Demo'ing the future at WWDC


— 12:59 PM on June 14, 2013

If there's one thing I learned from Monday's (June 10, 2013) keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, it's that demonstrations of technology are soooo much better than talking about technology. I know this because one of the main presenters, VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, told me so at least 39 times during his unveiling of OS X 10.9 Sea Lion. I can't argue with the man or his hair. Well played.

Nonetheless, the WWDC keynote contained much to be excited about, like the public debut of the Wozborg 1.0—a cybernetic unit in the mold of the emotionless LtCdr. Data. And much to puzzle over, like Al Gore's facial expressions. Yet, I doubt you've come here to parse nuanced analysis of this mixed bag of pronouncements. You've come because you value my subjective opinion. Or at least your subjective opinion of my opinion. No matter. Just click a banner ad, please.

So let's make this simple and roll through the keynote announcements in the order in which they were revealed. More or less.

Intro. Apple CEO and my new BFF Tim Cook kicked things off by talking about a lot of things I don't remember. I just couldn't focus on the content of his words because the sound of said words kept gnawing at my brain. I swear he sounds like a character out of Beavis and Butt-head, but not one that's actually on the show. Although I am pretty sure he was threatening me.

OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Leaving the world of giant kitties behind, Apple has decided to start naming OS X versions after their favorite places in California. While I hoped this meant we'd be treated to 10.9 Randy's Donuts, my dreams were not to be, as Apple opted to go with a famous surfing locale. Never mind providing Top Gun joke fodder for bloggers everywhere. Mavericks does not appear to bring anything groundbreaking to the OS, but it does promise some handy new features: file tagging, tabs for Finder windows, better CPU power management (which would've been even better in the days when Flash sites sucked up CPU cycles like Miley at a stevia festival or something else that makes more sense), an updated Safari that might actually get me to use it instead of Chrome, full-screen apps that are more multi-display friendly. Additionally, Apple is bringing iBooks to the desktop at last, as well as their Maps app. If the Maps app actually works well, it could be rather handy, since it syncs directions to all your devices. We shall see. And then I'll probably go back to my Navigon app.

New MacBook Air models. Not a lot going on here with, as Phil Schiller called it, "everyone's ultimate, everyday notebook." Haswell processors and pretty impressive battery life. Not that these things are bad, they just aren't great for ether the hype or snark machine. They are a touch cheaper, at least.

Airport Extreme Base Stations. The AEBS has gone phallic for better signal distribution (as the owner of two current-gen AEBSes, I find that to be a good thing—the signal bit, not the phallicness.) Now sporting 802.11ac, the new AEBS/Time Capsule units pair up with the new Wi-Fi capabilities of the updated MacBook Air. I just hope they've finally fixed the Internet connection dropping issue that has plagued the AEBS for years. Some samples are fine forever, others develop the flakiness later in life, and some are spotty from the get-go. I've got one unit that just began flaking out on me. A downgrade to a previous firmware seems to have fixed it for now, but still. At least Apple is sticking with the three Ethernet ports. I wouldn't want my router to be too expandable. Good thing I won't have to find a recycling center for my secondary hub.

Mac Pro. Schiller kicked off the big reveal of a new Mac Pro with a teaser video and the comment, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass." And I must admit that I agree with Phil the Shill. I know that no small amount of complaining will be heaped upon the new Pro, mainly due to its lack of internal expandability, but I don't care. It's gorgeous, it's powerful, it has fast I/O out its diminutive wazoo, and it's chock-full of innovative sweetness of both the evolutionary and revolutionary kind. Ditching a mid-tower form factor that really stretches back to the first G3 Power Macs, the new Pro is a roughly 6 1/2- x 10-inch aluminum cylinder full of Jimmie Walker's favorite dyn-o-mite. Ultra-fast PCIe flash storage (although they don't say how much), fast RAM, massive throughput via Thunderbolt 2 and enough graphics power to simultaneously push three 4K displays. The thermal management makes me drool—perhaps because I just moved the Supreme Hackintosh to a new case with five different fans. Also, it (the Hack) is now ginormous. While the thought of buying a Thunderbolt chassis for my HDs or one for PCI cards isn't particularly appealing, I don't believe it will be a real hindrance to the people who will actually use the new Pro. Most post-production houses don't rely on local storage anyway. Although many do like to tweak their machine's hardware, so we'll see how that plays out. Nonetheless, a stunning bit of industrial design that, shape aside, is light years away from the Cube.

iWork on iCloud. Potty break.

iOS 7. The unveiling of iOS 7 was probably the most anticipated segment of the keynote, and to my eyes it did not disappoint. I'll leave the feature lists to others; I'm more excited about the design. We all knew this would be the Jony Ive-ing of iOS, but I didn't think they'd put him so front-and-center when talking about it. While he didn't appear on stage (he was in the audience shading himself in Al Gore's penumbra), he did open the iOS 7 segment with a video discussing the design philosophy behind the changes (as well as demonstrating some new features). Personally, I really like Apple's new emphasis on explaining design. Doing so has its risks—it can come off as too boring, too instructive, too condescending and even (given Apple) too hyperbolic—but it's worth the attempt. My favorite bit is on the iOS 7 design page at Apple.com. There's a subhead on one section that reads "You know good design when you use it." I think that sums up just about everything there is to know about good design. It is not enough to look good or act well—the two must be joined. It's the type of thing that Apple has excelled at in the past, yet hasn't pushed forward enough in recent memory. Is the design work a breakthrough? No. That rarely happens. The fonts and iconography are contemporary and will probably stand the test of time (we'll see in a few years, won't we?), but they're not 180 degrees from what others are doing. I haven't had a chance to use a Windows 8 phone, but that OS's visual design at least looks decent. Apple's ability to combine style and substance should keep them ahead for the time being.

On a side note, I saw a lot of angst on Twitter about the new look, which struck me as odd. Not because design is subjective, but because the folks grousing were grousing about the flatter style being too childlike—I just didn't get that sense at all. The makers of Camera+ (@TapTapTap) were whining so much I had to unfollow. First, don't damn the design without having interacted with it first. Second, it's not as if Apple dropped Fajita and Papyrus all over the place like pootastic font bombs.

Also, Eddy Cue needs to cash in some stock options and take a presentation course. Or give me a million bucks for this advice: pause when people applaud, not when you expect them to.

iTunes Radio. It's Pandora built into iTunes. I doubt it'll really be much different that, although integration is often a good thing. I suspect this is more of a tactical play—something Apple felt they had to do versus really wanting to do. Although, knowing Apple, they'll end up making hordes of cash off the advertising and funneled iTunes purchases. Being an iTunes Match customer keeps it ad-free, which is nice until the day I write an iRadio ad for a client.

I could go on, but I already have.

Later,

Fox

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