I wasn’t terribly surprised to see how some members of the media handled the developments at Apple’s WWDC this year. Compared to recent presentations, there weren’t earth-shattering announcements, at least on the surface; just a clear focus on making iPhones, iPads and Macs run faster, more reliably. That seems roughly the equivalent of auto makers selling safety, and it doesn’t always work. Worse, the fact that Apple, like the competition, isn’t afraid of adapting features from other platforms, got even more criticism. That tentpole features of Windows 10, for example, include things you could already do on a Mac, such as multiple desktops, doesn’t seem to get near as much attention.
And what about the features Google borrowed from iOS for Android M? It’s not a topic that’s mentioned terribly often.
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we talked about the major announcements at Apple’s WWDC, where operating systems were refreshed, and Apple’s long-anticipated music service was announced. You heard about the new features of iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. Did Apple meet customer’s expectations in concentrating mostly on enhancing performance and reliability? What about the claims on the part of some members of the media that Apple merely copied features already available in Android and Microsoft Windows? You also heard the ins and outs of Apple Music and how it will compete with existing subscription music services such as Spotify.
As I’ve written before, I probably won’t bother to subscribe, at least at first. I’ve been buying music since I was quite young, and I understand the variety and scope of having most (but not all) of Apple’s music library at your beck and call, but I still prefer the confident feeling that, whatever happens to the account or the service, my music library will still be there and won’t vanish in the cloud.
Our guests included Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, who also talked to Gene about the recent death of the noted character actor, Sir Christopher Lee, famous for horror films and his appearances in two Star Wars prequels, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. You also heard from commentator Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.”
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: One of our favorite author/researchers, the amazingly busy Nick Redfern, returns to The Paracast to talk about his latest books: “Secret History: Conspiracies from Ancient Aliens to the New World Order.” It’s a large book, and there’s plenty of ground to cover from the mainstays, such as the Kennedy Assassination, Walt Disney and the CIA, to loads of other topics. We’ll also get a blow-by-blow about his recent appearance at the Contact in the Desert conference, Slidegate, and other pertinent subjects. Nick is always fun, informative and entertaining.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
An article I read the other day suggested the stakes are so high for Apple that they are doomed to fail by not hitting the ball out of the park each and every time. They concluded that there there were no jaw droppers at the WWDC — and that includes Apple Music since there are already popular music subscription services — and thus Apple did not deliver the goods.
This reminds me of the complaints about the 2014 WWDC, that Apple’s announcements didn’t include sexy new hardware but were all about software. Such comments conveniently ignored the fact that these are developer’s conferences, and thus they tend to focus on software and tools for creating software. So even though Apple does occasionally highlight new hardware, such as the introduction of a redesigned Mac Pro in 2013, that’s not a given.
Also one should look at what the competition brings to the table. So we have Microsoft’s Windows 10, which is due out in late July, although you can already download a late beta from Microsoft. After the Windows 8 disaster, Microsoft’s most significant feature appears to be the return of the Start menu. With a virtual desktop scheme and window management reminiscent of Apple’s Mission Control, you wonder what’s so new and different. There’s also a new browser curiously named Edge to replace Internet Explorer, although it’s not at all clear yet whether it performs any better.
You almost think that Microsoft entered a time warp where Windows 8 didn’t exist — and it doesn’t for the enterprise — and the previous version was Windows 7. So this would seem to be a natural upgrade. Having experimented with the technical previews on my Mac within a Parallels Desktop virtual machine, Windows 10 does seem to work well enough. A few interface excesses from Windows 8 are there, notably live tiles. But it’s not offensive, and you aren’t forced to learn new skills.
It remains to be seen whether Microsoft’s concept of having Windows 10 work, with variations, on any device from a personal computer to a mobile phone, will succeed in practice. True, Apple has added some similar features to both iOS and OS X, but they are still very different operating systems, and you never feel that your Mac will suddenly morph into an iPad.
Apple’s approach, rather than changing paradigms, is to make what runs in either the mobile or PC operating systems work better and faster. It’s not often that a tech company delivers on the promise of superior performance, and that’s a very specific promise for OS X El Capitan. The choice of names, a notable mountain within Yosemite, appears to reflect an OS that’s more about refinement than about loading up on flashy new features.
