version of it. The idea, though, is to put your own spin on it -- as far as I can tell so far, that's exactly what Apple has done. This goes all the way back to to copy and paste -- who got sued over that, even though its virtually identical on all systems? Nobody.
Mike: While we're on the topic, lets talk about family sharing. While its a minor advancement of Apple's "public purchases versus private purchases" stance, it remains fairly useless for a good amount of users. I like the added nod to have child devices ask a parent device for purchase permission, but what if you have adults in the house with the same billing address using different credit cards? Certainly, this should be allowed as well. What about divorces or break-ups of mutual account holders? Why is there no mechanism for this? When will there be?
Charles: It's a bit hypocritical, it seems to me, to expect companies like Google to shamelessly ape features and services from its rivals (remember, it was doing that BlackBerry in the original implementation of Android until the iPhone came out), but to ding Apple when it does the same. As you mentioned, Jordan, this has been going on since virtually day one -- to some extent, I think the companies involved all see certain innovations (regardless of where they come from) as good for everyone and don't get too nitpicky over it (look at the nearly-universal implementation of iChat's texting style). How any of these companies determine what to sue each other over is beyond my pay grade to figure out, but apparently there are some features Apple feels strongly enough were genuine original innovations to defend the principle.
Mike brings up a good point about the fluidity of modern families and Apple IDs/family sharing. I suspect that will take quite some time to sort out to anyone's full satisfaction.
Yosemite brings a lot of graphical flair to the OS. What value is this actually?
Mike: OS X has always been pretty. Aqua was nice, so was brushed metal. Skeumorphism was panned, but it really wasn't that bad. The problem with keynotes is that they touch on what is perfected at the time of the announcement, and the pretty has probably been complete for some time. I want the OS to be better than it is now, so annual upgrades are good, right?
I'll use Yosemite on my work machine when it ships, but won't collect "flaming data" for Apple in the beta. If you want me to test your software which might eat my data or risk my security, you'd better pay me for the privilege! As far as OSes go, my home server is stuck on Lion. We've got a lone PowerPC Mac in the house which will stay on Leopard forever. None of my computers will burst into flames when Yosemite ships. Yosemite will be as secure as Apple can make it, regardless of added functionality for the machines I can cram it onto, and that's a good thing, right?
Jordan: For as little as Yosemite seems to add, I can't see a whole lot of reason to care about the design. The keynote seemed to touch on features for the OS X upgrade, but couldn't stop touting how "great" or how "awesome" it looks. The biggest thing that I took away from it was that the taskbar seemed somewhat more comfortable as a primary PC user. I was never a fan of the current bar in OS X, so I'm happy to see that change.
With that said, the changes with the widgets might add some functionality, but it going to be terrible with how it looks. I would hope that Apple wouldn't have taken steps towards what Microsoft started with Aero, but I guess not. This widgets were terrible and often bogged down a system. With the transparency in the windows already going to be sucking down system resources, I would hope they would want to gain a technical edge where they could. At least it is still a free upgrade though.
Charles: I, on the other hand, am very excited about Yosemite. To me, and based on what little we've seen of it, it looks to be a splendid polishing of the great things that were accomplished in Mavericks, plus some (specifically mentioned) attention to the lingering issues therein, on top of which is added an intelligent exchange of features from iOS 8 and vice versa. Just as Snow Leopard was originally panned for failing to be much more than a polishing of Leopard but went on to this (completely hypocritical) revered "best ever" version of OS X in diehards' minds, so too do I think Yosemite shows that sort of promise for fulfilling the full potential of Mavericks. We're really cooking with 64-bit gas now, or at least that's how it looks to me.
I also think Apple's been insanely clever in using iOS and OS X interchangably as labs for each other for new features. We used to get complete overhauls of OS X every other version, which often took several years to show up. Now we're in this period of more incremental and yearly updates, I think we're actually getting as many or more "new" features because the two platforms are feeding off each other's best ideas. Can't wait to try out the beta.
Is HomeKit the home automation we wanted from Apple? Could it really help to make a de facto protocol for automated devices?
Mike: This is the lone thing in the keynote that I thought was worth anything. Apple has the might to establish a de facto standard in this industry, and it should. Why be a tech super-power if you can't wield the strength that you have for good?
Imagine home automation standards established by Apple, controllable by any device you have, Android, Apple, OS X, Windows, whatever. Apple has hooks everywhere with iOS devices. How hard would it be to saturate Wal-Mart with Wi-Fi-enabled home automation? Sure, other vendors might not like it, but companies can profit from low cost licensing if sold in enough volume, and there are a lot of homes with wireless networks who could use a lightbulb or two.
