The WWDC Report: Let the Spin Start

June 12th, 2012

There has been so much speculation about what Apple would announce during the WWDC keynote that I hesitated to take much of it seriously. But I will focus on the reality and some of the key fictions, and maybe a few just-misses.

But the opening, with Siri doing the intros, was certainly in keeping with the pop culture mystic about Apple’s flawed personal dictation assistant. At least people will no longer criticize me for bad jokes; Siri is the champ. Not even the Unknown Comic comes close.

Now in his opening presentation, CEO Tim Cook revealed one telling tidbit about App Store downloads, and that is that most of the downloads are free, or available for very low-cost. Consider that 30 billion apps have been downloaded since the App Store debuted in 2008, but developers received just $5 billion. That’s an awful lot of money, though, far more than any other mobile platform has delivered to developers.

Ahead of the WWDC keynote, one commentator wanted to remind you that Apple hasn’t released most hardware updates at a developer event. But right after a video was presented depicting the many ways in which the iPad has enriched people’s lives, VP Philip Schiller came onstage to announce, first, the 2012 MacBook Air. So much for trying to prejudge Apple. This was going to be a long session as WWDC keynotes go.

Despite all the speculation about the arrival of a Retina display, never confirmed, both the revised MacBook Airs and the refreshed 15-inch MacBook Pro both had the same displays as the previous model, and retained the same basic designs. Specs were predictably enhanced, and prices were the same except for a higher-end configuration of the 11-inch MacBook Air, which lists for $100 less. No new 17-inch model was announced, and it’s not certain if that will ever happen, since that configuration has been axed from Apple’s site, but I’m still hoping Apple will eventually deliver the bigger model, which suites my portable workflow far better than the 15-inch version.

As predicted, a new generation 15-inch MacBook Pro was also announced, one with a Retina display. And, as expected, it’s thinner, even thinner that Schiller’s fingers, .71 inches thick, but no tapering. And it weighs over a pound less than the current MacBook Pro. Actual specs: A 15.4-inch screen with pixel density of 2880×1800, which amounts to 220 pixels per inch. That’s definitely in Retina territory.

But here’s the bad news: Retina displays aren’t cheap, so the stock configuration, with a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 8GB RAM, GT 650M 1GB graphics, and 256GB of flash storage, is $2,199, representing a $400 price increase over a standard MacBook Pro with a similar configuration.

Predictably, Apple’s apps are being updated for the Retina display. The Final Cut Pro X update is already available, and Adobe Photoshop and other third party apps will soon get retina graphics updates. Apps that aren’t upgraded to the new retina graphics will simply be scaled up, and will thus look a tad fuzzier compared to the rest, meaning they will appear the same as they do on a MacBook Pro with a standard display.

Also as predicted, there is no optical drive and, in fact, no Ethernet or FireWire 800 ports. You’ll have to use a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter for wired networking, and a Thunderbolt to FireWire 800 adapter for your legacy drives. But Apple will be shipping these cables. At least there are two Thunderbolt ports plus one HDMI. Unfortunately, the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard was not mentioned, but all the USB ports on the new MacBook family now support USB 3.0.

Switching to Mountain Lion, Craig Federighi, senior VP for software engineering, revealed that the bill of particulars includes not the 100 new features previously announced, but 200. This is in the same range as other OS 8 reference releases. Indeed, there may be more meat and potatoes here than with Lion, based on my preliminary reading of the new features. But, despite claims that adoption of Lion isn’t so great, it was revealed that 40% of the Mac user base (estimated at 66 million) upgraded to Lion within the first nine months on sale.

The feature presentation was similar to the one in February, when Mountain Lion was launched. One new feature, Power Nap, updates your MacBook Air (second generation and later) and Retina display MacBook Pro while it’s in sleep mode, including Time Machine backups. As expected, there will be Face-book integration for both Mountain Lion and iOS 6. But the OS 10.8 version will evidently ship later as an update, according to Apple’s press release.

One of the more useful features of Mountain Lion is Dictate, which provides system-wide dictation capability, even to third-party apps such as Microsoft Word, without the need for special updates. Since Dictate can use your Mac’s built-in mic and doesn’t require training to learn your voice and speech patterns, I can see where third-party apps, such as Nuance’s Dragon for Mac, are in deep trouble. But Apple has been known to license technology from Nuance, so many the impact won’t be as severe as it might have been.

Mountain Lion will ship in July, with a download price at $19.99 for users of Lion and Snow Leopard. Well, I thought it might be free, but I’ll take a $10 price reduction any day. I’m curious, now, how Microsoft will handle Windows 8 pricing.

