Every few days, I see yet another disconnected article from an alleged media pundit about Apple. While I’m still digesting the huge number of announcements at the WWDC, some complain about the lack of news about a new Mac, or news about the iWatch, Apple TV — you get the picture.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing about some new products soon, but that doesn’t always happen at a developer-oriented event. Well, last year, there was the Mac Pro, but that product catered to many of the people who actually create the software, although you can certainly do that on any Mac. This year, the more consumer-oriented products are expected to get the updates later in the year, but that’s not the point. This event was a thrill-packed adventure for the people for whom a WWDC is oriented. I’ve never seen such an event with so many significant announcements.
In short, some members of the media who presume to cover Apple Inc. are quite evidently blind and deaf about how the company really operates. But that’s nothing new for our favorite fruit company.
In any case, on the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, Managing Editor for iMore, who focused on the media misconceptions about Apple’s WWDC, which was focused solely on software rather than fancy new gadgets. You also heard about his reactions to Apple’s HealthKit feature for iOS 8, and about Microsoft’s misguided advertising campaign for the Surface 3 tablet.
You’ll also heard from Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who also covered HealthKit, and how the features introduced for iOS 8 at the WWDC might pave the way for the rumored iWatch. Bryan also explained that Apple is actually obeying tax laws despite holding billions of dollars overseas that aren’t subject to U.S. corporate income tax. Will Congress approve a “tax holiday” to repatriate such cash hoards? What about the European Commission’s investigation of possible tax sheltering by some companies who use Ireland as an international corporate location?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present freelance journalist, novelist and blogger James Renner, author of “It Came from Ohio.” The book contains “true tales of the weird, wild, and unexplained,” including the famous 1966 case involving Ohio deputy sheriff Dale F. Spaur, who, along with a fellow officer, Wilbur Neff, chased a UFO across state lines. The UFO was dismissed as conventional by the Air Force, but Spaur’s life was essentially ruined in the aftermath of the sighting. The chase formed the basis of one of the early scenes in Stephen Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Renner will also discuss reports of strange creatures, including Bigfoot and werewolves. According to his bio, “In his spare time, he hunts serial killers.”
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Maybe it’s all due to the fact that Apple has relaxed the formerly severe developer NDA. Now, they are essentially free to talk about the new OS versions being tested, so long as they don’t post reviews or screenshots. Well, that hasn’t stopped some from posting screenshots anyway. Besides, some members of the media got copies to write about, so it’s not as if there’s much that will remain hidden.
So it’s not surprising that a whole lot of juicy tidbits have appeared since the WWDC keynote on June 2. At a time where you wondered how Apple might find another 200 new features or enhancements to tout, it appears that the list has soared way beyond that. I just wonder whether Apple will put an absolute number on them, or just let you add ’em all up for yourselves.
As I wrote this column, in fact, someone posted a picture of the About This Mac window from Yosemite. It’s possible it’ll change between now and the expected October release date, but still it’s clear Apple has gone to a prettier, more informative interface. You can find several new features here at a single glance, and there are no doubt others so far undiscovered.
I think of a recent article from a Windows advocate who admitted some of the great things about Yosemite in his blog, but then claimed that Apple’s built-in apps only had minor changes. Just to remind myself that my aging memory still hasn’t quit on me, I went on Apple’s site and had a look at the changes in the Finder, Safari, FaceTime, Maps, Mail, Messages and Reminders. Each has a respectable set of enhancements worth at least a few paragraphs. Well, except for that Windows fan, and others of his ilk, who evidently didn’t want to get past the first sentence.
I am particularly looking forward to the promised improvements in Mail, which had a shaky rollout in Mavericks, particularly for Gmail users. No, I don’t use Gmail all that much, since my email needs are fairly simple and are satisfied with other accounts. I do require great performance and reliability, and Mail for OS 10.9 could be better. During the WWDC, ahead of the introduction of the spiffy new features, there was that promise of improved performance. We’ll see, but I had to sign a PDF document the other day to conclude a business transaction, and I longed for Yosemite’s Markup.
You know the score. You open the document in Preview, and maybe you can embed a signature, depending on how the document was encoded. Or perhaps you print it out, grab a pan, write your signature, and fax or send a scan of the completed document. It seems that Google and Microsoft haven’t fully considered this all-too-frequent annoyance. Maybe some unnamed Apple developer did, brought it to the powers-that-be, and the solution was soon at hand. But I’m only guessing. Regardless, Markup is the answer to a common problem.
Apple is listening.
Indeed, the hallmark of some of the better features of Yosemite and iOS 8 is that they were done in response to the needs of developers and users. From being able to add the keyboard of your choice with iOS 8, to the ability to Handoff documents, messages and phone calls, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into virtually every aspect of the new operating systems.
It’s also clear all this took a tremendous amount of time and perhaps a larger development team to complete. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber reminded us in a recent column that Apple had to pull developers off OS X Leopard in 2007 to complete the first iteration of the iPhone’s first OS. There were also rumors that Apple had to do the same for Yosemite, because of the breadth of the changes, but so much has been added to iOS 8 that this seems doubtful.
Yes, there is a published report that a side-by-side multitasking feature, as rumored, is in the offing for full-size iPad — eventually. It was apparently discovered lurking within the iOS 8 beta, but was evidently unfinished and inactive. Will it be ready in time for a fall release? Or will we have to wait for an 8.1 update? Could this be the result of pulling resources from iOS 8 to finish up Yosemite? After the initial rumors, not much was said, perhaps because people were so overwhelmed with the promised changes in both.
