2012-06-12

Apple’s WWDC announcements: a summary

Update 2012-06-13: New section “More material on the web”.

This blog post summarizes what Apple has introduced at the World-Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco, yesterday.

iOS 6 Preview

Many incremental features. Highlights:
  • Maps: not based on Google’s data, any more, with turn-by-turn navigation and 3D aerial views.
  • Facebook integration: Share photos and locations, system-wide sign-in, events integrated into Calendar, friend information integrated into Contacts. In some ways reminiscent of what Windows Phone 7 does.
  • Shared Photo Streams: share pictures as either a stream or a web page.
  • Passbook: Manage tickets, boarding passes, coupons, etc. Be notified if something changes. That should be especially handy for boarding passes. It would be nice to have a public web API for this.

Safari

Highlights:
  • Reading List: The actual content of the pages is stored and synced for offline access.
  • iCloud Tabs: You can view the currently open tabs on all devices, which is nice when you want to continue browsing on another device.
  • Wherever there is a tag
        <input type="file">
    
    you can upload photos and videos taken with your camera or pulled from your library.
  • Smart App Banners: let the user know that the current website is also available as an app. They are displayed above the web content. I always hate this information, no matter how it is displayed. At least this might ensure that things stay moderately classy. I’m guessing that you’ll only have to dismiss such notifications once.
  • Web data (SQLite etc.) can optionally be backed up (e.g. if you use a UIWebView).
More information for web developers: “What iOS 6 Mobile Safari Offers Front End Devs” by Tait Brown on Nothing Insightful.

OS X Mountain Lion

The main theme is: OS X will be well integrated into the iOS ecosystem. That is great news. More of your data will sync. And you’ll be able to use Facetime, iMessages and Game Center as if your Mac was an iPhone. More features:
  • iCloud: The advantages of iCloud are marketed by Apple as “easy setup” and “documents in the cloud”. The former is described as “Just sign in once with your Apple ID to set up Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, FaceTime, Game Center, Safari, Reminders, iTunes, the Mac App Store, and Notes”. The latter is a poor man’s Dropbox, where documents are segregated by app.
  • Notification Center: is what I’m most looking forward to in Mountain Lion. Finally a standard way of managing notifications that every app will use. I keep hoping that one can also manage long-running background tasks there. That would be even more useful on iOS, because one would get an immediate picture of what is currently going on (downloads, music playing, Skype being online, etc.).
  • Power Nap: If connected to a power source, OS X periodically wakes up and performs background tasks such as a backup or updating mail, contacts, etc. Measures are taken so that no lights are blinking and no noise is made, e.g. via system sounds or fans (i.e., the system will never be under load).
  • Dictation: Not Siri, yet, but you’ll be able to dictate in most places in OS X.
  • Sharing: Some applications can offer things for sharing, other apps can register ways of receiving those things. This kind of sharing is an evolution of OS X Services, actions that can be applied to the current selection. They can be found in the application menu, but not many people are aware of them. Sophisticated sharing is well known on other platforms: Windows 8 has contracts, Android has intents, etc.
  • Facebook integration. Similar to what’s available on iOS. Minus having Facebook events in iCal, it seems.
  • Gatekeeper [1]: is a nice compromise between tightly controlling what people install and letting them install everything (with the accompanying security risks) – developers have to sign their apps and Apple can remotely disable them, should malicious behavior be discovered. Apart from that, they can be freely downloaded and installed.
  • Safari: see above.
Available in July for $19.99.

New notebooks

The introductions were mainly about the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display (MBPwRD). A few generally interesting news bits emerged, too:
  • The 17" MacBook Pro has been discontinued. Apple keeps its lineup small which is smart, but will always disappoint some.
  • All of the MacBooks now have USB 3 ports. That’s a big deal, because Apple has pushed Thunderbolt heavily in the past [2]. However, there are still only a few Thunderbolt devices and it is expensive technology. The new strategy seems clear: Support the sufficiently speedy USB 3 for cheaper mass-market devices; use Thunderbolt for faster high-end devices and adapters, such as the upcoming Gigabit Ethernet Adapter and FireWire Adapter.
  • Magsafe 2 power adapter: which is both thinner and wider than the existing adapter. Not being compatible with the existing adapters is painful, but apparently something had to give in order to make the MacBook Pro thinner.
The MacBook Pro is an interesting device: It is more like a 15" MacBook Air. Two of the typical Pro features are gone: DVD drive and hard disk drive. Only the faster processor remains. What makes the MacBook Pro chassis larger is mainly the bigger battery that is needed to support 7 hours with the more power-hungry processors and the new display. The display seems to be great, it’s not just about more pixels, it also is sharper and less reflective (but still quite). And its pixels are closer to the surface, there is less glass between them and the viewer. Three more nice touches (scroll to the end of Apple’s page on design):
  • Quieter fans, because there are two openings for the air and the impeller blades are asymmetrically spaced. The latter change leads to the noise being more spread across the frequency spectrum and thus subjectively quieter.
  • Custom high-quality speakers.
  • Two microphones to reduce background noise.
Apple lists the following ports. They leave little to be desired. Consult [2] for a bandwidth comparison between Thunderbolt and USB 3.
  • MagSafe 2 power port
  • Two Thunderbolt ports
  • Two USB 3 ports
  • HDMI port
  • Headphone port (support for Apple iPhone headset with remote and microphone; support for audio line out)
  • SDXC card slot
  • Separately sold adapters: Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt to FireWire
So what’s next? The remaining two MacBook Pro models only seem to be there because the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is so expensive (due to SSD disk and display). I’d expect them to be dropped before long. Then we are left with the 11" MacBook Air, the 13" MacBook Air and the 15" MacBook Pro (no more “with Retina Display”, as it’ll be the only one). The next-generation MacBook Air should also at least have the better display, fans and speakers of the MBPwRD. It’ll be an interesting upgrade.

Conclusion: Apple’s new mode of operation

Apple has entered the mainstream. What they are currently doing is consistent and solid, yet incremental, work. While that means that introductions will always be a bit disappointing, it also makes sense. It’s better to offer a sense of continuity and security than to go for the wows (to a degree...). Compare that to how Microsoft completely overhauls Windows with each new version: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 8. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate Microsoft’s willingness to make radical changes. I like that OS X is increasingly getting mobile phone features (such as messaging and Facetime) and the general emphasis on iCloud.

There are still a few obvious holes left to be plugged in iOS [3], but those are getting fewer. I expect Apple to keep some iOS 6 features secret until the iPhone 5 comes out this fall.

More material on the web

Related blog posts

  1. Gatekeeper: Apple is taking security seriously
  2. Thunderbolt (code-named Light Peak): an overview
  3. A wish list for iOS 6

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