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About the Apple Sporting Event

Ahead of the WWDC, I had the feeling some members of the media were treating it as a sporting event. Will Apple win the public mindset, lose, or, as many expected, end up in a draw? After Apple’s stock has taken a huge dive — and that happens every few years — is Apple finally able to prove to skeptical media and tech pundits that they still have something left to deliver?

Ahead of the WWDC, Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped some vague hints about the company’s “grand vision” for your living room, and the refusal to dismiss the possibilities of cheaper iPhones, or larger iPhone screens some day. Apple took the intense interest in the keynote to heart and opted to stream the event live on the company’s Web site and through a special Apple Events channel on an Apple TV; the latter just happened to show up today without need of a special update. Curious how things work with you’ve got an always-on connection.

I didn’t look to see if there was a backdoor feed to the NSA.

As usual, Wall Street had a mixed reaction. Apple’s stock price had declined at the end of the roughly two-hour event. And I have to tell you that I was only surprised once, when it was announced that the next OS X would no longer be named after cats, but after a place names in California. Coming this fall will be OS X Mavericks, also known as OS 10.9, which contains a several features already hinted at by the rumor sites.

Key among the new features are the tabbed Finder, tagging, and improved full-screen support on multiple displays. There are also a number of fancy new technologies designed to boost performance, and make more efficient use of processors and RAM, not to mention battery life on Mac note-books. Predictably, real-life effects in such apps as Calendar, Contacts and Game Center are gone and not forgotten. Apple made light of how they made the OS more environmentally friendly by banishing skeuomorphisms. Safari also receives a major performance and usability upgrade.

However, aside from a new desktop background that fits the Mavericks concept, Apple doesn’t seem to have made huge changes in the OS X theme, at least compared to OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. This relatively conservative approach may, in part, stem from the desire to retain the traditional Mac look and feel. Or maybe Jonathan Ive and crew didn’t have enough time to fabricate a new look and feel for this release. There were published reports that Apple moved some OS engineers off Mavericks to complete the iOS 7 makeover.

OS X Mavericks will appear some time this fall, and no pricing was announced. So once again, I’m going to suggest that Apple should make the next version of OS X free of charge. Can they? Time will tell.

When it comes to the Mac Pro, I didn’t see any photos of leaked prototypes that managed to capture the new, cylindrical design. While some might gripe that all expansion, other than RAM, will be external, and there will be no internal optical drive, a half dozen Thunderbolt 2 ports means that there will be no performance questions about needing a separate expansion chassis for peripheral cards and extra drives. You can bet the PCI Express-based Flash storage will be far more expensive than regular Flash media. Apple was also smart to add a pair of top-of-the-line AMD graphics processors as standard equipment, thereby eliminating one potential option to customize. They claim support for up to three 4K video images. Shipping is promised for later this year and, yes, the Mac Pro will be “assembled” in the USA.

Although some looked to Windows Phone as a harbinger of what Apple might do with iOS 7, the end result is decidedly different. Yes, the icons are flatter, the text, employing Helvetica Neue Ultra Light, crisper, easier to read. But the graphics tricks are imposing. By using layers and translucency, Apple has given iOS 7 a decided 3D feel, as app icons float above a wallpaper backdrop. A parallax trick changes the perspective as you tilt or twist your iOS device. Nifty!

There are loads of new features demonstrated at the WWDC, with others that’ll no doubt be fleshed out over the next three months. I was particularly impressed with Control Center, a convenient scheme to make basic system changes when swiping upward, even within the lock screen. You can turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on or off to save battery life, adjust the brightness of the display, and make other changes in a way that can’t happen by mistake in your pocket. This is where Google’s decision to put such settings in Android’s Notification Manager fails. I’ve seen how easy it is for a wayward tap to cut me off a Wi-Fi network. And, by the way, the new version of Siri uses, in part, Microsoft’s Bing search engine to do its thing. Take that Google!

Those who complained about multitasking in the iOS will be pleased to see that all apps are now supported, but in an intelligent fashion that gives priority to the apps you use most often in order to preserve battery life. In comparison, Android is just plain brain-dead about multitasking! I still hope Apple will add multiple window capability to the iPad, but the new scheme that reveals running app preview screens when you press the Home button twice is an adequate, if not complete, alternative.

But third-party developers might be concerned about all this iOS 7 joy. Some apps, including Instagram, may be made all or completely obsolete because of the changes Apple wrought.

On the hardware front, a squared-off cylinder AirPort Extreme and Time Machine offers support for a draft version of 802.11ac Wi-Fi, promising up to three times the speed of the 802.11n standard. But you will, of course, need new computing hardware that supports this technology, such as the refreshed MacBook Air, which incorporate Intel’s Haswell chipset. While there were predictions of a new MacBook Pro with Retina display lineup\, it appears that time has not yet come. There are also reports that the iMac will get a similar refresh sometime this summer.

And yes there will be an iRadio in our future, ad driven and available via iTunes on a Mac, PC and on your iOS device. But it’ll be called iTunes Radio, maybe because of trademark considerations. Those who pay $24.99 each year for iTunes Match get an ad-free version. Contrast that to Pandora’s $36 annual price.

So much for a few highlights. Check Apple’s site for all the goodies, and I’ll have much more to say in the days to come.