AMITIAE - Thursday 3 July 2014

Cassandra: A Look at the Potential Behind Recent Apple Developments and Changes

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


It is the time of year when what Apple is working on behind the scenes begins to materialise and the potential starts to become apparent. While Wall Street and arriviste Apple commentators are looking for the next big thing - and for that very reason are often disappointed - others know that what goes on under the surface may eventually appear, but perhaps not in a way that some expect.

The next set of quarterly figures are due to be announced 22 July 2014 and there is a live webcast starting at 14:00 Cupertino Time (after the Wall Street markets are closed). If my Widget clocks in Dashboard are right, that is 02:00 here, so I will read the reports in the morning.

Perhaps as a result of the excellent results last time out, which embarrassed many of the so-called Wall Street experts who had talked Apple down quarter after quarter, the comments so far have been quite mild. I can find nothing from Trip Chowdry ("If There's No iWatch in 60 Days, Apple Is Doomed", "Tim Cook Should Be Replaced by Jon Rubenstein") or Rob Enderle, both of whom are normally infuriatingly entertaining. There are predictions of around 38 million iPhones. As I write this, the Apple stock price is down slightly at $93.40 (and rising).

There still is no iWatch (but there is an Apple, which must be a frustration for Trip Chowdry - and the investors who listened to him). Nor is there an Apple TV, apart from the little black box that sits beside my set and connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi and my devices using AirPlay. The analysts have been insisting that these are coming, for the last two years, maybe more, in the same way that they predict arrival dates for the next iPhone (whichever model it is each year), but Apple sticks to its own timelines.

An announcement at last month's WWDC concerning healthcare apps for iOS devices, made a lot of people sit up, as this would (the theory goes) fit perfectly with a wearable device. Note the terminology: "iWatch" is no longer used. I can't help thinking everyone is looking in the wrong direction and of course Apple has said nothing to redirect them. Cupertino knows what a watch is.

watch They are aware that there are many others already in the market. Some companies have been making watches for hundreds of years, although recently the use of digital technology has given some more technically-slanted companies varying degrees of success, including Samsung; and what has been described as a lackluster effort from Google (Jay Yarow, BusinesssInsider). Apple must better these.

I almost choked when I found myself agreeing with Rocco Pendola about the potential sales of such a device, if it is a watch. I have not worn a wristwatch for years, although I do have pocket watch.

There are many like me who have no desire to wear a wrist-watch and such a market is closed to Apple: at least for the moment. What the wearable device is, or what it does, and how it does it, are mysteries for now - despite the many comments from those who would claim to be authoritative. I doubt that Apple is gambling with the family silver here.

The comment from Steve Jobs that he had cracked television, has led to considerable speculation, but despite the many (false) sightings of a super-Apple television set, the likelihood is that this revelation more concerns content delivery than hardware. Bit by bit some services are being added, although these differ depending on the market. It is already possible for me to download music and movies directly, while display of other content from the devices I own makes the AppleTV more useful than it was initially.

Airport Extreme Currently, like iOS devices, the Wi-Fi on the AppleTV is limited to the IEEE 802.11g standard, while Apple's Airport Extreme Router is 802.11n capable, as are the latest Macs (including the MacPro).

I commented last year when the router was first released that these faster in-house speeds were a signpost to the ways in which Apple would be able to increase connectivity, although at the time I was thinking in terms of iOS devices, AppleTV and Macs.

Another announcement at WWDC changed that: HomeKit. There are some observations on this and its massive potential from Stacey Higginbotham on GigOm. See also Electronista.

While there are already some home devices that can be put online and there are several projects in the pipeline to advance this "internet of things", HomeKit was an attempt to create a standard, in a similar way to the rules that control app developers. Likewise, the advances being made to connect devices using iBeacons, reflect the new ways in which users will connect with devices, systems and interact.

Coupled with this potential increase in the use of Wi-Fi in the home and office, Denis Sellers on Apple Daily Report theorises on what a new patent granted to Apple: "a system for presenting media content that includes a media server configured to provide media content and a media client configured to obtain the media content from the media server and to present the media content on a device." He wonders if this is the home iMedia server he has written about before. Perhaps SkyNet begins in the home.

iMac Almost as a side-show, at the end of June, Apple released a new low-end 21.5" iMac with the same 1.4GHz processor as the MacBook Air and there were a number of noteworthy changes there, particularly with the new type of RAM (8 GB not upgradable) and the one-piece main board construction, similar to that found in portable devices. With this type of internal design, repairs are impossible: back to the shop and replace. AppleCare is no longer a luxury.

That release was perfectly timed for the annual Back to School promotions in Europe and North America (ends 9 September), so we may not expect any more major hardware updates or releases until mid-September, which is when the major software releases are expected to be available.

Recently there have been a series of updates released to Safari (with the 10.9.4 update), iTunes, iMovie as well as Final Cut and some of its related applications. As some are reporting that the current version of iMovie is not working with beta versions of the next OS X (Yosemite), we anticipate more updates to come.

With development for iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, Yosemite, well under way, some writers are beginning to offer descriptions of what the two new versions will provide users. One of these is the Handoff system: start work on a Mac and continue on an iOS device (and vice versa).

Bluetooth Bluetooth allows the device to be recognised as friendly, then data transfers and synchronisation occur over Wi-Fi. It is going to take a while for some other software companies to catch up, if they can.

For a long time, Apple has been able to provide an experience that integrates devices, whether it it Mac to Mac, Mac to iOS or iOS to iOS. The plus point is that this has been done with no sacrifices made to security: another reason to extoll and not criticise the walled garden.

Now, however, it appears that the basic technology used for the Handoff can be extended. Jack Purcher on Patently Apple reports on the granting to Apple of a patent that changes the levels of security and authentication, depending on the user's location. There are also comments on this from Mikey Campbell on AppleInsider.

The Mac already has a rudimentary setup with its Locations (set up in System Preferences > Networking) in which the user enters details of connections for specific locations. In my case, I have Home, Work and Out & About: the last being settings that I can play about with when travelling, that avoid the need to upset my more permanent links, with their passwords and proxy data.

Although there are a great many positives in the speculations that float around Apple, there was collective gasps, followed by groans, recently when it was revealed that Aperture was to fade away. It is not to be developed further (although will work with Yosemite we are told) and users are expected to move to Photos. Or Lightroom. Photos is also to replace iPhoto, but will work on iOS devices.

Aperture This was also related to the iOS and OS X updates and in this house there is much disappointment over Aperture. When Craig Federighi demonstrated Photo on iOS and the Mac, my initial reaction was, "That's nice". This appeared to be a consolidated photo manipulation application that used iCloud to synchronise images as they were altered in realtime.

The reality on this side of the world may introduce a certain delay between action and update, but the idea itself is solid, building as it does on Apple's increasing use of cloud systems. We saw this, for example, with clunky iWork updates between devices, that have become far smoother with the arrival of iWork for iCloud

I was able to capitalise on this with occasional uploads from my DSLR camera to the iPad using the Apple Camera Kit. More recently, I improved on this with the use of an Eye-Fi SD card that transfers JPG images to the iPhone, so that higher quality shots were available for me to use on the street, and have these waiting for me in Aperture when I came home (at least once I turned on the Wi-Fi), via PhotoStream. Once home, I would also transfer the RAW images and dump the unused JPG files. This integration of technologies - Apple and Eye-Fi - allowed me a considerable amount of flexibility.

But that is what I expect from the Macs and the iOS devices I use.

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. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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