Apple has just wrapped up one of its semi-annual engine-revving events, and the Internet has just about explodedwith that special admixture of excitement, anticipation, adulation, sarcasm and disappointment that has become the unique web response to any Apple product announcement.
The keynote speech of the 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where Apple developers the world over gather in a cramped conference room to be pitched by Apple executives on the worthiness of writing programs for Apple products, has come and gone. Tim Cook has left the stage in San Francisco, waving a cheery goodbye, sincerely wishing developers "the best week of [their] lives"; all of the rumors and hype and fabrications and product whispers have either become official features that you will soon be able to download or purchase, or else disappeared like so much flatulence on a windy day.
Below, we have collected everything that Apple announced that is of any consequence, listed and insta-analyzed for your convenience.
Did Apple's 2012 WWDC amaze or disappoint? Click or clank? Will it ignite a frenzy of retail shopping at Apple stores, or did it thud so loudly that the American economy will be spiralled into further, unsalvageable recession? Below, I kept a running tally and commentary. Spoiler alert: Apple had a pretty successful 2012 WWDC keynote, especially on the iOS front, where it asserted the continued dominance of its mobile operating system and added dozens of palpably fruitful features and utilities.
The WWDC keynote might, in name, be targeted at retaining mobile developers; it is equally targeted at consumers, to convince them that sticking with or switching over to iOS devices is a worthwhile choice.
Read on for the play-by-play, and the authoritative analysis on what matters and what doesn't, what's innovative and what's stolen, and what it all means for Apple, and its consumers (that would be you). At Apple's keynote, there was plenty to (WWD)see. Here's what we were paying attention to.
The Apple keynote began -- after a brief stand-up comedy routine from Siri which mocked, among other things, Samsung -- with a rundown of the impressive statistics coming out of Apple's App Store. This event is pitched at developers, after all, in an attempt to get those developers to continue writing for Apple's products.
Are you ready for some commas followed by zeroes? Well, here come the big numbers: The App Store is now available in 155 countries; Apple has paid 5 billion dollars out to developers for App Store downloads; 30 billion apps have been downloaded; there are 400 million App Store accounts; 650,000 apps are now available in the App Store, 225,000 of which were designed specifically for the iPad.
Indeed, that's a lot of zeroes. Apple knows how important its App Store is -- it is perhaps its operating system's chief advantage over Android and Windows Phone. No one can question the App Store's supremacy over the Android Market or the Windows Marketplace (or even -- LOL -- the BlackBerry App World). This is, as Engadget Editor Tim Stevens put it, "hardcore develop evangelism." Apple owns app developer allegiance, and it does not intend to lose it to any insurgent operating system.
THE MACBOOK: STILL PREMIUM, STILL EXPENSIVE
Apple's first major announcement of the morning detailed the long-rumored refreshes to the MacBook line, as well as the unveiling of a new, thinner MacBook Pro with a stunning Retina display screen.
First up, however, was the MacBook Air, which Apple Marketing Chief Phil Schiller claims that "everyone is trying to copy." (Take that, Ultrabooks!) The new Air will add the Intel Ivy Bridge chip, and will be available with up to 8GB RAM and 512GB flash storage. The Face-Time camera gets upgraded to 720p; Apple will also add USB 3.0 for faster data transfer.
The 11-inch MacBook Air will be priced at $999 and $1099, depending on how much storage you want, and will start shipping immediately. That's a slight price drop for the Air.
Second, the MacBook Pro, which will also get Intel's Ivy Bridge on the inside, USB 3.0 for faster transfers, an improved graphics chip, and a better camera. 13-inch MacBook Pros will cost $1199 or $1499; 15-inch MacBook Pros will cost either $1799 or $2199, depending, again on your storage size preferences. The prices stay the same here, though obviously the specs are upped.
Finally -- and here's where tech nerds the world over commenced their drooling -- is the "next-generation MacBook Pro" (inventive name!). It's a radically thin laptop, "about as thin as the MacBook Air," according to Phil Schiller, and weighs less than 4.5 pounds. The 15.4-inch screen boasts what Apple calls a Retina display, meaning that (again, Schiller) "the pixels are so small that your retina cannot discern them."
