Today marked the start of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2012, with the eagerly awaited keynote being delivered to a packed audience at 10am. But for most attendees, the day started a lot earlier than that …
Apple products do funny things to people, and despite the fact that this was a developer conference and there was nothing material to be gained by being first through the doors, the queue for the keynote started mid-afternoon the day before. Although, technically it wasn’t a queue until a few hours later, when someone decided that the poor guy who started it all needed some company.
I opted for the comfort of my hotel bed over a night on the streets, but woke early to join the more eager conference-goers at around 6:00am. A quick check of the #WWDC hashtag before I head out the door seemed to indicate that the queue was already quite long. By around 8:00am, the queue had reached right round the block and back to the start again, which made it just under half a mile long! By 9:00am we started to filter into the building and I discovered that I had just made it into the main conference auditorium. My four hour wait was rewarded with a seat right at the back!
At 10:00 to the second, the video screens came alive with Siri who was our warm up act, making a few jokes about developers and the odd thinly veiled swipe at Android. Shortly afterwards the Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the stage to wow the crowds with some head-spinning statistics of millions of customers, millions of devices and billions of downloads. The message here was crystal clear – this is big business, with Apple having paid out $5 billion dollars to developers. However, it wasn’t all about the money, Tim showed a short video which highlighted applications which have helped in more unexpected ways, giving independence to blind people, or teaching children with autism. Of the developers I have talked to since I have been here, many of them write applications in order to express their creativity, or simply just for fun, with their earnings paying for little more than a Starbucks coffee each day. This video will certainly have struck a chord with them.
But what of the big announcements? Tim made way for Phil Schiller who rattled through some incremental updates to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro product lines, nothing that ground-breaking, just faster processors, faster memory. This was followed by the first big announcement of the day, the new top of the range MacBook Pro. This had a similar set of high specification features, but what really makes it stand out is the Retina screen, which boasts just over 5 million pixels. The Apple team are clearly quite proud of this engineering feat, which dispenses of what they term ‘legacy technologies’. Watching a video of the ‘exploded’ assembly, this machine is as elegant on the inside as the outside. Whilst I am sure many will flock to purchase this new notebook because it is the latest and greatest, I can also see it being a valuable tool to people in the video or photographic industries where resolution really does matter.
Each of Phil’s new hardware announcements were punctuated with … “and it ships … today”, each time met with rapturous applause from the audience. Everyone had noticed the Apple Store go offline just hours before the keynote, and it was back online straight afterwards, just like clockwork, with the all new MacBooks for sale.
Craig Federighi was next up on stage to introduce Mountain Lion, which features deeper integration with the cloud, allowing you to move much more easily from desktop, to iPad, to iPhone, with everything kept in sync. Deep integration of social media is a growing trend, and Mountain Lion has followed suite with Facebook and Twitter integration. I can’t help feeling a little sceptical about this, social media users are quite fickle, and my feeling is that the Facebook bubble might burst one day, leaving us with phones and computers that are hanging on to a party that has already left and gone elsewhere.
Next up was one of the most eagerly anticipated announcements, Scott Forstall presenting iOS6. Again, kicking off with yet more statistics, 365 million devices sold, 80% upgraded to iOS5 (plus a quick jab at Android!), and an astonishing 7 billion push notification sent out each day by Apple servers.
Scott lead in with some Siri updates, demonstrating Siri’s new found knowledge for various American sporting pursuits. I must admit, I am a little underwhelmed at a phone which can tell me which basketball player is taller than the other! The more interesting announcement was Siri ‘eyes free’, where a number of leading car manufacturers, including BMW, Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes are going to be fitting a ‘Siri’ button to the steering column so that you don’t have to take your eyes of the road to talk to your phone (and find out what the latest baseball scores are!).
With iOS6 there is also deep Facebook integration, allowing you to update your status via Siri, or more easily share photos, all well received by the crowds; although the addition of a Facebook ‘Like’ button to the App Store product pages drew more than just a few groans from the audience. But for iOS6 the real show stealer was the new maps application. Apple have gone back to square-one with this, creating all their own cartography, in order to produce a fully vector based mapping application, with turn-by-turn navigation built in. The advantages of vector graphics over the Google tiled-bitmap approach became apparent when Scott demonstrated the beautifully smooth pan, zoom and rotate on an iPad. Better still, Apple have combined 3D models with aerial photos to produce what they call ‘flyover’, giving you a helicopters-eye view over the city’s skyline, all rendered in real-time. There was no mention of how many cities they have covered, and it is likely that this will be limited at first, but does this really matter? I don’t think so. ‘Flyover’ isn’t a practical application, it’s just pure fun, taking something every-day and practical and turning it into something playful.
On that high-note, Tim gave a brief wrap-up, and we all filed out of the auditorium, to find that a couple of MacBook Pro’s with Retina screens had been positioned in glass cases for us to salivate over on our way out.
I wonder just how many of the attendees went straight online to purchase one?
Regards, Colin E.