Scott Forstall, the iOS VP, came onstage to take the wraps off iOS 6. In keeping with the 200 new feature benchmark, there are a load of them, but the list on Apple’s site is still very incomplete. A highlight for iOS 6 is improved Siri support. The enhanced version, arriving eight months after Siri first appeared with the iPhone 4s, essentially flesh out the capabilities in different ways, such as getting sports scores and team and player stats in response to simple questions. You’ll also get expanded ratings for restaurants courtesy of Yelp, and movie schedules and reviews. And, Siri can also launch apps.

Siri will also grace many new cars, with BMW, GM, Mercedes, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda committing to Siri integration, known as Eyes Free, within next 12 months. Siri will be called up with the voice command button on your car’s steering wheel. But that’s not a reason to hold off buying a new car if you need one now, or you prefer a different make. Siri will also be coming to the new iPad, but it’s not at all clear whether “she” will shed the beta label yet.

Along with the expected social-related enhancements in Safari, the iOS 6 Mail client with added a VIP Mail feature, same as in Mountain Lion, where you will be alerted if you get a message from someone you declare to be a VIP. Mail will also offer a partial solution to the attachment dilemma, by allowing you to insert videos and photos from within the app. That eliminates the need to go to the app first and start your email from there.

And, yes, you will have the ability to use set up a separate signature for each email account in iOS 6. I’ve been asking for that one for years, although it would be better to have selectable signatures for each account, in case you use one address for both business and personal use, as some of us do.

A Passbook feature manages tickets, from such places and movie theaters and concert arenas, along with airline boarding passes, all in one convenient place. Guided Access, designed with children suffering from autism in mind, let’s you circle controls to disable certain interface elements to make them easier to use. A Single-app mode lets, say, a teacher limits a student to one and only one app on an iPad during a classroom setting. No messaging allowed.

As the analysts predicted, Apple also introduced what they call a “ground up” mapping solution to replace Google Maps. Included is turn-by-turn navigation, using Siri if supported, and the ability to take note of traffic conditions with an “anonymous real-time crowd sourcing” capability. 3D maps data has been gathered, in part, by Apple flying over cities and recording the information. Of course, some countries wouldn’t allow Apple aircraft for overflights, and they are not in the business of spoofing Wi-Fi networks, as Google did.

So the next time your car dealer wants to sell you a navigation system, you may want to think again, unless it’s the only package you can order to receive the fancy radio and other goodies. Third party navigation apps are also an endangered species, but you had to expect that turn-by-turn navigation was coming.

iOS 6 is now available in beta form for developers. The shipping version will be released this fall, and will support the iPhone 3GS and later, the second and third generation iPad (but not the original), and the fourth generation iPod touch. It will now doubt arrive a few days before the expected release of the iPhone 5, probably the first week of October.

As far as the rest of the Mac lineup, there was a very minor enhancement to the Mac Pro, a standard configuration offering a 12-core processor from the older Intel Xeon lineup. There’s still no support for Thunderbolt, which is tailor made for a high-end workstation, or USB 3.0. It was all so disappointing, though I suppose we can always hope for more later on this year. An iMac and Mac mini refresh would also seem a given, but maybe Apple will hold them off until Mountain Lion is released for download. According to David Pogue, of The New York Times, you should expect a new iMac and a more significant Mac Pro upgrade in 2013. That statement has since been confirmed by Apple. In addition, an email to an Apple customer from Tim Cook promised something “really great” for the Mac Pro next year.

As WWDC sessions go, the OS upgrades stand front and center. The MacBook Pro with Retina display will probably be gobbled up by content creators, but it’s debatable whether others will buy one, at least until the price of the screens comes down.

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3 Responses to “The WWDC Report: Let the Spin Start”

  1. dfs says:

    There was very little yesterday which could be described as ground-breaking. Biggest surprise: SIRI for autos, and not just high-end ones (Honda was on the list). I’ve been saying for some time that auto communication/entertainment/navigation is potentially a very lucrative area for Apple, and it looks like they’re beginning to move into that area. I. m. h. o. that could prove at least as possible as trying to get into the television market. Biggest disappointment (for me, anyway): the iPod Touch is getting remarkably long in the tooth. The last upgrade was released in Oct. 2011 and that amounted to nothing more than the choice of white. The last significant upgrade was in Sept. 2010. I’m holding off replacing my first gen. Touch until I can buy one with a camera at least as decent as the one in the current iPhone. Exactly how long am I going to wait?

  2. dfs says:

    Sorry, the Click to Edit feature isn’t working right. Please read “as profitable” for “as possible”

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