Thoughts on WWDC 2012

Yesterday (June 11th) marked the first day of Apple’s famous WWDC event. As per usual, Apple opened the event with the only part of the event that isn’t under NDA (and hence the only part that I’ve actually been able to see so far), the keynote. The keynote was a blast with lots of new, exciting things announced. Here’s my thoughts on a couple of those things that were announced.

Updated MacBook Airs

The updated MacBook Airs are really nice. They’re a lot faster now thanks to both a new generation of Ivy Bridge processors and faster SSD technology. I’d really like to get one but I’ve just splashed out on a last generation MacBook Air, so can’t afford the new generation any time soon. The graphical performance of the new Airs has been improved by “up to 60%” which really excites me. The Airs still have an integrated graphics card but it’s an Intel HD 4000 series card, which is a surprisingly beefy integrated card and performs respectably at many modern games. The price of the Airs has been dropped a bit too. Here in the UK, the prices have gone down enough that the low end 13 inch model costs the same as the previous generation low end 11 inch model. Nice.

The MacBook Pros also got an update, just a small bump in specs, nothing too exciting. Apple seems to have deprecated the 17 inch MacBook Pro though which’ll annoy about ten people.

MacBook Pro With Retina Display

Wow. Just wow. This thing is awesome. This isn’t the 15 inch Air that everybody was hoping for but I think it’s better. The new MacBook Pro has a completely redesigned case which is stunning to look at. What’s even more stunning to look at though is that new display. It has over 5 million pixels in it. I haven’t seen one of these yet but I know from the numbers, that display is gorgeous. The new MacBook Pro has really excited me, it represents the start of a revamp of Apple’s line of computers. I envision new designs & retina displays coming to most of Apple’s computers throughout the next couple of years.

OS X Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion was probably my favourite piece of news from the WWDC keynote. True, most of what Apple talked about in the keynote had already been posted on their website but there was still some interesting new features that they announced. The new “Power Nap” feature is pretty neat, allowing you to download updates to your Mac while it’s in sleep mode. It’ll also keep all of your iCloud stuff in sync while your Mac sleeps which is handy. If Apple includes support for updating your (App Store) applications while in sleep mode too then that’d just be fantastic.

The inclusion of speech-to-text processing in Lion too is pretty cool. If the processing is as good as iOS’s speech-to-text then I can see this feature actually being really useful for dictating long text documents. Apple says that the dictation works in any text field too, so no need to wait for developers to update their applications. The only saddening part was that there was no mention of a speech API, something which I would love to play around with.

There were a couple of other tidbits in 10.8 that looked interesting. The new version of Safari seems pretty good and I’ll probably switch back to it from Chrome when it is released. GPU accelerated scrolling was also mentioned, which would make scrolling a lot smoother in OS X and would help make OS X feel even faster. The fact that Apple seems to have “fixed” full screen mode on external displays is fantastic too. Full screen mode might actually be useful in 10.8 now.

iOS 6

iOS 6 was probably the most disappointing of all the announcements at WWDC this year. There were good aspects to the announcement but overall I felt unsatisfied with the new features that had been announced. Siri was updated with support for getting information on sports & movie, a feature which I doubt will be used much. She also got some new voice commands, a few of which will be useful. She finally gained support for obtaining local business information outside of the US, something which I’ve been waiting for since the iPhone 4S launched back in October. There’s still no API for Siri though which is really annoying. I like to control my music using Siri (saves getting the phone out of my pocket) but I don’t use the built in music app. It would be nice if I could use music voice commands in other apps like Rdio, something which would only be possible with an API.

Unfortunately, there was no UI refresh in iOS 6 which was the main thing I was hoping for. Well, I say there was no UI refresh but really there was a mixture of UI updates which seems to have removed a lot of consistency in the iOS’s UI. Different shades of colours have been changed throughout the UI. The status bar, for example, is now a silvery blue instead of grey which is an interesting colour choice. There seems to be a slightly different shade of blue being used in navigation bars too. The new maps app has been given the silver UI treatment. It doesn’t look out of place in the OS but it certainly isn’t consistent with the rest of the OS’s UI. I don’t see why Apple would update parts of the UI in one application without updating the rest of the OS. It really doesn’t play nice with the consistency of the user interface throughout the operating system.

As expected, Apple updated the maps app and they’re now using their own custom mapping service rather than Google Maps. The new maps (as in the actual maps) look a lot nicer and cleaner when compared to Google’s and Apple’s included some swanky 3D mode in the maps which looks pretty awesome. The new maps application also includes support for turn by turn directions which is pretty neat. I don’t have any use for it (yet) though.

There were tons of other new features in iOS 6. The phone application (yeah, I’d forgotten about that too) got some nice updates which could come in handy for gracefully rejecting phone calls. There’s also a new Passbook application which looks like a virtual wallet for different types of tickets. I think it’ll be really awesome but I doubt it’s going to get much use outside of the US for a long time which is a crying shame. Such an application could be really useful.

The major disappointment with iOS 6 is its lack of backwards compatibility. Apple’s saying the update is compatible with the iPhone 3GS and onwards, the second & third generation iPad & the fourth generation iPod Touch. I don’t understand why the 3rd generation iPod Touch or 1st Generation iPad aren’t on the list though since they’re basically identical to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 respectively in terms of processing power. Maybe I can understand the 1st Generation iPad not making the shortlist, it is quite slow to use with iOS 5 at the moment, but the 3rd generation iPod Touch, that represents a sizeable chunk of the iOS market and it’s pretty much the same as the 3GS. Strange.

Overall, this year’s WWDC keynote has been very impressive. Lots of new products that are very exciting. I’m really looking forward to Mountain Lion (due in July) and I think it’s going to be a good all around update to OS X. iOS 6 will be pretty good too though, for me, it’s not as exciting as Mountain Lion. The thing I’m waiting for now is the release of the actual development sessions from WWDC, they’re probably the best part of the whole week for me.