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Apple Watch: WWDC 2012
Saturday, 2012 July 7 - 1:09 pm
On Facebook a few weeks back, I had promised to post a full blog entry about the latest Apple news from the WWDC. Well, various vacations and things intervened and I never got around to it. I do feel a little guilty that I don't blog the way I used to, but like for so many other people, short-form status updates on Facebook and Twitter have largely supplanted long-form blog posts for me.

But still, I did want to talk about the new MacBooks and iOS 6. Read on for all of my observations.

MacBook Pro Retina Display

Aside from significant speed bumps to the existing MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models (with Intel's Ivy Bridge chip set and new graphics hardware), the big hardware news was the introduction of the 15" MacBook Pro with a Retina display. I had the opportunity to see the Retina display at our local Apple store, and it's dazzling. It's one of those things you don't know that you need until you see it. If you put it side by side next to a cheap display panel on a budget laptop, that other laptop looks, well, cheap. I think that's in line with Apple's whole philosophy: developing premium products and letting other vendors dwell in the bargain basement. Another interesting feature for me: a super-quiet fan, with the blades arranged asymmetrically to avoid a resonant hum. Laptops are like cars, in that excessive noise is associated with a cheaply built product. This is a detail that will delight a lot of users.

The new machine isn't cheap by any means, at $2199. That's effectively a $400 premium over the non-Retina model. You do get 8GB of RAM instead of 4GB but you also lose the optical drive. That's a positive or negative depending on how you look at it; it's certainly true that I rarely need an optical drive any more, and the size and weight savings are probably worth the inconvenience of occasionally having to connect an external SuperDrive.

It's almost certain that all the Pro models will follow this same path (gaining a Retina display and losing the optical drive) over time, as Apple gets its component prices down and can offer the models at reasonable price points. With this first model, Apple is marking a line in the sand and hoping to make other vendors scramble to compete.

Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

As far as Mountain Lion news, the most interesting item for me was the idea of the "power nap"; Macs will be able to download software updates and back themselves up while they're otherwise sleeping. Again, it's a feature you don't know you need yet, but after you get used to it, you'll wonder how you lived without it.

Also great news: updates will be just $20 (and free for any new Macs purchased between now and the 10.8 release date). I'm sure that fact contributed heavily to Microsoft's decision to offer Windows 8 upgrades for just $40 instead of the usual $100+.

iOS 6

There was a lot of iOS 6 news. Siri will gain a lot more functionality, including the ability to provide sports scores, movie listings, and restaurant information without relying on a web search. The divorce from Google searches continues for Apple. What will be interesting for me is when the built-in Safari search bar defaults to using Siri search data first, before falling back to a web search engine. That'll really be the gauntlet being thrown down.

Also new with Siri: the ability to open apps. Why this wasn't included right away, I don't know, but it's a welcome addition.

Apple is making headway into the automotive technology market, which is an interesting development. Nine car makers are promising to integrate a Siri button, providing the ability to control your iPhone or iPad without taking your hands off the steering wheel or your eyes off the road. Apple also recently patented a clip-on device for steering wheels, presumably to cover the rest of the auto market. Clever. The interesting part for me is, when will auto manufacturers stop bothering with their own clunky in-dash entertainment and navigation systems, and just put in an iPad? Perhaps Apple will develop a special automotive model just for this purpose... hmm. That idea may make my list of predictions for next year.

More features: Facebook integration throughout (which, in a way, is another slap at Google); the ability to make FaceTime calls over cellular data (eating up your precious bandwidth, but it's still nice to have); the ability to have a shared photo stream with friends (neat idea, especially if you're traveling with a group of people); and PassBook, a way to store all your store loyalty cards, coupons, and electronic tickets all in one place. PassBook is surely a hint at some larger foray into e-commerce. I think its usefulness will explode once either Apple incorporates some kind of near-field radio or Bluetooth-based communication with retail devices, or if retailers install more scanners that can read data off an LCD screen. (I currently have the Key Ring app which does something similar, but my local grocery can't scan my screen, so it's not all that useful.)

Finally, one more jab at Google, and it's a big one: Apple has replaced Google's map data with its own. The Maps app front-end itself was always Apple-designed, but the back-end was all Google. With this change, the app gains significant new abilities, like vector-based rendering (no more waiting for the fuzziness to go away when you zoom in), turn-by-turn navigation (which Google had prohibited for Apple), traffic information (which in all likelihood will be crowd-sourced, giving it accuracy and immediacy), and the highly touted 3-D fly-over map view. We lose built-in integration with mass transit directions, a feature which is useful in big cities; Apple promises that third-party apps will help replace that. The loss for Google is significant: they will lose out on searches originating from Maps. The battle continues.

Google, of course, is not sitting still either... I'll talk about their latest announcements in my next post.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

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