Tim Cook's WWDC
Eight month ago Tim Cook did to Apple's management what his predecessor, Steve Jobs famously did their product line years before, and during WWDC 2013 keynote, we saw the first major results of that decision.
Where Jobs had drawn a grid and filled it with products, with the intersections of portable and desktop, consumer and professional, Cook filled his grid with people, with the unification of hardware and software design, of iOS and OS X software, of all internet services, and with core technologies.
But first that OS X and those Macs. Switching away from the big cat names is sensible -- to highlight the exhaustion of options, Craig Federighi joked it might be called Sea Lion. Settling on beaches is a fine alternative even if Mavericks in particular, being plural, is a tad awkward in use. OS X 10.9 Mavericks includes some new features for power users, including Finder Tabs, Tags, and proper support for multiple displays. It also offers iCloud Keychain for password management and advanced technologies to improve batter life and performance. And it brings iOS iBooks and Maps back to the Mac. It also has actionable notifications -- something I'd really hoped we'd see on iOS -- and a new Calendar that Federighi joked harmed no virtual cows and required no stitching to stick to the screen. (Remember that.)
Mavericks interface looked Snow Leopard consistent, the chrome verging on monotonous, but overall it was a home run for Apple, making one of the most mature, most solid operating systems in the world better again by a year.
As is increasingly the case, the new OS X software magnified the new Mac hardware. In this case, new MacBook Airs with Haswell processors (and without Retina displays -- thanks again, laws of physics!). Instead of power, the focus on the new Airs was battery life, which is fitting for an ultralight. If you want performance, you go pro, If you want maximum portability backed up by 9 to 12 hours of battery life -- for the 11- 13-inch models respectively -- you go Air. (It makes you wonder when Air will leave Intel for ARM and hard-sprint for 24hrs...)
If you want new right now, Air is also your only option, because the new MacBook Pros with Haswell weren't announced and will almost certainly follow at a later date.
What was announced -- even though its own release will follow at a much later date -- was the all new Mac Pro. And... it looked like Cylon technology. Nowhere nearly as upgradable as Mac Pros past -- not even the GPUs can be swapped out -- it's only 1/8th the volume. That makes it far more Ferrari than Escalade, just as high end but without all the seats in the back, but it also makes it a symbol of where Apple is going. Or as Phil Schiller put it in the line of the night:
Apple isn't innovating anymore? My ASS!
The Mac Pro has joined the same future as the MacBook Air and Mac Pro, Mac Mini and iMac. And it sits right on top of all of them.
The Macs, like OS X, were knocked out of the park. iOS 7 is a far, far tougher call.
As easily as I can lavish praise on Apple's OS X and Mac efforts, I find iOS 7 a much more difficult subject to broach. It's different -- so different it'll take me some time to unpack everything in it, and sort immediate reactions to those differences from legitimate praise and complaints.
Firstly, it's beta 1, and I can't stress that enough. It's not finished. Apple couldn't even release the iPad version of the beta to developers for testing yet.
8 month ago Tim Cook changed iOS' leadership and the direction it was going, and they've been going at a breakneck pace ever since to overhaul not only the interface, but the approach iOS takes to human interaction.
iOS now looks fundamentally different than OS X, breaking some of the familiarity Apple had spent the last couple of versions creating. Heavy textures are gone here as well -- Notes retains a subtle one -- and a joke was also managed at green felt's expense. (Remember that too.)
The goal seems to have been to simplify, to make consistent, and, as always, to delight. And... it's not quite there yet.
Based on what was shown off at the keynote, while spatially similar, the new Homescreen icons are a strange blend of gradient that run in different directions and over what's usually a comfortable amount of edge padding. While Apple said they adhere to a new visual grid system. They don't all look balanced and in some places have, for the first time, an engineered rather than designed feel to them. The combination of ultra-thin Helvetica and monochromatic palette in some places also feels difficult quickly parse.
New live wallpapers that move based on the accelerometer, combined with a layered parallax effect that "floats" icons above it, and badges above both, is enthralling. The dynamic blur effect applied to lower layers, which much be hugely computationally expensive, is likewise impressive.
Yet not enough was shown to get an idea of how consistent the direct manipulation would be, how well the physics would work, and how polished the interfaces in all the core apps would actually turn out.
When you go flat, typography becomes incredibly important, and that also didn't look done yet.
Functionally speaking, Apple didn't show the same actionable notifications for iOS as they did OS X, which is less than great. They did show improved multitasking which promises to monitor our activities and grant greater background privileges to the apps we use most often, and also to let them update themselves based on events like push-notifications. (Hopefully that means when you're told you get a new Tweet, it actually downloads it then and there, rather than having to pull it at launch.) Geeks got Control Center for all their quick toggles, and it, like Notification Center, can also be called up now from the Lock screen. We also got AirDrop, to more easily, directly share files.
Though it wasn't clear whether it worked only between iOS devices, or between iOS and OS X as well, it was clear Apple hasn't lost their sting -- Federighi made fun of Android having to bump their phones to share.
Overall, however, for iOS 7 I still have far more questions than answers, both in terms of how mainstream users will feel when they download it and their entire interface changes, and how I will feel using it day in, day out.
Apple still has a half-dozen or so betas to get through before launch this fall, and everything from individual icons (you know which ones you are) to spacing to physics could end up redrawn, re-padded, and re-jiggered by then, so there's no pointing harping on, or lavishing praise on, the details just yet.
Either way, however,uUnlike OS X and Mac, iOS 7's new design language will likely be highly divisive. That's fine for apps, but we'll see how it turns out when it's an entire OS.
The one thing that's clear, though: Tim Cook's willingness to show off a product that, while perfect for the venue was still still months from market, to openly mock the stitched leather and green felt of previous versions, to change naming schemes and entire interfaces, to let his people -- Jony Ive and Craig Federighi and Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller run the ball as a team rather than a set of individuals -- made manifest Cook's decisions from back in October.
How all of it ultimately pans out this year and in year's to come doesn't matter right now. All that matters is that Tim Cook did it, and let his team do it.