Schiller calls this the "world's highest resolution notebook.," and it resembles a Retina display iPad with a slim metallic keyboard jutting out. iPhoto, Aperture, Final Cut Pro 10, Mail, Safari and iPhoto will all be updated to Retina display-quality graphics. It ships with an SD card slot, backlit keyboard, an HDMI out port, two Thunderbolt ports, USB 3.0, and the magnetic Mag-Safe charger. The new MacBook Pro is run by a quad-core Intel Ivy Bridge chip and an NVIDIA graphics chip. Like the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the Retina MacBook Pro will also ship immediately.
Ready for the bad news? The Retina MacBook STARTS at $2199. That's where it STARTS. Yes, $2199 for a laptop. You could buy something like 7 Windows laptops for that much from Best Buy, where laptops are crazy-expensive.
Apple isn't exactly targeting the 99 percent here. Rather, it seems committed to positioning itself toward the well-moneyed, tech-forward consumer, one who is not only willing to pay for quality, but one who so maniacally demands the Next Big Thing that he is willing to wad up stacks of hundreds of dollars of bills and hurl it at Cupertino's steps in order to get it as quickly as possible.
The very existence of a Retina MacBook like this, with such incredible specs and gaga-worthy features, means that the MacBook retains its position as The Laptop To Have, and that Apple retains, as a brand, its kingly, lustworthy status amongst computer sellers. Too, it retains its status as a brand that most non-geeks will have a hard time justifying spending premiums on -- no matter how beautiful that screen makes one's movies, etc.
For a bit of perspective: I recently sold my car -- a 2005 model Hyundai with less than 50,000 miles on it -- for less than the new MacBook Pro is retailing for.
Here's the question for most computer-buying consumers: Would you rather have a car, or a really nice-looking driving simulator on a Retina display MacBook?
OS X MOUNTAIN LION
Apple also publicly displayed for the first time its next-generation OS X Mountain Lion operating system for Mac computers. Most of this stuff has already been detailed elsewhere, but there is some new stuff that's worth going over.
Power Nap, for example, will enable updating of your data -- mail, photos, calendar, notes, etc. -- while your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro is sleeping. This is, I suppose, a direct response to a recent Intel announcement, which essentially promised the exact same service for new Windows Ultrabooks.
Voice dictation is also coming to Mountain Lion, to be integrated across the entire operating system. This means you'll be able to speak-to-type in any text field. (Apple: Transforming the way that people talk to the gadgets like crazy people since 2011).
Game Center makes the leap from iOS to OS X; full-screen mirroring to Apple TV will also be enabled.
Apple's Safari browser will gain a smart search bar similar to that on Google Chrome, on which you can search Google straight from the address bar. Your open tabs will also be synced across all of your iOS/OS X devices: Whatever you have open on your iPhone will also appear on your desktop, and vice versa, if you enable it. Twitter will also be integrated directly into the browser; again, Twitter has been integrated directly into the operating system, meaning you can update your Twitter feed directly from the home screen, if you please.
The upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion will cost $19.99, though no release date was announced.
This seems like a minor update to the operating system, and the low price matches that assumption. Apple has catalogued a series of utilitarian updates to OS X, priced reasonably for consumers who wish to upgrade.
iOS Head Scott Forstall emerged and delivered what was probably the most significant demonstration of new Apple technology: iOS 6. The iPhone and iPad make up a large financial portion of Apple's business; an increasingly robust mobile operating system remains important for Apple to fend off the market-share-leading Android and a slowly-surging Windows Phone that is backed by the deep pockets of Microsoft and Nokia.
First, Forstall demoed updates to the smart-aleck intelligent voice assistant Siri, perhaps the most uniquely-identifying aspect of iOS and the one utility that neither Microsoft nor Google can claim to challenge. Siri will receive a battery of updates when iOS 6 arrives in the fall: She has been updated, first, with a knowledge base of sports scores -- Forstall asked Siri about all kinds of sporting news and figures: Siri can now fetch last night's sports scores and the current standings in the National League; it knew who was taller, Lebron or Kobe, and the precise date and time on which the NFL season was starting.
Siri's restaurant search function has also been built out, with Yelp reviews and OpenTable reservations integrated directly into the system. RottenTomatoes reviews and ratings are now integrated into the system for movie information, and you can voice search for showtimes near you.
The voice assistant can now also launch apps, a much-requested function that Windows Phone has long boasted. Italian, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese support has also been added. Local search via Siri is now international.
Siri will also become available on the new iPad via an iOS update in the future.
