This week Apple held its annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. There has been a lot said about this year’s WWDC already, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to say a few words myself about the event now that much more has been revealed, and that Steve’s reality distortion field has had some time to dissipate.
It’s been almost 7 years since the release of Mac OS X, and anyone who has used the operating systems knows just how far it has come. The next release of the OS is Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) and is due for release in October. The date was pushed back after Apple announced they needed to put Mac OS X resources on the iPhone in order to get it out by June – a move that caused concern amongst many of the Mac faithful, worried that Apple were no longer interested in computers.
At the 2006 WWDC, Steve Jobs promised there were “secret” features in Leopard that he wouldn’t reveal yet to avoid any other companies copying the ideas. Vista came and went, and there were still no secrets revealed. Some suggested there were no secrets, while others insisted we wait and see – Apple wouldn’t disappoint.
So as you can imagine, expectations were very high.
So what were the secret features?
A New Desktop
First, some eye candy – like a transparent menu bar. And a new default Desktop background – wet green grass.
I thought the background was a joke, as did the audience who laughed at the revelation. But no – Apple are serious. No more nice abstract blue – instead something that looks like it came from Vista. Why would I want grass to be the first experience I have with OS X? As for the transparent menu bar? Could be annoying. Not revolutionary, that’s for sure.
The Dock now sits on a 3D stand, that reflects windows above it. Looks cool. Not particularly useful though. And the indicators that show which applications are running are hard to see.
The only really new thing here was Stacks. Stacks are groupings of files and folders together in the dock – like a folder, but with quick access. There are some nice visual effects, such as fanning out of the stack when you click on it. Could be useful, and is the closest we got to something really new.
The idea seems to come from an Apple patent for “Piles“. Though this is a watered down version of Piles. For a start, stacks only exist in the Dock (it would appear) – they aren’t a new Finder object. This is disappointing – seeing a stack on the desktop or in Finder windows would have been potentially useful – giving you an idea of the number of items, even what the items are, without opening the stack. But they are an interesting idea nonetheless.
As for the fanning out – cool effect. But the objects are all at a slight angle. As you look up the opened stack, your head tilts to read the labels. Not particularly useful. If your mouse is at the left edge of the bottom of the stack, slamming it upwards you’ll miss the object at the top of the stack.
A New Finder
Well, fairly new. Not breathtakingly new. But a promise of consistent interfaces (no more Aqua for this, Metal for that, Unified look for something else). And a new Finder view – Cover Flow: as seen in iTunes.
Rumours say it is fully Cocoa, and multi-threaded, and you no longer pauses when you take certain actions. I don’t have access to the beta, so I can’t confirm.
Cover Flow in the Finder? Apparently so. Probably cool – has a certain “wow” factor. Not revolutionary really, and there is a slight feeling of laziness here – Apple just took something they bought (Cover Flow) and had used for iTunes, and stuck it in the Finder (I’m over-simplifying, I don’t really believe integration is that simple).
As for consistency – that remains to be seen. Garageband still looks different from the screenshots in the keynote and at Apple’s site. iTunes currently has purple scroll bars. And based on past experience, Apple will come up with some new look for whatever application they release next.
This was a developers conference. Perhaps Apple could have said “And here are the new Human Interface Guidelines that explain how to use all these standard components in our unified look. We want everyone to use them, and we’ll be using them too. Sorry we’ve ignored the previous standards for so long – we’ll try to do better”. Now that would have got thunderous applause.
Back to My Mac
One of the most awkwardly named new features. This is a system for creating an encrypted network link between different machines in different locations (for example, home and work) using .Mac to handle exchange of IP addresses. Could be useful, though I’m not sure people will be happy with the need for .Mac here – given its poor value for money so far.
That was pretty much it for the secrets I’m afraid.
Missing in Action
WWDC 2007 seemed to bring a lot of bad news along the way:
- No SDK for the iPhone – to make iPhone apps you have to make web pages. That means you don’t get an icon on the main iPhone screen – you have to launch Safari, and go to a book mark. This is so lame – and you could tell from the silence in the audience that the developers were not happy.
- No Adobe Flash support on the iPhone. That really means the promise of “not a watered down version of the internet” isn’t true. It might be the best browser we’ve seen yet on a phone, but there are a tonne of websites that will be broken without Flash support.
- No 64-bit Carbon. This was promised in 2006.
- No ZFS support – beyond a limited read only capability. To be fair, Apple didn’t promise this. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz announced however it was going to be the file system in Leopard, so expectations were high once again. Something is up here – why announce this, and then have Apple say this isn’t even close?
- “Restart in Windows” is an interesting one. It sounds great – reboot to Windows, but it saves your current OS X session (as it does in “safe sleep”), so when you return to OS X it is as if you never left – all your apps are running as before. And this feature was on the website. But soon after the keynote started it was pulled.
- .Mac. Though mentioned in the keynote with “Back to my Mac”, the newly redesigned Apple website no longer has .Mac on the front page. The service becomes less and less relevant every day, and there was an expectation that Apple would do something more with it.
- iChat Screen Sharing is no longer an advertised feature on Apple’s site, though there are rumours the feature still exists. Question is, is it about to be pulled? This is a real shame – I thought this was one of the more interesting features announced in 2006.
- No New Hardware. When Steve said there was “One more thing”, you knew people were expecting new hardware (the shouts in the audience gave it away). It was a Safari beta for Windows! Then Steve teased with “One last thing”. It was the announcement of no SDK for the iPhone! And still no new hardware.
So what happened?
The question has to be asked – did Apple pull so many resources off Mac OS X to work on the iPhone that there were few resources left to create any “secret” features of worth? Is this also the reason for all the MiA features?
The way this has all played out is quite a shame really. Leopard is a great upgrade – there are a huge number of improvements inside – and we should see fantastic applications coming in the future. But Apple promised “secret” features – and people expected more. The end result was a disappointment.
Perhaps Apple got too sidetracked by the iPhone?