Ten Questions About Today’s Apple News

By  |  Monday, June 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Almost 38,000 folks turned out for Technologizer’s live coverage of Apple’s WWDC keynote this morning. We had a good time. But as the comments came in from attendees, there was clearly a serious contingent of folks who still held out hope that Apple was going to announce a new iPhone today–and who just didn’t care that much about software and services. For them, no new hardware meant that the event was a letdown.

On Twitter, I responded this way:

This was among the most news-packed Apple events I can recall, and in its own way it was one of the most wildly ambitious ones. Apple is finally making the iPhone and iPad into autonomous devices that don’t rely on a Mac or Windows PC. It wants to store vast quantities of data for us and be responsible for safeguarding it and getting it to the right place. It’s making iOS look more like OS X and OS X look more like iOS. It’s not yet clear whether all of this stuff will pan out, and people who already bristle at Apple’s approach to the world will like this new, more fully Apple-centric version less than ever. But if you think the event was a big yawn because there wasn’t a new iPhone that was a bit thinner and a bit faster, you live in a different world than I do.

Judging the implications of all this is going to take a while, in part because few of today’s new announcements involve anything that’s immediately available. (Lion will reach consumers in July; iOS 5 is coming “this fall.”) For now, the best we can do is mull the news over. Here are some of the things I’m wondering about:

Can 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1=47? On Twitter, I saw some folks with Microsoft- and Android-centric worldviews snark that this new feature or that new feature announced at WWDC already existed on other platforms. In general, they’re right–just about everything Apple announced has antecedents elsewhere. And in some cases, as with iOS 5’s notifications, Apple is playing catchup, pure and simple. The company’s defining characteristic isn’t that it does things no company has done before it–it’s that it does them on its own schedule (sometimes very early, sometimes remarkably late) and tends to do them well. And it does them all itself, on its own terms, and tries to make them all work together seamlessly. (It doesn’t always succeed at the seamless part, but it tries harder than anyone else.) If today’s news adds up to be a big deal, it won’t be because Apple invented anything utterly new; it’ll be because it made many old ideas work better together than anyone else has managed to date.

What does the last week mean for the Microsoft vs. Apple wars? People sure like to talk about the competition between these two companies–which makes sense, since it’s been going on for at least thirty years–but it’s really been pretty quiet in recent years. Microsoft has had a monopoly on PCs under $1000, and Apple has had one on PCs over $1000, and they’ve both made lots of money. (And Apple has sprinted ahead on the mobile front, where Microsoft is still lacing its running shoes.) Between last week’s Windows 8 peek and today’s news, though, the two companies are coming back into existential conflict. Microsoft is trying to reinvent Windows into a post-PC operating system. Apple is is giving iOS, its post-PC operating system, a level of autonomy formerly reserved for PCs. What the two companies are doing is simultaneously oddly similar and wildly different. (More thoughts to come on this.)

Will iCloud…work? Syncing is one of the toughest problems in personal technology; I’m not sure if anyone’s ever nailed it. And Steve Jobs acknowledged that MobileMe isn’t exactly proof that Apple knows how to get it right. John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out that Apple isn’t calling what iCloud does “syncing,” and that the version of a file that Apple is storing on its servers is the definitive one. That version will just get pushed out to devices as necessary. That should help. But even if you don’t consider iCloud to be syncing, it’s the single most ambitious moving-data-around-between-devices service to date. If it works without meaningful hiccups, it’ll be quite an accomplishment.

Do people want the file system to go bye-bye? At the keynote, Steve Jobs explained that the company is working vigorously to eliminate the need for a file system of the sort that personal computers have had ever since the first ones with floppy disks arrived. He was talking about iOS, but iCloud starts to nibble away at the edges of the traditional file system on Macs and PCs, too. My impulse was to think “but I like the file system.” And then I thought “maybe it’s an inconvenience I only think I like because I don’t know better.”

Why is Lion only $29? It looks like a pretty meaty upgrade. Certainly far more so than Snow Leopard–I’m provisionally more excited by it than I was by Leopard, which was $129. Maybe Apple figures it’s a good idea to get it on as many Macs as possible to increase the chances of people buying lots of software from the Mac App Store?

Does the world need iMessage? My instinct is to be skeptical about a messaging system that requires me to give much thought to what sort of device the person on the other end is using. We’ll see.

Will the split keyboard catch on? Divvying up an onscreen keyboard into left- and -righthand sides to make for easier thumbtyping is a very old idea. I associate it with Samsung’s Q1 UMPC from five years ago, and Microsoft showed a variation in its Windows 8 preview last week. So far, it’s felt quirky rather than mainstream. But Apple likes to avoid the quirky, so I take its inclusion in iOS 5 as a sign that Apple thinks a lot of people will like it. (Now, can we get Swype?)

What should we read into iOS’s embrace of Twitter? I like to tweet from my iPhone, so it’s a pleasing development. But should we try to parse its greater meaning? Is there any reason why it wasn’t Facebook that got baked into Apple’s OS, or might that come along in iOS 6? Is there now an Apple-Twitter alliance that’s a mightier Facebook competitor than if the two companies were going it alone, with more signs of the partnership to come?

Why no straightforward music subscription service a la Rhapsody, Napster, Rdio, Slacker, and Mog? Is it a business Apple isn’t interested in pursuing? Or can it not sign the music-label deals it wants? Or is it just “one more thing” for the traditional September music event?