Siri is an important selling point for Apple's most important device, the iPhone. All of this new functionality is sure to appear in future Siri commercials, starring celebrities of varying levels of quirkiness and peculiarity; these new capabilities do nothing but make the iPhone 4S and future iPhones and iPads that much more enticing, and futuristic-feeling. Siri has been written off by its rivals as a gimmick, a mere plaything -- regardless of its actual usefulness, its appearance as a revolutionary, pioneering interface, and thus in its importance in Apple's pitch to consumers, cannot be overstated.
Siri: It just became even cooler to show off at parties.
The long-rumored Facebook integration in iOS is also a reality. Just like you can currently sign in to Twitter from your iPhone's Settings app, so too will you soon be able to log into Facebook in the Settings. You will be able to post photos to Facebook, update your status, and view Facebook events in your calendar.
Not to flog a decaying horse, but Apple is again playing catch-up here. Android and Windows Phone have had this for years, and Android can also wholly integrate with numerous other social networks and services -- Google Drive, Instagram, and Dropbox, for example. For Apple, Facebook integration is a logical, long overdue acknowledgment of the popularity of Facebook and importance of Facebook in most people's lives -- what is hopefully next is the ability for other services to achieve the same level of OS integration that Facebook and Twitter now enjoy.
As the Yeah Yeah Yeahs once sang: "Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps."
Apple has thrown a bomb at rival Google by announcing this newly designed Maps app. It has ditched the Google Maps that previously provided by the mapping information in its Maps application; in the new version, all of the cartography has been designed by Apple, and Apple's legendary design team has done well here. The app is far more handsome, with an improved sans-serif typeface.
Functionality has also been vastly improved from what was once a rather anemic mapping applications: Traffic information will be crowd-sourced from iOS users; turn-by-turn navigation finally comes to iOS, with a Garmin-like navigation app for drivers. You can also ask Siri questions about attractions along the way -- for example, if you ask to find gas, Siri will find gas stations on your route.
Siri will also provide spoken turn-by-turn directions to guide you as you go. Again, these are features that Android and Windows Phone have had for a while.
Apple also demoed a "flyover" mode, similar to what Google unveiled at a makeshift press conference on Thursday, displaying 3D models of buildings and landscapes that simulate a view you might have if zooming around the city in a miniature airplane.
More catch-up for Apple: Google has long dominated Apple in Maps but has done little to exploit that advantage. That "low-hanging fruit," as Jon Gruber called it, appears to have been eliminated with this update (assuming that everything works as advertised).
This being Apple, there is little reason to believe that it will not.
OTHER ADDITIONS TO iOS 6
FaceTime video chat has been enabled over cellular connections, whereas before it could only be used over a Wi-Fi connection. A Do Not Disturb setting has been added, allowing your iPhone to continue to receive calls and text messages without -- well, disturbing you. (A similar function will also be available in OS X Mountain Lion).
In the Phone app, you are now able to respond to calls and missed calls via text message. That is a convenient feature that has been kindly lifted from Windows Phone.
A Reading List has been added to Safari, which functions similar to Instapaper or Pocket: When you add a webpage to your Reading List, Safari will download and cache the story so that you can read it later, without a cellular connection. Whenever readers ask me which apps they should download for a new iOS device, Instapaper or Pocket are always among the first I recommend; that Apple will now provide this service for free -- baked into their browser -- is a huge boon for users (not so much for Instapaper and Pocket, which could be obsoleted by the update).
The Mail app will now have a VIP Inbox: You can mark certain email addresses as VIPs, and emails from that person will appear like a text message on the lock screen; a VIP inbox will also appear on your first screen in Mail, showing all of the mail you've received from your VIPs for easier sorting and discovery. Another bomb thrown at Google: The Priority Inbox of Gmail is replicated here (though users will have to manually mark what deserves priority, unlike in Gmail).
Small changes, good changes, helpful changes. These attention-to-detail nips and tucks to the central apps on iOS bring Apple's mobile operating system closer to feature-complete. These aren't flashy updates, but they should be fruitful, especially for power users and those constantly attached to their iPhones and iPads.
As for compatibility: iOS 6 will ship this fall and will support the iPhone 3GS and later, and the 2nd and 3rd generation of iPad, and iPod Touches that are 4th Generation and newer. The original iPad, just two years old, has been left out of the fun; the iPhone 3GS, which had previously been rumored to lose iOS support, and which Apple still sells, retains support.
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