Monday, June 11, 2012

Apple's WWDC announcements--the 60,000-foot view

At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote today, the company completely refreshed its notebook computers and introduced an important new model, got OS X Mountain Lion ready for release next month, and previewed iOS 6. Rather that dig deep into all the new products' features and functions, I'm going to focus on a high-level view:
  • The future of Apple's notebooks: Apple announced its MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which represents the future direction for all of Apple's notebooks. It's slightly thicker than a MacBook Air, yet it has as much or more processing and graphics power than the top-of-the-line "classic" MacBook Pro, which remains in the product line. It also has a 15.4" Retina Display with 2880 x 1800 resolution, four times as much as the "classic" 15" MacBook Pro.
  • Hard drives are dead: Every MacBook model now comes with flash memory rather than a hard disk, with a minimum of 256GB on most models to a maximum of 768GB on the new Retina Display model.
  • USB 3 is in, Thunderbolt is still around, and FireWire is on the way out: All MacBooks now have USB 3 interfaces, which are backward-compatible with USB 2. There are far more USB 3-compatible peripherals on the market than Thunderbolt-compatible models, and they're less expensive. On the other hand, the handwriting is definitely on the wall for FireWire: The MacBook Pro with Retina Display drops both FireWire 800 and Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. Instead, Apple is offering Thunderbolt to FireWire 800 and Gigabit Ethernet adapters. 
  • OS X is looking more and more like iOS: Mountain Lion includes integration with iCloud, a notifications center, and Messages, Reminders and Notes apps, all of which were first implemented in iOS. Dictation is built into Mountain Lion and works in all apps, much like dictation in the new iPad. Links, images and video can be shared with a new share button in every window, much like Android. The updated Safari browser has a unified "smart search" field, like Chrome, and a Tabview feature, taken from Mobile Safari.
  • "Fix Siri, integrate Facebook, replace Google Maps, and clean up everything else": From today's presentations, those seem to be the central goals that Apple has for iOS 6. Siri is going to be more tightly integrated into iOS 6 and will become a key component of integration with automobile telematics systems, so it has to work much better than it currently does. Facebook is going to be integrated as completely into iOS 6 as Twitter is. Google Maps will be replaced with Apple's own Maps application, including real-time traffic, turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration and Flyover mode, with 3D renderings of cities around the world. Other features, such as FaceTime and phone calling, will be improved.
  • With today's announcements, Apple is sanding off the remaining rough edges of its operating systems, and keeping its hardware at the leading edge. The true innovations, if they arrive, will come later this year, not at WWDC.
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