Will people pay twenty-five bucks a year for iTunes Match? It’s the return of one of Lala’s best features, the ability to automatically unlock songs you already own in an online collection.  Lala offered it for free. Then again, $25 a year is slightly over two bucks a month–pretty darn close to free if it’s useful.

Got any thoughts about any of these issues–or questions of your own? (I know I’m going to have more questions–the more I think about all of today’s news, the less I’m clear on all of its implications…)


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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Kevin Etter Says:

    There was new hardware. A whole data center's worth. 😉

  2. Mike Stewart Says:

    If I can use iTunes Match as a simple, cheap off site backup of my very large iTunes library, It's worth the price.

  3. Mark Hernandez Says:

    What happened to Nuance and voice?

    Also, because of the extra snow this year in California, the river I usually go rafting on has over-the-top rapids that are like riding the surf. This is what I though of when i heard iOS will be letting people tweet from every app. Ugh.

    Oh, I just now saw in the next NetNewsWire entry you ask "Where's the Voice?" he he Nevermind.

  4. Sean Dixon Says:

    Two big weaknesses I see:

    1) iMusic: not a streaming service so how is Apple’s service any better than GOOG/AMZN? You have to manually download each song and wait for download to finish then you have to download next song, etc. I think I would rather upload my library to GOOG/AMZN and stream to my Android device then use Apple’s service, which seems much more cumbersome. And, you a limited to the remaining size of your SSD card which for me isn’t much cause of all of my apps. If Apple’s was a streaming service, you would only need a small amount of space for buffeting each song (which could be stored for future playback). VERY DISAPPOINTED

    2) Music Match: $25 per year to access my non iTunes music (which I may never play cause don’t know which songs are which). So, if 100% of your music is ripped this would be a great deal cause you would definitely need to pay to access your music. But, if 25% of your music is ripped, you might just say no thanks and just lose access to this part of your library and deal with it but be a little annoyed.

  5. Mark Hernandez Says:

    Also, why aren't there periodicals and subscriptions on Mac OS?

    People don't read on their laptops in the coffee shop and on the sofa?

  6. ahow628 Says:

    Can I re-download items "uploaded" using iTunes Match? I have a bunch of stuff ripped at 96 and128k from many years ago, however, I want it back on my computer at 256k rather than stuck in iTunes. I can't have bloated, garbage software like that clogging up my PC permanently…

  7. Shawn Reed Says:

    "My impulse was to think “but I like the file system.” And then I thought “maybe it’s an inconvenience I only think I like because I don’t know better.”"

    Ah, a dose of self-awareness in the tech community. Again with the insightful introspection, Mr. McCracken. This sort of considered uncertainty is why I appreciate your take on the topics more than most of the others'.

  8. pond Says:

    I'm curious about osX Lion as download only. What I hope will happen is that after d/l'ing Lion, we'll be able to burn a restore disk from it — so that if our hard drive dies, we will be able to reinstall.

    I also wonder if the $30 price for Lion is not another symptom of the App Store model driving down software prices in general. MS-Office at its current retail prices will look awfully costly compared to other offerings. (It would be cool to see Win7 or Win8 show up in the Mac App Store, for Bootcamp options!)

    I noticed that in a few places Jobs or other presenters insisted, 'We can scale this.' Of all the cloud features, this is the biggest question: can those servers hold up to 100 million or more users? Not even Google has been able to handle 100% uptime. Apple won't either — nobody can. So what will be the uptime?

    I also wonder what happened to the deal with Nuance. I sure hope that it comes through. System wide voice recognition in osX through iOS is very helpful. Microsoft has decent voice recognition in Win7, and Google is going ahead with it in Android; Apple won't look so appealing without it.

    A final question, How much money changed hands with the Twitter deals? Does Apple now own a chunk of Twitter as a result?

  9. David Says:

    I purchased Snow Leopard from Amazon for $30, so I wouldn't read that much into it.

  10. TradeTechSports Says:

    Ya I agree, the twitter thing seems interesting to me. Why integrate twitter and not facebook? Like you said does apple have its hand in the twitter pie? Seems weird seeing the twitter app is pretty easy to use and easily configured.

  11. ahow628 Says:

    It does and thanks for the info.

  12. Dave Says:

    How about word wrap/text reflow in the browser after pinch zoom. It is inexcuseable that this feature does not exits in iOS.

  13. Lava Says:

    Harry, you don’t need to worry about when to use iMessages or not. iMessages REPLACES the current SMS app in iPhone

    If the person you are sending to has iOS 5, then it sends as an iMessage. You get a blue send bubble and get thing like read receipts and encrypted sends.

    If the person on the other end doesn’t have an iOS 5 device, it sends as an ordinary SMS or MMS message. The send button remains green.

    There is no thinking involved here. It just works.

  14. Lava Says:

    Also about the file system comment, I like the way Steve Jobs explained it. No one expects to use the file system to organize and search individual email messages, although you could. You leave the presentation of your email to the mail app

    Same with songs. Before iTunes, everyone used to organize music via the file system. Folders and subfolders and all that painstaking work. Some people still do. But for 99% of us, using the file system to organize music would be a ridiculous idea now when iTunes does it for you.

    So why do we expect to use the file system to organize our documents?

    The thng is, I never have trouble finding a document on my iPad. Can’t say the same for the Mac. So Apple is working on something deep here, whereas Google and Microsoft don’t even know to ask the question.

  15. @blakslaks Says:

    Excellent article here – I had a similar anxiety attack about… The Death Of The Filesystem….