We all saw how the old approach worked last year.
Even through OS 10.10.3, and a 10.10.4 is under development, Yosemite remains a little too flaky for some Mac users. Wi-Fi networking may still fail at inopportune times, and the widely hyped Handoff feature is hit or miss. When it works you can, with compatible Mac hardware, begin an email or a document (in a supported app) and pick up where you left off on, say, an iPhone or an iPad. Or in any sequence you prefer. But I’ve also been able to see what my wife might be working on with her iPad, so I wonder about the privacy angle.
When it works of course.
The promise of El Capitan is to focus on performance and experience. Metal support means that the graphics chips will take on more of the load, similar to how it’s done with iOS, which will, among other things, help to speed app launch and app switching times. But Adobe has already boasted of an 800% improvement in After Effects rendering times.
The fly in the ointment is this: Will your Mac support Metal, or will it only work efficiently on recent models with more powerful graphics chips that have the right level of support for this enhancement? The fine print for El Capitan could use a little more fine print to reveal the limitations.
But that, along with a more powerful Spotlight feature, better window management, and an assortment of refinements across-the-board, may be sufficient to restore OS X’s reputation for reliability. It may not be a game changer, but just working may be enough for most of you.
With iOS 9, my brief look at the developer beta didn’t reveal so many obvious differences. The new system font, San Francisco, is more obviously readable, and too thin labels are no longer too thin, though I don’t think the design is nearly as refined as the previous font, Helvetica Neue. But that’s just the old typographer in me.
The Proactive Siri is being criticized as a knock-off of Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana, but it doesn’t base its predictions on scraping your private email or on the other schemes used by Google to build a profile about you and your behavior. So if performance and accuracy is otherwise comparable, that’ll be an advantage. We’ll see, but it’s nonetheless true that Siri has fallen behind the curve as digital assistants go, so it is nice to see that Apple is still working on it.
I’m also encouraged by the promised improvements in Maps. Apple is getting dinged for not adding public transit support to more cities at the start, but it’s better to see the technology proven in practice first before additional locales are added. Apple has already gotten plenty of bad publicity about the shortcomings of Maps. Besides, where I live, near Phoenix, AZ, there’s not really enough public transportation to make so much of a difference, but if you live in New York City, my home town, you’ll no doubt appreciate the extra guidance in getting from here to there.
Again, if it works as advertised, and I don’t think Apple would make too many promises about Maps after the sour 2012 release. But I’m anxious to see some heads-on comparisons with Google Maps when iOS 9 comes out this fall. That would be fascinating, although I expect some members of the press will focus more on Apple being late to the party rather than getting it right.
Power efficiencies supposedly have improved battery life by up to an hour, and there’s a low-battery mode, similar in concept to what Android already offers, which can add three hours to battery life.
I will, for now, avoid reviewing betas other than to observe new features in action. The real proof will come when the final versions are released. Don’t forget that OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 arrived with a number of significant irritants with the initial release, and it’s questionable whether some of those irritants were ever eradicated, at least on OS 10.10. Some claim that the adoption rate could be better, but Yosemite appears to have done well, and iOS 8 is not so far behind iOS 7. Apple shows it at 83% so far. Mixpanel Trends lists it as over 86%, compared to over 90% with iOS 8’s predecessor. That’s not so bad after all.
Overall, the new iOS and OS X releases probably won’t garner quite the headlines of the previous versions. But if Apple gets fewer complaints from customers with ongoing glitches, and the discussion boards at their support forums don’t fill out quite as much, that will be a good thing.
When it comes to the forthcoming WatchOS 2, you might wonder why a major revision comes only six months after Apple Watch was released. Does that indicate the original version came out too soon, or had too many flaws? Or does it show that Apple isn’t standing still on its smartwatch platform, and the product will become a more compelling buy in a very short time. A more refined OS will likely mean a lot during the holiday season.
So does all this mean that Apple did hit it out of the park after all? That, again, depends on having pretty solid releases at the start, without having to force customers to install and endure maintenance updates to make things right. Sometimes less is more.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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