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Apple Lets The Cat Out of the Bag

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It’s that time again. The Mighty Steve has delivered his opening keynote for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, and unveiled Apple’s latest raft of products. All, erm, three of them?

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a big fan of Apple. I use an iPod. My home PC is now a Mac Mini. There’s something about their products, applications, and philosophy that just appeals to me. I use Windows all day at work; OS X is a nice antidote for that when I come home.

So what do I make of these three products? Perhaps more importantly, in the case of Apple’s new hardware, does it matter? These products aren’t aimed at me. The Mac Pro is an awesome looking machine, with a fantastic spec, but I don’t want one. I’ve just relegated my Dell workstation to file server-dom, so why would I spend the best part of £2000 on a machine that I’ll not drive to its fullest potential? Yeah, I’d like one, but this machine doesn’t put my credit card in jeopardy.

The Xserve is the same story: It’s not for me, I’m not supposed to be interested, and I’m not. But if someone offered me one, I’d take it.

So, well done Apple — your migration to Intel is complete, and you’ve got two very nice looking high spec products to offer to those that need it.

The third product is far more interesting for me, though. The Leopard features on display are things I’ll be using when the product ships. And yet it’s interesting to see that many features weren’t on display. By the sound of it – and despite their tongue-in-cheek digs at Microsoft – Apple is quite annoyed that Microsoft has stolen many of its ideas for Vista. As a result, it sounds like they don’t want to unveil a whole new set of innovations before Vista has shipped.

Or maybe it’s the opposite of that — maybe Apple wants to wait until Vista’s launched, and steal Microsoft’s ideas this time? I doubt it, but who knows? One thing is for sure, Apple’s bravado and taunting of the Beast of Redmond is certain to annoy more than a few people, and draw the collective attentions of faithful Windows users, for better or for worse.

Regardless, as far as Leopard (OS 10.5) goes, I’m impressed by the things we did get to see. The most exciting of all, for me, is Time Machine. In this day and age not enough people worry about backups. In fact, they’re not even worrying about backups, because they don’t even realise that they need them. They should, but it’s not until you lose everything that you realise how important backups are.

Time Machine, in my eyes, will fix that. It’s something Apple can play on in their own inimitable style. It’s a hook that will almost certainly pull in a few more customers. Make potential customers painfully aware that their entire lives are now on their computers, terrify them with the thought of losing all that data, and then pitch them a product that solves a problem they didn’t even know they had.

The whole thing is carried off with trademark Apple style and usability. Fundamentally it’s a good idea, but the execution is the delicious icing on the cake. It’s kind of like Gmail’s “don’t delete anything” mentality, but for all your files. And you don’t even have to think about it.

And, funnily enough, it sounds a lot like Microsoft’s plans for the WinFS functionality in Vista.

I’d like to see it taken a step further: .Mac integration would be fantastic. Let’s see Apple position themselves to take a big chunk of the backup market, and provide competitively priced online storage for backups. I wouldn’t mind paying my annual .Mac subscription if they gave me all the space I needed to back my files up. Carbonite can do it, why can’t Apple?

The enhanced version of iChat sounds fantastic, too. I love the idea of being able to launch slideshows, using content from iPhoto, or a video I’ve got on my desktop, and send that across the web live! Keynote integration is potentially a pretty powerful tool. And I’m sure Photobooth integration will provide literally minutes of amusement!

Apparently, the next generation of FrontRow and BootCamp will be built into Leopard. That’s good. Building FrontRow into the OS is a smart move if Apple wants a chunk of the home media market. Why should someone who wants a media center-esque solution have to buy iLife to do it? Apple is also hinting at major rewrites.

My personal view on why we’re not seeing more of this shiny new FrontRow is due to the future Video iPod. If the deal is done, and Steve has the backing of the various studios to provide a video version of iTunes, surely FrontRow is the client software for this? If so, they’ll both be unveiled at the same time.

I like the sound of the Mail enhancements too. The idea of automatically generated to-dos appeals to me – I’m constantly throwing things home as emails and losing them in the depths of my Gmail. Is this something that’s going to hook into Apple’s iPhone at some point? It’d be great to get these to-dos sync’d to my phone, but I can’t see Windows Mobile and Leopard playing nicely together out of the box. I’m not particularly thrilled by email templates and stationary, though. That said, it sounds like there’s more to the new version of Mail than Apple is letting on just now.

