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The Wrong WWDC Takeaway Report

So maybe Wall Street isn’t terribly impressed with the announcements at Apple’s WWDC. But that doesn’t mean nothing significant was offered. It happens to be the reverse. As expected, Apple is taking the Snow Leopard route with El Capitan and iOS 9 offering up operating system upgrades that focus on improvements in user experience and performance. This means that the features are more in the area of refinements than, on the surface at least, major enhancements.

Although that’s not quite true, at least when it comes to the iPad.

Faced with declining sales, Apple has gone to work to make the iPad more useful for productivity, and encourage you to upgrade to a new model. It all comes down to the enhanced multitasking with a Split View mode that allows you to position two apps side by side. Yes, Apple is already being attacked for borrowing the Split Screen feature found on Samsung smartphones and tablets, but there are only so many ways you can put apps side-by-side that make sense.

Regardless, among the new multitasking enhancements, Split Screen only works on the iPad Air 2 and the refreshed models arriving this fall that may include a larger iPad. So if you want to take advantage of this feature, and I expect it will be popular if it works smoothly and reliably, buy a new iPad. I presume this is because of the CPU and RAM requirements for putting live apps side by side, although the critics will pounce on Apple for restricting this tentpole feature to exactly one model, at least when they aren’t crying copycat.

Of course, the enhanced Siri is also being attacked because of its similarity to Google Now. Again, I presume Apple’s customers want a more accurate and more proactive Siri, so Apple is delivering it without the privacy concerns occasioned by using a Google service.

Split View will also appear on OS X El Capitan, as part of the full-screen mode. But wasn’t that something already present in Windows? Yes indeed, but having a side-by-side view is still a good idea from a productivity standpoint, and it’s not that Microsoft hasn’t borrowed some OS X tentpole features for Windows 10. Consider virtual desktops, shades of Spaces, or a task management screen reminiscent of Mission Control. Fact is that Apple, Google and Microsoft are highly influenced by one another. The important thing is whether a feature makes sense and is well done. And it doesn’t violate someone’s intellectual property.

But some tech writers are gong way overboard. So I read a piece claiming that El Capitan has acquired a “host” of features from Windows, but it appears to focus strictly on side-by-side. The theory goes that Apple is looking to Windows to solve the iPad problem, but what about Samsung? Said problem is supposed to be mostly about the fact that iPad owners aren’t upgrading, but Apple isn’t breaking down those figures other than to say it’s part of the problem. Obviously wanting to take advantage of new features will help, but making the product more of a productivity tool will separate it from all those consumption devices that pretend to be iPad competitors.

How any of that impacts iPad sales remains to be seen. After all, the promise of a new feature, with a reality several months away from being realized, may not have an immediate impact. But if it accompanies the release of new models this fall, with a major marketing push, maybe things will change for the better. At least Apple has made what appears to be a positive effort to make the iPad a more compelling product.

Now when it comes to all those articles about what Apple copied and where, I saw yet another today listing several items. I don’t dispute them so far as it goes, but how many articles do you see listing the features that Google, Microsoft or even Samsung assumed from Apple? It works both ways, and shouldn’t there be similar lists?

No matter. It does seem that Apple made sensible improvements to OS X and iOS. Getting better performance with easier usability, plus more battery life on an iPhone or an iPad, is certainly worth the upgrade. That El Capitan and iOS 9 both work on the very same hardware as their predecessors means that the same user base can upgrade. I am also pleased that Apple has managed to substantially cut the size of the iOS update to make it easier for folks to install without syncing with iTunes. The size of the iOS 8 update — although it got smaller later on — was a huge impediment for many.

As to the rest of the announcements, producing a major upgrade for the WatchOS software so quickly means there’s a huge commitment to have it run in top form for the critical holiday season. I’d care more if I had an Apple Watch.

And I really don’t have a whole lot of interest in Apple Music. Perhaps this ages me, but I prefer to buy music. I want to know that I will still have that music if or when a service is no longer available, or I have other priorities for the monthly payment. Apple’s critics are saying there’s not a whole lot that’s new here, but the customers will decide if it meets their needs, and whether the Beats Music “advantage” represented a worthwhile investment, aside from those fancy headphones.