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Apple’s WWDC 2013: the Good, the Bad, and the Meh

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Redesigned MacPro 2013

Apple unveiled the near-and far future of several core products showing off a new Macbook Air, a redesigned MacPro, and iOS 7. But was it enough to show that Apple has been working on something truly new? Image courtesy of Apple.com

I took two hours to sit and watch the headline keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, where the wizards of Cupertino unveiled their new direction for iOS, OS X, the Macbook Air, MacPro, and iTunes. The presentation coursed familiar paths, with Apple executives praising product sales, making not-so accurate comparisons to competing products, and capping it off with demonstrations of new features like Finder Tabs, and iWork in iCloud. As critical as I am of the company that I argue innovates far less than most believe, there were several items that I found truly impressive and marking a new direction for Apple products. But its “big-ticket” demos like iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks didn’t really pack that “wow” factor, considering that most of the upgrades to the flagship software showed that Apple isn’t paving the road, it’s speeding  to catch up.

The Good

  • The redesigned Mac Pro

Last year we all waited patiently as, while new Macbook Air and Macbook Pro models debuted with new chassis, HDMI ports and Retina displays, the MacPro saw only modest changes, with no HDMI, no Thunderbolt, and less customization. This year Apple gave us a sneak peek of its remodeled professional desktop and the juice is sure to be well worth the squeeze. The exterior of the unit underwent a complete facelift, shedding its boxy, aluminum shell for a smaller, cylindrical outer casing. Turn the unit around (it spins after all), and you see four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, and six Thunderbolt 2.0 ports which Apple claims boast 20Gbps transfer rates. Go inside and the fun continues, with PCIe-based solid-state memory (solid-state memory using a PCIe bus), 1866Mhz RAM, and dual AMD FirePro graphics processors, while retaining options for up to 12-core CPUs.  Keeping all this performance cool is what Apple’s Phil Shilling called a “unified thermal core”. (There aren’t a lot of specifics on how this works but the name is cool nonetheless.)

  • Upgrades to the Macbook Air

I’ve long been critical of the Macbook Air, but this refresh scores this notebook several extra points in my book. A new low-power CPU from Intel extends the battery life of the 11-inch model to nine hours and the 13-inch model to 12 hours, so while Shilling’s claim of “all day battery life” is a tad exaggerated, there’ll be a noticeable difference in use time. The big win for the Air is the upgrade to its storage capacity, with the 11-inch models moving to 128 or 256GB configurations without increasing in price, effectively retiring the old 64GB model.

  • iWork in the Cloud

At first I thought we were about to see a new addition to the iWork family, but iCloud’s newfound powers over documents are nothing to shake a stick at. Since its inception, iCloud has been able to sync iWork files between your devices, but the new upgrade allow you to open a Pages, Numbers, or Keynote file in your web browser and edit on the go. To do this, you log in to your iCloud.com account, click on the iWork application you want to use, and you’ll have full access to the document. In addition, this process works on Mac OS devices and will also work if you’re on Windows, provided you’re using Internet Explorer or Chrome as a browser.

The Bad

  • iCloud Keychain

If Apple wasn’t so insistent that its software is invulnerable to intrusion and information theft I would have different things to say about this, but with the increasing number of customers falling prey to hacks on iTunes, the iCloud Keychain is a bad idea. This feature allows iCloud to store and sync personal data like the credit card you use for iTunes, or passwords you frequently enter between devices that you use. The obvious problem is the access a hacker could have to data beyond iTunes or the AppStore, since iCloud will be able to auto-fill or auto-suggest passwords for sites you frequent. Intruders could not only make purchases, but lock users out of personal accounts they need by creating passwords.

  • Siri

I’m a fan of Siri. She gets a lot of use helping me avoid actually looking at my phone while I text and drive, or when I want to find an address. However, I have to put her slight facelift for iOS 7 in the bad column because she still pales in comparison to competing services like Google Voice. Sure she has a different voice, options to change gender, deeper integration with social networking, access to Wikipedia, but with all of this she’s still in her own world. Seclusion from the Internet limits her functionality, and with the Apple Maps aftertaste still fresh, I plan to avoid using her to plot my route.

  • Apple Maps 2.0

Speak of the devil and he appears! Apple Maps looked promising when it launched with iOS 6, especially with built-in turn-by-turn navigation, but what a dismal failure it turned out to be. Apple Maps literally did not know left from right, and continues to provide inefficient and incorrect routes between you and your destination. Honestly, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a little kiss and make up between iOS and Google Maps but it appears Apple plans to continue full steam ahead into web-mapping despite losing a bid for Waze, slotted to help improve the ailing service. Until we can field test the “improved” software, this one gets several thumbs down.

The Meh

  • OS X Mavericks

At long last we have the answer to how many big cats Apple planned to go through before changing the theme of its flagship operating platform, as the cats make way for the Golden State. In his presentation Craig Federighi debuted some interesting features like Finder Tabs, allowing users to consolidate multiple finder windows into one, and changing how the OS functions across multiple desktops. There were a battery of modifications to decrease power consumption, like AppNap, where CPU resources are delegated to what the user is actually viewing or actively using at any given time, and there was a “new” tagging scheme enabling users to highlight important documents and group by subject. But the underlying theme behind most of the changes Mavericks brings is that OS X should’ve already had them. Several minutes of Federighi’s keynote was spent covering iBooks for Mac, something we’ve wanted since OS X Lion, and the importance/tagging feature is really reforming something Mac OS used to do. OS X Mavericks really just brings the Mac hardware line up to speed, so nothing extra special here.

  • iOS 7

World, meet Windows Phone for iPhone. The much-anticipated iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system looks, feels, and functions a lot like Windows Phone, like a lot. We’ve been hearing for months that iOS 7 would have a more flat design, but the resemblance between iOS and Windows Phone is uncanny. From the look of the app icons, to the home screen, to the fonts used throughout the system, there are various cues adapted from Microsoft, and the inclusion of integrated Bing search only reinforces the point. To its credit the addition of depth and translucent windows are visually appealing, and it’s really nice to finally be able to do more than snap photos from the lock screen, but overall iOS 7 is another case of Apple including features other platforms already had. 

Last Words

The big winner in this year’s WWDC is definitely the MacPro, and it’s what deserves the most attention. The complete overhaul of both the outer casing and substantial upgrades to its internals should satisfy professional, enthusiast, and power users alike. iWork in the Cloud is definitely going to be serious once launched, with Windows and Mac users able to create and edit documents while syncing everything between registered devices. However, Apple still has work to do with iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks which will update Apple’s fleet of mobile and desktop systems, but the company needs to concentrate on pushing (if not removing) the boundaries of the “ecosystem” model. Apple’s devices need to give consumers more room to breathe if Apple wants to keep pace with Google and an advancing Microsoft.

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About Alexander J Smith III

  • Sophia

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