Jordan: I'm surprised that you thought this was worth anything, Mike. I saw this as a power play for Apple to push itself into the home automation market. I would have rather seen Apple develop their own automated items. Developers will love it because it'll make developing apps a lot easier, but what standard does Apple bring to the table really?
Most of these devices operate over Wi-Fi, so the only thing that Apple is really doing here is the ability to use a central platform to control that. It's a platform we don't know much about yet at that. It could be just as complex as using separate apps. Realistically since it is Apple it probably won't be, but you never know.
Charles: I'm with Mike on this. I don't think Apple is "trying to push itself into" the home market, I think it is offering developers the chance to avoid multiple (and warring) standards on how to control friggin' lightbulbs. Who here wants different apps for different bulbs? Who wants to go find the old Android phone so you can control that one bulb you don't want to replace but never put out a control app on any other platform?
Apple doesn't look to be making any money on Homekit, so I think it is genuinely a benevolent gesture to try and nip the "56k modem" type standards wars in the bud and make life easier for all parties (particularly consumers) on something that is going to be an inevitable part of our future. Amazon probably won't take the offer, but Google might decide its not worth another fight.
Other than not announcing hardware, were there any opportunities that Apple missed that could bolster the brand?
Mike: Probably, but I'm just an Internet journalist -- I'd like to think Cook and company have a good handle on this. Apple's got a good brand, and the call to Dr. Dre during the keynote was a nod in that direction, of course. The thing with the WWDC keynote is that its generally aimed at the fan base anyhow -- everybody in the audience was a developer who paid to be there, or a member of the press. The developers heavily outnumbered the press.
Apple isn't shooting for the low-end smartphone market, so that's why we didn't see the rumored 8GB iPhone 5S I think. Cheaper iMacs? Why was that even a thought? I suspect that hitting the true low-end of the computing market or smartphone market is a "bag of hurt" like Steve Jobs famously called Blu-Ray licensing.
Charles: I'm expecting cheaper iMacs (since the innovative production techniques are now standardized) but never thought such things would get an onstage mention -- only things that impact developers were talked about at WWDC, and that's exactly as it should be. Short of something like a Mac Pro bump or resolution change in iPhones that devs would have to re-code for, there was no reason to announce hardware on stage. This is why I don't put as much stock in rumor sites as many do -- their track record (which they almost never talk about) shows that most of it is just educated guessing. And yes, Mike, the low-end of the market is a bag of hurt - look at how many PC makers that aimed for that market have found themselves on the rocks.
Jordan: Admittedly, I don't know. I don't think that Beats was necessarily a great match for the company other than for a cheap grab at a streaming music platform. If anything I'm still waiting for that "must have" app from Apple. Anything that I can do on a Mac I can do on a PC at this point. The company doesn't hold the same ground it did on things like video editing or photography. Even the edge it had on screenwriting with Final Draft has been lost, as options like Scrivener providing much of the same functionality for a lower price. Even audio offerings from Adobe or Audacity can beat out Garageband.
Charles: Mentioning Audacity as a replacement for Garageband is like claiming that GIMP can replace Photoshop. Uh, no, not on any serious level. I admit to being in the dark about the full extent of the Beats deal, but I suspect they are working on more than they're talking about right now -- plus there seems to be a planned iTunes overhaul in the air that I'm sure Iovine and Dre could be invaluable with.
We may not see any immediate impact from the deal in the near-term, but if there's one thing Apple has been very smart about in recent years its acquisitions, so I'm inclined to trust them on this one. If they can just "fix" Beats headphones so that they don't grossly distort already-brickwalled crap music, I'll be happy.
HealthKit, does it matter?
Charles: To the extent that it persuades me to take better care of myself, I'm interested. I have noticed how many of my friends -- including my wife -- have suddenly become interested in how many steps they take a day, just with the existing fitness hardware out there. Now that Bluetooth Low Energy is really starting to get implemented, I see a lot of potential here -- but Apple will need to do some work on security of that data as they've done with Touch ID before I'll be comfortable with it for transmitting health data to providers, etc.
Mike: Not right now, and HIPAA data transmission restrictions aside, it'll be a privacy nightmare overall until the industry susses out how to handle the data with the protection of its patients in mind. Do you really want an agency who tells the insurance companies everything through diagnosis codes that your blood pressure isn't well regulated? Insurance companies and medical companies, regardless of Obamacare, aren't limited from raising overall costs on high-risk patients. Are you ready for a future that they do it proactively because of data your smartphone fed your healthcare provider?
