AMITIAE - Tuesday 11 June 2013

Cassandra - WWDC Keynote (1): Openings to Mavericks (Updated)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


With the keynote presentation at this year's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, done and dusted, some of the news about what Apple announced was already available by the time I woke up. I take things a little slower having been to WWDC a couple of times and base my comments on the full video of the presentation.

Although a video stream of the WWDC Keynote presentations was available for me early Tuesday morning here, the video podcast arrived later in the afternoon. Access to that allows me to rewind and double-check some of the key points.

Throughout the almost-2 hour Keynote, Apple was sending messages: openly and subliminally, particularly with the word, "innovation" inserted into output from many of the speakers. The most widely circulated of course, was from Phil Schiller: "Can't innovate any more, my ass" (55:06). I will get to that in good time.

Tim Cook Last year the keynote was opened with a Siri demo. This year an animated video with the theme stating Apple objectives was aired: making things perfect, not rushing, not willing to compromise. These are things that long-term Apple watchers are acutely aware of; but the arriviste Wall Street analysts and the hit-seeking bloggers want history to be made every day. Apple was never like that.

As the video ended, Tim Cook appeared to great applause and restated the message behind the video. In his opening comments he threw lots of numbers at the developers (and the press there) including "71 seconds for WWDC tickets to sell out." Federico Viticci at MacStories collected a list of more such stats from the Keynote.

As is usual, Cook began with some background, starting with the retail stores, but peppered this with numbers, such as the tens of thousands of kids who make field trips to Apple stores and the millions of people who attend for personal training. Cook highlighted the new Berlin store which has its own theatre and ran a video of the opening: perhaps a little less exuberant than the Hong Kong event.

The section on retail segued neatly into discussion of the digital stores, with the App Store open 5 years, with 50 billion downloads; 700,000 apps in the store, of which 375,000 are designed for the iPad. There was a little dig here (in a keynote which had several) about how this "compares to just a few hundred from those other guys."

The critical piece of information here was the 575,000,000 accounts, most of which use credit cards. 575,000,000 users locked into Apple's ecology, more than any other store on the internet. Cook followed this with another significant point or two: Apple has paid developers $10 billion, with $5 billion in the last year.

iOS has become a major support for small developers and the keynote took an unusual turn here (there were more) when Cook introduced Boris Sofman, co-founder of Anki, who was launching the company - a robotics and A.I. company - that morning. The demo that took place used an A.I. engine installed on an iPhone and demonstrated model cars driving on a track and interacting with each other. (Update) The app is available now, but not on the Thai App Store: thanks again.

Cook insisted that Apple was not standing still and "We have lots of innovation left" (that word again), then introduced Craig Federighi who was to demonstrate the new OS X.

Federighi was at ease with the presentation and the technology he was demonstrating. He was relaxed and able to make several impromptu jokes, reacting to audience responses. He first went over Mountain Lion briefly and outlined the problem of naming conventions and the lack of cats, saying "We do not want to be the first software in history to be delayed due to a dwindling supply of cats." Jokingly he suggested OS X Sea Lion (which one source put forward last week), but mercifully said, "Maybe not", although a mock Sea Lion image was shown.

Mavericks Instead, he said, Apple made the switch to places that inspire them in California: where OS X is designed. Off the coast, where there are some of the largest surfing waves, is Mavericks: hence the big wave on the banners at The Moscone Center. Of course there will be debate and criticism about the naming: but it is done.

The main points he highlighted at the start concerned extending battery life, providing responsiveness, new apps and enhancements, plus new features for power users. He focussed on three: Finder tabs; Tags; and multiple displays (all well received).

  • Finder Tabs are like tabs in a browser display, so that one Finder panel can have many sub-panels in which files may be stored. The Finder will now also go full screen.

  • Tags provide a way to mark files with classifications, similar to keywords. Examples were "Important" and "Reviews". A Tags window for Important would contain all files so marked. Files can be tagged with more than one heading making searching for such tagged files easier.

  • Multiple Displays allows screens attached to a Mac to be handled more independently than before, making it more usable and less dependent on the other screens in use.

Federighi demonstrated the features that he had highlighted, showing how comfortable he was with the new OS X.

Craig Federighi He switched to a discussion of power users getting the most from their Macs, looking specifically at Compressed Memory, App Nap (apps not in use do not draw power), then focussed on Timer Coalescing, which reduces the time between the CPU being active and inactive (tiny fractions of a second are involved here), reducing CPU activity by up to 72%.

He also outlined a new Safari and when introducing this he also used the word, "innovative" to describe some of the technologies used. As well as interface improvements, Federighi claims several under the hood improvements including (hooray) better memory usage.

Another new feature of OS X will be iCloud Keychain, perhaps replacing some of the functionality that was lost with the earlier removal of Keychain Access synchronisation between Macs. The new feature uses 356-bit AES encryption and will sync across systems, remembering passwords and other secure data like credit card information, allowing easier online use of those sites that need passwords and other data.

Improvements were also to be available for Notifications with the useful feature of being able to respond to a message (or email) in the notification without opening the application. In addition, a push app on iOS can send a notification to the Mac and Notifications can update apps in the background.

With Calendar he noted how clean the interface now was. I could see that there was none of that torn paper skeuomorphism that is on the current version, but it became even more pointed in the demo when he said, Even without the stitching it doesn't fall off the screen. There were several positive noises about this app from the partisan audience. He pointed out the new inspector that was aware of the location and the weather.

The announcement of Maps for OS X brought a big cheer and as he demonstrated this is became clear that some of the features of this (as well as Calendar and iBooks - below) would probably not be available in certain regions, such as Thailand. With the demo of Macs for example, 3D images of Paris, were used. These do display here on the iPhone, but local satellite images are of such poor quality (and out of date), bit on Apple Maps and the Google app, that they need much improvement to be useful.

The satellite images of my location are stil more than 2 years out of date and the geography here has changed. However, a number of the apps such as Maps do have features that allow maps data to be used and in Maps there is a routing feature. An SDK is available for developers to include such mapping data within their own apps.

The same applies (albeit in a different way) with iBooks which is also to be made available on the Mac and will synchronise with the iOS app, like Amazon's Kindle does, although at least with Apple's book reader, text can be copied and used. As of now, the bookstore has little of any use other than copyright-free works that have been available from the Gutenberg Project for years. Music and some movies are now available, can we hope for books too?

Image provided by Apple

One of the key advances for users is the way that many features of apps (and the apps themselves) synchronize between devices. This indicates an evolution, both in terms of software and the hardware that runs it, to more cloud integration and better inter-device operation. With some of the releases that were to follow this became more apparent.

At this early stage of the Keynote, there were a number of subliminal and pointed comments aimed at older technology design and at some of the outside commentators: one wonders if these are connected.

Craig Federighi closed by telling the developers that the Preview version of Mavericks is already available and I had my invitation to join the program later in the afternoon. I tried Lion and I may go for this too.

To end, Federighi introduced Phil Schiller who came on stage smiling, confident and like a coiled watch spring: ready to introduce some new Macs.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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