Article: Delighted

by on June 4, 2014

When it comes to Apple events, I love covering them, but hate the after-the-fact regurgitation of the big bullet points. Some detail would be lost, and most people will venture over to anyway. That being said, Monday’s keynote struck me a little differently and I wanted to draw attention to a few things.

It’s been mentioned already, but the overall vibe from Apple was confidence during the presentation. Almost everyone felt comfortable, and there were plenty of entertaining little jokes, jabs, and gags to go around. Even cheesy ones, like Greg Jozwiak’s selfie or Craig Federighi backstage were amusing and didn’t feel like they lasted too long. Although everyone in attendance was there to see new technologies unveiled, they also were entertained. The ranks at Apple were having fun.

The reason for this attitude is that Apple had some great things that were introduced, even if there wasn’t any new hardware. I think the company has also found its way, as noted by Josh Topolsky:

It feels like for several years we’ve been living with an Apple in a period of recovery and rediscovery. Just listen to Tim Cook answer questions on several occasions about future plans and roadmaps—he’s hesitant, speculative. And I don’t believe it was just about secrecy and timing. It was about Apple finding its new voice, waiting to speak with that voice. And the company has a voice again.

OS X Yosemite

This was the portion of the program I was probably the most worried about. Having used Macs since System 6 and all versions of OS X, I’ve grown accustomed to gradual changes. Sure, there are some visuals that could use work or other changes that would be nice, but my Mac as both a tool for work and a vehicle for entertainment works fine. OS X Mavericks was a great update, especially in its current form. At the 2005 keynote, Steve Jobs talked about the transition to Intel processors and how Macs would feel the same regardless of the processor:

“The soul of a Mac is its operating system.”

The hesitation mostly came from how it would become more iOS 7-like and lose some of its personality. How flat would it go? How would things that have incrementally changed over the last fifteen years get smacked even further in the direction of flat minimalism?

Needless to say, my fears were immediately replaced with excitement when I saw OS X Yosemite. Apple felt that OS X could be better and wanted to make some bigger changes. Just as pinstripes, brushed metal, and most of the liquid visual cues came and went, OS X has changed over the years and this is just an iteration. It’s a bigger one than normal, probably the biggest since Leopard (10.5). There’s a new dock, new icons, a new menu bar, new interface elements, and yet, it still feels familiar.

When I saw the animated video about Yosemite starting with the new dock icons, I mused that it had a bit of a Pixar feel. What I meant was that it was friendly, a bit playful, but not overly childish. While Apple’s hardware may be cold, minimalist aluminum and glass, its software has always felt friendly. OS X Yosemite retains this, arguably more than iOS 7.

That being said, the whole interface reminds me of a mashup of the Mac’s history: a bit of System 6 or 7 influence overall (lots of white), some NeXT here and there, and the general placement and usability of OS X Mavericks. In fact, the bold version of Helvetica Neue in the menu bar reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place at first—Apple used a very similar typeface on the information labels of the original Mac (the ones with the model number, serial number, and safety information).

As for features, I’m really looking forward to the following new features:

  • Safari: Anything to make web browsing nicer, more content-focused, and convenient is fine by me.
  • Spotlight: I briefly used some other tools like Quicksilver until Apple got Spotlight to respond quickly. This newest iteration does seem to “borrow” some of the design, but certainly doesn’t seem out of line with what Apple is already doing. Anything to let me do more with hands on the keyboard is appreciated.
  • Notification Center: The current version of Notification Center is rather bland and something I rarely use on my Mac. By giving it more capabilities, I’ll easily make this a go-to spot for information (and probably replace Dashboard).
  • iPhone Integration: While I may not be making phone calls from my Mac often, the ability to pick up a call or answer a text if my iPhone is in the other room is something that I’ll really enjoy.
  • iCloud Drive: After I transitioned away from Dropbox, I switched to a Transporter. While I will use it for the foreseeable feature, it’s nice to see Apple is finally building direct iCloud access into the operating system. The pricing changed, too—the initial free 5GB is a bit small, but 20GB for $12/year is certainly nice.

iOS 8

Of the two updates, OS X Yosemite was my favorite, but iOS 8 is probably the more important for Apple’s business. Besides improving upon iOS 7 in a number of ways, Apple is giving developers quite a few more tools to make for an even more powerful and enjoyable experience. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Messages: Incremental improvements show that Apple really cares about the messaging experience. By fixing things that have annoyed people for years (attachments piling up, group threads), Messages will still be my go-to. The voice chat feature seems like something I won’t use much, but it certainly is good for in the car, instead of arguing with Siri over what I mumbled.
  • Extensions: Allowing apps to talk to each other will be great. Let’s hope the developers get on board.
  • Continuity: This could have been posted above, but I think it’s more iOS-centric. As opposed to using the Microsoft approach where all of your devices work the same way, Apple is having your devices work similarly, but they play nicely together. It will show the strength of Apple’s ecosystem even more.
  • HomeKit/HealthKit: These two groups of APIs will be good for app developers. I worry that some may not embrace it, much like the slow adoption of Passbook.
  • Family Sharing: I think this is a good feature, although I won’t necessarily use it. The limitation of the same credit card number, while great to prevent the equivalent of sharing HBO Go passwords, pretty much means that this intended for families all under the same roof with children/teens.

Other Things:

From the standpoint of developer-specific features, I’m sure they’re great. I don’t write software anymore, but it seems that there are more tools to make apps more robust and enjoyable. By creating a simpler, new programming language, Apple made it even easier to get into programming on OS X and iOS. For developers who port things across platforms, I’m glad to see that C and Objective-C are still there.

The other random thing to note is that I’m really excited to see what happens with iCloud and photos. Apple previewed a new Photos app for OS X due “early next year”, and I suspect this will mean the eventual replacement of iPhoto and the awkward what-photo-is-on-my-computer-versus-what-is-on-my-phone conundrum we sometimes face. If it works like the uploading portion of iTunes Match and seamlessly, I’m sold.

For the first time in a long time, Apple’s WWDC keynote didn’t end with me wanting to break out my wallet for a particular new product. It wasn’t because I was disappointed, but what was shown off was free and I’ll have the finished product on my existing devices in due time. It was more of an enjoyable presentation about Apple’s future and putting things in motion for the next few years. Even a few days later, I’m still processing the information and can’t wait for the fall.

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