Is it the future? Yes. Do I willingly embrace it? No.
Jordan: Nope, not at all. It'll be a neat feature to play with, but the data and privacy implications will be a thorn in its side for some time. Much like Samsung did with the Galaxy S5, I can't help but think that this is just a gimmick that was thrown on to see if it could garner any attention. The data that can be pulled by some form of hack on something that is always on like they said HealthKit could be has some terrible ramifications if something isn't done to regulate it.
Charles: Well maybe for you guys -- I live in Canada, where we don't have for-profit insurance vultures ready to cut us at the first sign of serious health issues. It's nice. I think HealthKit will be huge in single-payer systems (i.e. the rest of the world), just as I think the iPhone-relay features in Yosemite will become very popular.
How much do the "new, vaunted" feature set in iOS8 and OSX 10.10 really matter to new or old users?
Mike: With every OS iteration, hardware and users get left behind by design or by user desire to stick with what works for them. This iOS revision leaves the iPhone 4 behind, but that's not a major shock. If you didn't see it coming, you weren't paying attention, as the 4 was pretty effectively hamstrung on iOS7. Yosemite may not leave any more Macs behind, but we don't know for sure yet -- we'll see at launch time if Apple decides that early Core 2 Duo and the attendant weaker graphics processors aren't worth supporting anymore.
Charles: The pre-2009 Macs with weak graphics cards may survive this round, but I guarantee they'll be off the supported list next year. It is screamingly obvious that stronger graphics will continue to be required, so owners of older Macs and potential buyers of new Macs should govern their purchasing choices accordingly. Graphics are the new RAM.
Mike: How much do the new features matter? Who knows. I think it may depend on how comfortable the user is with what works for them. Free is a pretty powerful incentive to upgrade, though. I took ages for me to shift from OS 9.2.2 to 10.2. After that, going to major releases wasn't really a question for me, but I do know people who are still sitting on Snow Leopard because its the last OS that worked worth a damn for them.
Jordan: I'm not the best sample for a question like this, but for me it doesn't matter that much. I was a late adopter of Mavericks on my Macbook Pro. Even when I did upgrade, I didn't notice much of a difference. However, what I use it for is either pretty specific or fairly generic, depending on how you look at it. I find it hard to believe that any of these new features in Yosemite will matter than much in day to day life.
Improvements to iOS will probably be more widely used, but I can't help but think that Apple is a little late to the game. Many of the features are found in apps that already exist or different operating systems entirely. Some of these may be new to people that are used to Apple software, but it is hard to believe that anything will have any sort of pull to attract new users or evolve features that would stop someone from moving away from the iOS.
Charles: The fact that a handful (not all) of the new features are already present on other platforms has never and is not now of any concern to most Apple device users -- it merely keeps them from straying (remember the "pre-emptive multitasking" furore?). Most of the things Apple has added are intended to make the platform more "sticky," and from what I can see its working well -- iOS is actually growing share in the US and has taken over Japan like nothing since Godzilla showed up (and there are signs that its going to do the same in the "premium phone" China market as well).
For me, iOS 8 is a very minor update from iOS 7 (apart from what the introduction of PhotoKit will bring to iOS photo apps), just spit and polish on what's already been done. Yosemite for Mac brings some of the best iOS features to the Mac and looks like it will be a big productivity booster from what I can see.
Adding external sources to Spotlight and Siri in iOS 8 sounds great, and Health might even get me back into the gym, but the main thing I'm excited about (beyond the additional levels of syncing) is what's in Yosemite. There are simply loads of time-saving tools in there, the new font and Finder interface look great (did you notice the dock isn't 3D anymore?), the new Messages is very exciting for me as a heavy user of that program, and the ability to not have to go look for my phone when I'm working on my Mac -- genius.
Despite Jordan's misgivings about widgets, I think the ability to customize the Notification Center with a mix of Apple and third-party tools is brilliant -- it will make widget makers focus on what's really important, I think.
About the only thing I was disappointed about was iCloud Drive -- c'mon Apple, cough up a little more free space will ya? The new storage plan prices are very reasonable, but the base storage level should be 20GB, not 5GB - particularly if you're going to offer to capture all photos and videos to it automatically! This feature has the potential to kill off Dropbox (not that this is Apple's goal) and one-up it in terms of interface -- I'm going to stick with Flickr for cloud photo storage, but I suspect I'll move all my Dropbox stuff to iCloud Drive in the near future for a variety of reasons. For now, iCloud Drive is very promising, but clearly a "1.0" version with growth to come if it takes off.