The Dashboard updates sound good. Providing all users with the ability to create their own Widgets from a web page is a nice touch. Presumably this is just a windowed version of Safari, resized to only show the content you’re interested in. Sounds a bit like Microsoft’s Active Desktop then, but with that Apple voodoo/sheen all over it again.

DashCode sounds like it could make the creation of those on-the-spot Widgets slightly more palatable (I occasionally have good ideas, it’s just that I can never be bothered).

Apple’s new accessibility features have to be applauded. It’s not something I’ve heard Microsoft touting directly, but I’m sure they’ve made a few tweaks to Vista in this space. Surely killer accessibility features are something everyone should be encouraged to steal from each other? The new text-to-speech engine “sounds” quite exciting too (not that I’ve “heard” it yet). For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by text-to-speech, so I look forward to playing with the various improvements in this area.

Of course, some of these things are available elsewhere as add-ons or tweaks. But it’s the integration that’s always been key for Apple. Throwing the whole thing together, giving it a healthy squirt of their magic sauce, and unleashing it on the masses is what they do best.

I can’t pretend it’s not all roses, though. Certain features just aren’t doing it for me:

Spaces – Yawn. They’re virtual desktops! Well, maybe slightly more than that, but it’s not something that I’m terribly excited about. I’ve always found the dock to be a great way of minimizing my apps, so why would I want multiple desktops? Yes, it sounds like you can name them, and I suspect they’ll be persistent (launch a space, all the apps in that space launch with it), but it isn’t going to change any lives, or shatter any Earths.

Spotlight – searching across multiple machines sounds like a nice feature, but I doubt it will play nicely with my Windows machines. This isn’t something the average Leopard user is going to get much out of, either.

CoreAnimation – I’d like to know how these new updates will run on my newly purchased Mini. How’s that integrated Intel chipset looking to you now, Steve?

Is that all? – It just strikes me that Apple is being a little shy here. Are they really that terrified that Microsoft will steal their ideas, or is there nothing more to show at this stage?

On the whole though, on a totally personal level, Leopard looks good. I’m more enthusiastic about Leopard than I am Vista, but that’s probably down to the fact that I’ll actually be running Leopard within the next twelve months (I’m not planning on running Vista at home, and it’s going to be a very long time before we get it installed at work).

So that’s it. WWDC has kicked off for another year, and its arrival hasn’t brought many surprises. No new iPod, no surprise hardware, no “one more thing”. And nothing, thankfully, to tempt my wallet.


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About Dan

  • Cameron Graham

    Interesting take. I also am not the targeted user for the Mac Pro and XServes, but I am very exciting about Leopard.

    Mail Templates looks great. I can think of more than a few times that I’ve had to manually attach a bunch of photos to an email to show relatives after a trip or compose a generic thank you email. Now with Templates I can just pull one up, drag a few photos and I’m done – plus it looks great.

    Spotlight is also really intriguing. As it is, I use it everyday multiple times. I hardly even organize things any more because of how easy it is to pull them up with Spotlight. The new one they previewed sounds like it will not only improve Spotlight into a great App Launcher but make searching other peoples computers easy. Numerous times I’ve needed a file off someone else’s computer (or a photo) and had to have them email it to me or use a USB stick. Now I can just do a quick Spotlight search and I’m done. Oh, and I bet it will work with PC’s.

    So overall, I wasn’t letdown or disappointed. I didn’t buy into the insane rumors either (you know, video ipod, iphone, movie rentals, upgraded MacBook Pros, etc.) so I wasn’t expecting so much. With the new Text-To-Speech, Mail, iChat, Spaces, and iCal previews I’m pretty happy.

  • Daniel Woolstencroft

    I hear you Cameron – it’s certainly a nice set of upgrades, and I don’t think any fan of OS X will feel let down.

    I’m not sold on Mail Templates yet, but that’s the thing with Apple – they have a knack of adding features that leave you wondering how you ever coped without!

  • Ken Edwards

    The use of Woodcrest over Conroe was a little bit of a suprise, but I see why they went with it.

    I have a feeling they will wait to release info on new iPods until later. This is a developer conference, after all.