This week’s WWDC was all about the software. None of the rumored hardware announcements have occurred. There is no new iMac, there is no new MacBook Pro with Retina display, and forget about the iWatch.
Yet Apple has done something extremely important for the future of the iOS and OS X, which is to provide the tools for enhanced customer lock-in. Both OS X’s Continuity and Handoff features, for example, let you smoothly switch among Apple gadgets. The email you begin on your Mac, once OS X Yosemite is available, can be continued on your iPhone or iPad or even an iPod touch running iOS 8. You’ll also be able to make and receive phone calls from your Mac or iPad, so long as a working iPhone is on your network. But it’s unclear whether this feature requires Wi-Fi calling, only promised so far in the U.S. by T-Mobile (Rogers Wireless in Canada will also support the feature). If it does, though, expect other carriers to jump on board soon.
Now I usually keep my iPhone next to me when I’m working on my Mac, and I’m quite capable of fielding phone calls and answering text messages on it with no less distraction than answering a call on my home office phone. I expect, however, that Apple envisions the growing trend towards using one’s cell phone as their one and only telephone regardless of where they are. I suppose I’d do it too, once audio quality improves. Despite the ongoing enhancements, it’s still too digital for my tastes.
But I can see where Apple is heading.
They are also heading towards a future where Google search will be less and less relevant. Safari for Yosemite and iOS 8 adds support for DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track you. That gives Google more competition. The new OS X Spotlight mixes local and online searches. Bing is there, Google isn’t. By integrating the search results with direct links to your own documents, emails, contacts, and the wealth of online information in response to your request, what’s the point of Google and all those targeted ads?
Apple has also made strides to answer the wish lists of customers, particularly on iOS, and it doesn’t matter so much if some of those features are already available in some form on Android.
So you’ll be able to replace Apple’s keyboard with a third-party keyboard and have it take over systemwide. There will no longer be the need for complicated copy and paste routines. If you want Swype, where you slide or swype rather than tap, go for it. If you want a SwiftKey keyboard, a popular app on Android, that will be available too. But Apple’s QuickType offers a similar predictive text capability, so the need for a third-party option will be lessened.
Apple is also enhancing iCloud, a hit or miss and very limited online data repository, with iCloud Drive. The concept isn’t unique; it’s a general purpose place for your stuff in the tradition of Microsoft’s OneDrive, and you’ll be able to access your files and folders on your Mac, iOS gadget and evidently a Windows PC with the appropriate control app installed. Yes, you’ll actually have control of your files on the iPhone and iPad, which answers a crying need as more productivity apps become available.
If you’re presently using Dropbox, you’ll be able to save money by switching to iCloud Drive. The first 5GB is free, but 20GB will be 99 cents per month, and 200GB, the sweet spot, will be $3.99 per month. Other price tiers, including a full terabyte, should be announced soon. Google Drive’s deal is not that different. You get 100GB storage for $1.99 per month and a terabyte for $9.99 per month. Microsoft OneDrive is priced at $25 per year for 50GB, $50 per year for 100GB and $100 per year for 200GB.
In contrast, Dropbox is $9.99 a month for 100GB; it maxes out at 500GB for $49.99 a month. It’s a sure thing Apple is really putting all that extra datacenter capacity to good use, at the same time offering a value that has the potential to knock out the competition. At the very least, expect a downward spiral on prices for cloud-based storage.
Still, it’s not yet clear if you’ll be able to access iCloud Drive on older versions of iOS and OS X. I sort of expect there will be support for the latter, if only online.
Of course, with a more open iOS, the ability of apps to “talk” to other apps, the addition of support for third-party keyboards, and allowing other apps to access such features as TouchID, there’s the inevitable question about security. Certainly the fear mongers who ignore the severe security problems on the Android platform attempt to misdirect the discussion whenever Apple fixes a potential security leak.
But remember that Apple has been working on iOS for seven years, and only now do you see these enhancements and extensions to app sandboxing. Clearly Apple has been very circumspect about adding features unless or until security issues are resolved. But that won’t stop the chatter.
Nor, despite the wealth of new software features — far beyond the usual number for an iOS or OS X upgrade — will the critics stop complaining that there were no new hardware announcements. Not a chance. But Apple is still under the gun to launch some compelling gadgets over the next six months. Certainly the new iOS 8 technologies offer growing opportunities not just for Apple, but for other companies too.
All in all, while I’ve long felt Apple has stretched the envelope to tout over 200 new features in recent iOS and OS X releases, there seems to be no end to the enhanced feature sets for the upcoming updates. So maybe 400 this time?