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  • The Apple/WWDC Disconnect Never Ends

    June 12th, 2014

    To some, Apple's new announcements at the WWDC represented a coming of age for the company under the leadership of Tim Cook. It's certainly more open, considering that developers have a little more freedom to talk about prerelease software. So now they can actually discuss what they're doing with outsiders, although they aren't able to actually review the product or post screen shots. Of course, that doesn't stop some from doing just that, but at least they have a little more latitude.

    Little of that impacts anyone outside of our little tech bubble. I mean, if you asked most users of Apple gear what "Mapgate" or "AntennaGate" were all about, their eyes would glaze over. It was never on their radar, even though the first, Maps for iOS 7, was riddled with serious bugs when first released.

    In any case, since it is important to the folks who frequent these pages, I'll focus on the ways some elements of the tech media are unable to understand Apple. It seems curious for a company that has existed since the 1970s. Sure, there have been leadership changes, financial ups and downs, and some really mediocre products over the years. But Apple's playbook since 1997, when Steve Jobs took over as iCEO, has been crystal clear. Focus on a small number of high-profile gadgets, and support those gadgets with Apple-built software and services.

    Oh, and of course earn high profits from everything as much as possible. But services such as iTunes, despite being quite successful even if judged as an independent business, are largely focused on adding value to your iPhone, iPad, Mac and even the usually-neglected iPod touch.

    But that doesn't stop some of the critics from demanding that Apple open the crown jewels — the operating systems — or Siri, iWork and other products to third parties including Android. Sure, anything run from your browser, such as the iCloud version of iWork, is cross-platform. iTunes, iCloud and even the AirPort Utility for an AirPort base station are available for Windows users. After the recent purchase of Beats Electronics, Apple will reportedly allow Android users to continue to access their Beats Music subscriptions.

    But since the services and apps are largely designed to service Apple gear, which is where Apple earns the lion's share of profits, it would be absolutely foolish to open up things too much. If Apple stuff is available on any platform, why buy hardware with the Apple label? And, no, I won't get into the so-called "Apple Tax." That's overblown, and when you compare Apple gear fairly with the competition, including hardware capability and bundled software, the alleged price difference is much less than you expect, and in some cases, non-existent.

    Still, Apple clearly picks and chooses which products to offer to Windows users, or to make available online. The critics have no cogent arguments to justify opening up everything.

    At the same time, iOS 8 does represent a number of efforts to open the platform to afford more profit-making opportunities for developers. Among the key changes is systemwide support for third-party keyboards. You'll be able to swap in keyboards from Swype and other companies and have it replace the one Apple provides, and several companies who deliver such apps to Android are already planning iOS versions.

    Apple's decision to allow iOS apps to talk to one another, to add features and services, creates all sorts of fascinating possibilities for new and enhanced features. You can add this and other methods to open up the platform and rightly state that you could do some of that in different ways on other mobile platforms. But that's never the point. Apple doesn't so much invent a new product category as make it viable. Consider the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad as examples.

    One of the most important new iOS features is HealthKit, which has the potential of revolutionizing the early 20th century methods of creating and storing medical information. So much of it is still done with paper, so much of it is done with medical instrumentation that doesn't even talk to each other. You wonder how many people get subpar care because the medical records are not integrated, or they forgot to mention a critical tidbit of information to a nurse or a doctor as the same questions were repeated over and over again. I want to assume your privacy will be respected.

    Clearly, HealthKit may be a key component of the iWatch, should such a product appear. That and HomeKit would be tailor made for a wearable device don't you think?

    Perhaps that's the reason why financial and media pundits seem suddenly so positive about Apple's future projects. Even though Samsung is, for example, making a half-hearted health-related initiative in the Galaxy S5, it smacks of a desperate effort to hold off Apple at the pass. It didn't work. Who is still talking about Samsung, or about Microsoft and the Surface 3 for that matter? Not many it seems.



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