And I haven’t considered the new face of OS X, largely because it won’t effect how you use it all that much. One post, which doesn’t deserve a link, attempted to explain why Apple’s use of Helvetica Neue as the system font, and the decision to ditch Lucina Grande, was a poor choice. An illustration that attempted to show why presented the former with tighter letterspacing, thus making it somewhat more difficult to read. But since you can easily increase the space between characters to improve readability in smaller sizes, this is absurd.
Besides, Helvetica in its various shapes and forms has a proven record for clarity and readability that spans some 57 years. So the latest complaint about Apple’s choice of fonts rings hollow. You can argue which font is better, and some will, but I don’t think there will be that many complaints that the lettering in Yosemite will be harder to read.
A piece in The New York Times, professing to be a profile of Apple CEO Tim Cook, appears to be meant as a hit piece on his leadership style and his ability to take Apple to a new generation of game-changers. On the surface, it seems that reporters Matt Richtel and Brian X. Chen are making huge effort to be fair, but reading the complete article conveys a different impression.
You learn about Cook’s apparently less-direct and more formal management style from comments from others, since he did not agree to be interviewed. That’s a double-edged sword, because one has to depend on what others say to paint a picture, and that picture may not be quite as accurate. Yet Apple design guru Jonathan Ive was quoted as saying nothing has changed about Apple’s development process, and that the small teams are in place creating magic.
In a sense, if you don’t see a game-changer every minute of the day, be patient. Magic takes time, but there’s still an undercurrent of skepticism in the quotes the Times piece provides from outsiders who basically conclude the company has lost its way without a Steve Jobs to run the show. By hiring outsiders, however, it appears that Cook has assembled a team that, in a sense, replaces Jobs with five different people.
Or at least that’s what the article states. It also quotes one developer who considers Steve Jobs the John Lennon to Tim Cook’s Ringo Starr. But that simplistic remark totally ignores the complicated history of music’s Fab Four, or Ringo’s contribution to the band.
A few overworked tropes are presented, such as the claim that the iPhone 5c, the plastic-clad variant of the original iPhone 5, wasn’t successful. Yet as columnist Daniel Eran Dilger has revealed in his AppleInsider editorials and on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, that’s not quite true. Apple may have expected to sell more units, but 5c sales are still ahead of most other smartphones. Indeed, that Apple sold more copies of the iPhone 5s, the more expensive product, should be a good thing. It means more revenue and higher profits.
There’s also the claim that the recently-concluded WWDC, Apple’s annual developer event, was disappointing because no new hardware products were launched. The reason is obvious: For the most part, these conferences focus on software and the programming process, and in that there was a rich offering that will give developers a wider range of opportunities to build new apps and their own hardware.
So, for example, HealthKit and HomeKit offer rich opportunities for new gear to manage your health and your home environment. Should Apple have introduced products to support those initiatives? Well, what about the iWatch, which is widely expected to arrival some time this fall? What about third party companies building smart medical instruments that will link with your Apple gear to provide a more accurate picture of your health and integrate the details so you and your doctor can stay abreast of any change in your physical condition?
Does Apple have to do everything? A large percentage of medical instruments, by and large, reach a professional audience of doctors and other medical practitioners, not the mass market. Or course, there are thermometers, home blood pressure gauges and such that are already being built by third party companies.
What about OS X Yosemite, and iOS 8, two upcoming releases with enough new features to encompass several operating system upgrades? The only products mentioned in the article were Health and the new software developer kit, known as Swift, but the latter name wasn’t used, nor was there any mention of HomeKit. Indeed, the article conveys the ill-informed impression that the WWDC was mostly about Swift and the health app and not much else.
To be sure, I wouldn’t expect a profile of this sort to necessarily favor one side of the story or the other. But the end result is that the common cliches about Cook are repeated ad infinitum. There’s also the aura of Apple as a company past its prime, where it will never, ever grow revenue at the same rate as in the past.
Consider the reality, though. If Apple could continue to increase sales in the mid-double digits year after year, it would soon be larger than any single country on Earth. It’s larger than some now. That’s a growth curve that could not possibly be sustained. At the same time, it does appear Cook has a more expensive and less extreme approach to management. Apple under Cook is a more open company, at least in terms of outreach to customers and developers.
So some one million Mac users have the opportunity to sign up for the OS X Yosemite beta test. Microsoft has released public betas for years, but the last time Apple got into the OS beta game was the OS X Public Beta, in 2000, which famously cost you $29 to participate. Well, at least you got a credit towards the $129 purchase price of the finished version.
These days, OS X is free. The key details of Yosemite are already fleshed out on Apple’s site and in numerous posts from folks who have had a chance to check out the developer preview and are reporting the changes in exquisite detail. Sure, posting screenshots may be against Apple’s edict in the NDA, but I hardly think anyone is going to lose access as a result. We know it’s not the final release, we know it has bugs, and one hopes the Golden Master build will be better because of customer feedback.
Indeed, Tim Cook seems to be the sort of person who is able to listen to someone without staging a shouting match. If he can continue to improve sales, and if those promised new products, in new categories, are mostly winners, Apple’s new generation may be more exciting than ever.
As to that profile in America’s newspaper of record, it’s a mixed bag. It raises real questions about Apple’s future of innovation, but seems to ignore well-known facts in an effort to convey a false pretense of balance. That happens just a little too often these days in what passes for the mainstream media.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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