iWork on iCloud (on PC)
The Mac Pro reveal was always going to be a hard act to follow, but there was a certain reserve in how the crowd reacted to iCloud’s latest iteration. Tim Cook made an intro that pointed out iCloud is the fastest growing cloud service, with 8 billion message sent, 7.4 trillion notifications. All of which doesn’t quite make up for the fact it’s something of a beast for developers to work with.
In part, this was Apple showing WWDC attendees what could be done with its iCloud and its premiere office suite. For the wider world, however, it was a little more intriguing. Microsoft Office has long been the foundation stone of MS’s business empire. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, a key part of that keynote was Microsoft promising to support Mac with Office - despite the Mac’s then dire market share. It was a critical lifeline.
Microsoft has notably held back from offering Office on iOS devices however, and that may well end up harming Microsoft more than Apple, as its reputation as the ‘essential business suite’ is fading. Google, for its part, has aggressively pursued Office with its spartan, but collaboration-friendly Google Docs suite.
At WWDC, Apple talked up updates to iWork coming later this year for Mac and iOS devices, but the key element was an iCloud version that could work on PC via Chrome or IE. On Mac Safari, we saw Pages, Numbers and Keynote operating in a way very close to the native apps - including even an animated cube transition in Keynote in browser. The PC/Chrome demo showed masking of a picture in a document.
iWork has always been the most graphically impressive Office Suite, so seeing it run in a browser was a weird experience - particularly given how clunky Google Docs is when you get into any kind of elaborate formatting. If iWork on iCloud really lives up to the demo, then the PC market for consumer and low-end business (e.g. not Excel power usage) is about to get very interesting indeed. Developer access is open now, with end user beta access coming later in the year.
iOS 7: Rejuvenated?
While we can be reassured Apple’s heart is still in the Mac line-up, there’s no doubt the bulk of the profits come from mobile. At its launch, the jewel-like iOS icons perfect embodied a new age of touch screen devices and high quality screens which seemed relatively large in a time of ever smaller phones. Android’s initial response was simply to copy that approach, while Palm, Window and the new Blackberry UI have strived to move beyond it with live tiles and powerful, but not immediately intuitive gestures.
As expected, iOS 7’s new design has comprehensively ditched skeuomorphism with Craig Federighi pointing out, in another dig, Apple simply ran out of green felt for the ghastly game centre app. More than that though, there’s a use of translucency and layers to leverage the flattened interface to aid functionality. When you pull up the settings interface, you can see through it to the app that you’ve interrupted. On the homescreen, those people annoyed by the grid of icons obscuring their wallpaper may be pleased to learn they can tilt their iPhone for a 3D effect that exposes more of the wallpaper... Hmm.
More welcome is the fact that folder limits are now up to over 100, while the app switcher comes with a preview of each app as you swipe through them and you can move between apps via new in-app gestures. An upward swipes brings access to key functions, not just the music player but options to switch off wifi without digging through multiple sub-menus. Notification centre has been strengthened with more functionality and is available from the lock screen. Multi-tasking will be made available to all apps, while the OS will monitor your usage patterns - so if you use Facebook frequently, that’s prioritised for updates - while CNN might be prioritised only in the evening if that’s when you tend to check news. Senator John McCain’s much publicised complaint about endless App updates will be answered with background updates.
Airdrop will make it easy to share files with people nearby on iOS 7 - a Mac OS feature going to iOS for once - and SIRI will be enhanced with more voices, more information (from Twitter, Wikipedia and... Microsoft’s Bing search - although in Safari, Google remains default).
Photos are getting a lot of attention with smart grouping of photographs by location and date, even offering a year by year grouping of photos that can be scrubbed through and selected. Sharing by photostream is to be made easier and more customisable.
iTune Radio will initially launch only in the US, free with ads and free without ads for iMatch subscribers. The customisability of the ‘radio stations’ makes you wonder if many people will ever need to buy music again.
It was a lot to take in as Apple strove mightily to prove this was the biggest change to iOS since the iPhone’s launch. How well Apple has found the balance between innovation and a new design, while keeping its existing customers happy, will become evident this Autumn when iOS will ship - the developer version is available now for iPhone, with iPad following in a few weeks.
Designed in California
Overall, this was a convincing keynote - the Mac line-up, spearheaded by the Mac Pro, and buttressed by new MacBook Airs plus worthy updates in Mac OS Mavericks, looks stronger than ever.
For mobile, iOS 7 is a promising freshening up of the OS and an intriguing preparation for not just the inevitable iPhone 5S but also the much rumoured, plastic bodied lower cost iPhones. It will take time to get used to the design, but at least it’s freshened up and shows forward movement to make sure the safety and simplicity of iOS also remains competitive for power users.