5 new innovations from the Apple conference

A new desktop, a new operating system, a revamped, reworked version of iOS7 – Apple Inc. seemed determined to show it could innovate during its keynote address at the annual Worldwide Developers’ Conference Monday.

In case you missed it, Apple’s keynote speech on June 10 featured a slew of new product announcements, many of them building incrementally on past hits like the MacBook Air.

But there were also some surprises thrown into the mix, Apple’s iOS7 probably being the biggest one considering it hasn’t made any major visual changes to iOS7 since it was first released. Here’s a quick round-up of five big things to look out for, vis-à-vis Apple, in the coming months.

1) New and improved iOS 7

As many predicted, Apple was likely going to make some changes to its operating system for iPhone and iPad. Still, what came out of WWDC was a total overhaul of iOS’ current look, including adding on new features not seen before on iOS.

iOS7 features a more textured-looking graphical user interface, with a grid system, a new font, a new colour palette and a translucent sheen to its apps icons. The look of the icons themselves have been redesigned, and some of the apps, like the weather app, now feature animations running in the background. For example, if it was raining in Toronto, the weather app might feature flecks of rain streaming down behind the listed temperature, humidity and predicted highs and lows for the day.

Yet iOS7 isn’t just about looks. Apple made some changes to the functions of its basic apps, like its Calendar, iMessages, Mail, Maps and Notifications.

For instance, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of Mac software engineering, demoed the Calendar app working alongside the Weather and Maps apps. If someone were to make an event to get pizza using Calendar, iOS7 would then show the user a list of pizza locations and figure out a route and travel time via Maps. If the user wanted to know if he or she should bring a jacket, the Calendar app also dovetails nicely with the weather app, he said.

The developers in the audience also cheered when they heard iOS7 can automatically update apps for users, gauging the best update times based on network connectivity and how regularly users check in with those apps.

And with iOS7, Siri has a new voice – and for the first time, users can opt to make Siri sound male, if they wish it. Siri can also be integrated with certain cars that have screens hooked up to the dashboard for a new app called “iOS In the Car,” allowing drivers to dictate commands to Siri while focusing on the road. Drivers will be able to place calls, send text messages or navigate routes, without having to take their hands off the wheel.

“iOS7 is easily the biggest news because because it represents a massive overhaul of the look and feel of the operating system, which has remained largely unchanged visually since the original version,” said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum Ltd. in a press release. Ovum is an analyst and consultancy firm in London, England.

“The new version is almost unrecognizable, which will make it polarizing. Some people will love that their phone feels new and different, while others will be disoriented by the newness.”

All in all, Apple sought to improve the user experience on its iPhones and iPads with iOS7 – and even if it’s very different from what Apple device owners are accustomed to, there’s a lot for users to like. iOS7 is set to be released to the public sometime this fall.

2)      Mac Pro, no longer rough around the edges

Cylindrical in shape and rounded out at the top, the Mac Pro sports a completely different design, compared to its predecessors. The fresh design prompted Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing to say, “Can’t innovate any more, my ass!” just after its announcement.

The newest desktop is touted as being at least twice as fast as any previous generation of Mac desktop, with graphics being the key driver at two-and-a-half times faster than the graphics of the previous Mac incarnation. The Mac Pro also supports up to three different 4K displays. For easy access to the desktop’s input / output, the Mac Pro features a handle underneath the scooped-out top.

While no release date was announced, WWDC attendees will get a closer look at the Mac Pro on June 11 when Pixar Animation Studios runs a demo on one of the machines. A video of the event may be posted to the Apple WWDC site later that day.

3)      OS X Mavericks – the newest in a line of Apple operating systems (OS)

Although Federighi made a joke about “Sea Lion,” as a follow-up to Apple’s Mountain Lion in July 2012, the official name for the new OS is Mavericks.

While the changes to the Mac OS weren’t as drastic as the ones to the iOS7, there were still a few key improvements. As some industry watchers predicted, Apple gave its Finder some tabs. Instead of forcing users to deal with multiple windows floating around the screen, they now have the option of opening up tabs within The Finder.

And with new tabs, it seems only natural to be able to categorize documents using tabs. Users are now able to tag their documents and files with different words, making it easier to group them and search for them later.

Finally, Mavericks features multiple displays, allowing users to get the full functionality of dual screens and being able to open apps, tabs and windows on both of them.

While none of these features seem particularly earth-shattering, again, they seem to reinforce Apple’s mantra of catering to the user experience.

4)      MacBook Air – harder, better, faster, stronger

When Schiller introduced the newest versions of the MacBook Air, he seemed to use the word “faster” a lot.

With faster graphics and faster WiFi connectivity, you’d worry the MacBook Air would sacrifice some of its efficiency for speed. But Schiller stressed the MacBook Air now comes with “all-day battery life.”

This means the 11-inch MacBook Air now has nine hours of battery life, while the previous generation only had five. The 13-inch comes with 12 hours, while its predecessor only had seven. Pricing starts at $999 for the 11-inch, or $1099 for the 13-inch, and the laptops go on sale Monday.

5)      Integration

While this isn’t a specific product, one trend across the board seemed to be that Apple is trying to ensure its products work for multiple devices.

Before the WWDC keynote, rumours abounded online about improvements to Apple’s iCloud service. Those seemed to be justified when the company announced its iWork for iCloud service.

Roger Rosner, Apple’s vice-president of productivity applications, took to the stage to announce documents made in the Pages or Numbers apps could now be edited online within in a browser.

Since these documents are stored in iCloud, users can access them from multiple devices, even non-Apple PCs.

Apple also unveiled its iCloud Keychain, a feature that remembers users’ website logins, credit card numbers, and WiFi networks across all devices, as long as a user inputs their iCloud username and password from the get-go.

Serving up cloud features may not have seemed as flashy, especially coming on the heels of the Mac Pro announcement, but integrating these products is another way to boost ease-of-access among Apple products.

As the WWDC is meant to be a preview of upcoming Apple products, many of these have only been made available to the 6,000 developers attending the conference. Still, most of these releases have been slated for the fall or for the end of the year, presumably in time for the holidays.

If you’re an Apple user, what appealed to you most from Apple’s WWDC announcements? Sound off in the comments below.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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