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a blog by ken pardue

WWDC 2011 Thoughts

So, the Stevenote has come and gone and has seen a fairly substantial set of announcements.

Most of the OS X Lion preview was a rehash of the preview that the company made last year, but exciting to me since I’m one of the few dinosaurs that’s more a fan of desktop OS X than iOS.  A few new tidbits were revealed in the comprehensive list of 250 new features that Apple has posted.  Amongst the high points for me include:

  • improved VoiceOver – I enjoy having the computer read something to me while I’m busy working on something else from time to time
  • the execution of AutoSave and Versions.  This is one that I have to say: really, whether Apple or Microsoft implemented it first, isn’t this something that we should have had at least 5 years ago?  The “Save” button should really have gone the way of the dodo along with the floppy disk.
  • installs only from the Mac App Store.  I question not having at least a USB drive to install from, but that leads me to
  • creates an installation partition for fresh installs.  This makes sense to me given the limitations of an App Store install.  I could complain about the death of a hard drive and losing this data, but these days everything is moving to more reliable SSD drives, and hard drives are (for practical purposes) replaceable only by Apple anyway.
  • search tokens in Finder and Mail.  I’m giddy for how much this is going to improve searching for things.
  • iChat service plugins and single-window buddy list.  Apple should have done this a long time ago.  Maybe people will stop looking at me funny when I tell them I’m still using AIM if I can also plug in a Yahoo Messenger or MSN chat credential.  Then again, it’s not like I chat with anyone, anyway!
  • delta (or patch) updates.  This one had to be a matter of time.  They only need to have a few thousand users have to update the full 6GB Call of Duty app to put a serious, and unnecessary, hurting on their servers.
  • Safari – Lots of cool stuff, WebGL seems to be built in, but as of this point has to be turned on through the Develop menu.  Tap/pinch zoom, could be useful on the Macbook Air.  Reading list (or Instapaper knock off) could be neat, but only if accompanied with a worthwhile RSS feed reader on iOS.  HTML5 media caching.  Very excited to see this, but mainly as to whether or not it’ll make it down the pike to iOS.  I would love to be able to make a web app that played our training videos at work offline.  MathML and WOFF support, good to see more open standards working into the mix, but Apple is still unsurprisingly quiet on WebM support.
  • iOS-style auto correction.  I don’t know whether this will be useful enough to outweigh how utterly annoying it’s going to be.

I won’t go into the iOS 5 features in as much detail because frankly they don’t interest me as much.  The main points I would talk about would be frustration that some of them don’t offer integration with OS X.  iMessage is a dead ringer for being supported in iChat, and yet it isn’t.  I’m still surprised that there’s no iBooks app for the desktop.   The new Reminders app stands out as a major plus because I’ve been feeling for years now that Apple is slowly deprecating To Dos from the calendar, and not only brings To Dos back in a very useful way (it’s awesome to be able to set reminders to go off when I arrive or leave a location), but also  syncs back with iCal on OS X.

AirPlay mirroring for iPad could well have inadvertently given Apple a console gaming device, a particularly interesting development given that Nintendo is due to reveal their next console tomorrow which is widely expected to be a gaming station that has controllers with six inch touch screens that can be undocked and used as stand-alone game platforms.

The meat of the announcement, though, was iCloud.  After much speculation, the iCloud announcement turned out to be more about where Apple is going rather than a specific product announcement.  One blogger noted that what will define the direction that computing takes over the next ten years will be the differences in how Google and Apple migrate to the cloud, in that Google’s approach is to build a web-browser only approach funded by advertising, and Apple wants to make the cloud the central store of information, and push that information down to client software that is optimized for whatever device it’s running on.

Now, the open source software purist in me would otherwise prefer the former approach, but 1) My data will still be centrally stored outside of my control, on Google’s proprietary servers, and I don’t trust Google. 2) I am annoyed with advertisements to no end.  I would much rather pay a fee to use something than have my own tastes scanned from my data and thrust back upon me in the form of unwanted solicitation. 3) Google is slowly building their own walled garden anyway, in the form of the Android and Chrome stores.  I mean really–the whole point of writing a web app is that it runs anywhere and Google is actively seeking to destroy that model by making apps “installable” only in their Chrome web browser.

So iCloud will be the one source for my data.  Applications (web or traditional) will push updates into the cloud, and those updates will be pushed back out to all of my connected devices.  Photos will not have to synced from my iPhone to my iMac with a USB cable; when I take a photo on my iPhone it will be uploaded to the cloud and will appear on my desktop (or the iPad I’m about to get).  When I edit a Pages document my changes will automatically go into the cloud and will appear everywhere.  When I purchase a song I can download it on all of my iDevices.  You’re given 5 GB for free, and none of your purchased music or apps count against that 5GB.  If you purchase Apple’s $25/yearly iTunes Match service, you’re guaranteed that you can access all of the music on your computer that matches a track in Apple’s ample database (which makes a lot more sense than Google’s approach–really, who wants to wait for weeks while a copy of their music library uploads?).

That’s the theory, anyway.  In practice, I have some questions.

  • Despite the fact that iCloud syncs photos back to Macs, I get the feeling that iCloud is focused more specifically on iOS than OS X.  I wonder if Apple will provide anywhere near the same robust iCloud support for OS X apps that they are in iOS apps?  I wonder if there will be an easy, seamless iCloud integration between iOS and OS X apps?  Case in point, the iCloud Documents demo featured syncing Pages documents between an iPad and an iPhone.  The Mac was specifically excluded.  Will the limited iOS variants be able to sync documents with the more robust OS X version of iWork?  Obviously integration between third party software will vary based on the interest of the developer.
  • While he was talking about the theory of iCloud, Jobs mentioned video several times.  However, in application, video was never mentioned.  Now, I have nearly 2 TB of video ripped from my legitimately purchased DVD’s.  My video library points and laughs and Apple’s 5GB limit.  What will my options eventually be for that?  I loved the rumor of having a new Time Capsule release that acted as a personal cloud, syncing one’s home directory across different computers.  That would do a better job to “demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device just like an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod Touch” and move the digital storage hub to the cloud, as Jobs regarded.
  • What I find limiting is that iCloud isn’t yet a true source without vastly greater storage space.  It isn’t a central storage place for all of my photos and videos.  It pushes photos to different devices and stores them for 30 days, while pushing the 1,000 most recent photos to iPads and iPhones.  My actual iPhoto library is 131GB.  That’s sure not going on the iCloud.  Until it will, I don’t think that promise will be realized.
  • More from a development standpoint than anything, will there be new web apps for iCloud, and will they be based upon SproutCore like the previous generation?

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