June 11, 2012

Apple’s WWDC Keynote Was One To Be Remembered

Michael Harper for

Today's keynote was one of Apple´s most anticipated to date, and while rumors usually run hot just before any Apple presentation or press event, there was something extra in the air as we approached WWDC 2012.

With talk of a TV in the future and an as-of-yet unannounced new iPhone running wild on rumor sites, Apple stood ready to surprise us all. They could have announced everything, or they could have announced nothing. Either way, they would have had us all talking about it, hanging on their every word.

Tim Cook and Crew chose a sort of middle ground, announcing much of what we expected to hear, with a few surprises tucked inside.

Being a developer´s conference, we expected to hear about iOS 6 and Mountain Lion, but the Siri and voice integration within were great little surprises which were alluded to in rumors.

We didn´t see the complete, no-holds-barred type of Mac updates the likes of was predicting, but we did see a refresh of their MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models as well as a brand new pro laptop model, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. And while some pro users were worried their Mac Pro models were being phased out, Apple very quietly updated this line with no real announcement other than a little blue “New” box on their online store site. All in all, twas a very good WWDC keynote“¦very good indeed.

Siri welcomed everyone to the Keynote, riffing off a few jokes–with iPad on rimshot duty–before finally getting sentimental with her developers. Turns out she may have been trying to butter them up, as they will be getting friendly in the next couple of months.

Tim Cook then took the stage and started off in the typical Apple fashion, extolling their own achievements and developments: This year´s WWDC sold out in 1 hour, 43 minutes, Apple has 43 million accounts in the App Store, 650,000 apps–225,000 of which belong to iPad–which have been downloaded 30 billion times earning developers $5 billion. Large numbers. Impressive numbers.

Tim Cook the said of the App Store: “It's the most vibrant app ecosystem on the planet. We now have over 400 million accounts on the app store.”

After a very heartwarming video about the way iPad is being used to help those with disabilities and those in other countries, Phil Schiller took to the stage to talk about Macs.

New Macs

Just as many had expected, Schiller announced a refresh to Apple´s most portable machines, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. Now featuring an all new Ivy Bridge processor, the new MacBook Airs can now come preinstalled with up to 8GB of RAM and 512GB of Flash memory. These new ultra-portables take advantage of an Intel HD Graphics 4000, pushing up to 60% faster graphics. The new Airs also come with 2 USB ports and a ThunderBolt port, in addition to the basic MagSafe 2 power port and headphone jack.

And what of these new Ivy Bridge processors? These Intel chipsets offer USB 3.0 connectivity basically for free, so Apple not including this new port would be incredibly silly, even if they do think ThunderBolt is the I/O of the future.

However, they couldn´t resist not putting their own little spin on things and combined USB 2.0 and 3.0 into one port. Now, you don´t need to find the right port or wonder if the computer will handle it. You can even have a USB 2.0 device plugged into one port and a USB 3.0 device plugged into another. This is the kind of solution Apple is known for.

They also slightly upgraded the FaceTime camera to 720p. Most notably absent from the feature set was a Retina display, widely thought to roll out to the Air line this year. Nothing doing, it seems. The new Airs start at that ever-so-crucial price point of $999, and go as high as $2,199 if you want to take advantage of the 2.0GHz Dual-Core i7, 8GB RAM and 512GB Flash memory. Lucky for us, the new Airs will start shipping today.

The MacBook Pros also got a bit of a touch-up, though not the complete overhaul expected.

The Pro Portable line also gets the Ivy Bridge treatment, as well as the USB 3.0 functionality, up to 16GB available RAM and the added benefit of the Intel boosted graphics.

There are a few important things to note about the new models, however. The 15-inch model now ships with a quad-core i7, making them even faster than before, all the while keeping the same prices as before. The 13-inch models get a boost in i5 and i7 size as well.

Phil Schiller was able to take care of 2 rumors during his time on stage. In all of the talking about the new MBP line, one couldn´t help but notice a marked absence in the lineup: The 17-inch MacBook Pro has left us, leaving a void to be filled by something radically new. After taking his time to announce the freshly upgraded MacBook Pro models, Schiller began to talk about a brand new line of computers.

On screen was some other device, covered in a shroud, just waiting to be unveiled to the Apple anxious. Introducing the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the computer we have been waiting for since we first saw a MacBook Air and a Retina Display. Much like everyone had assumed, this ultra-thin model is light at less than 4 pounds. Phil Schiller even joked, “It´s thinner than my finger!”

Of course, this model takes the best of the Air and iPad worlds, combining the Airs extreme speed–thanks to the SSD–and the iPads beautifully crisp display. The screen is a rich 2880 x 1800 with 220 pixels per inch. Apple not only prepared each of their pro apps–such as Aperture and Final Cut Pro–for this new screen, they´ve also revamped Lion to ensure the screen always looks great.

A fully-loaded model of the MBP RD isn´t cheap, however. A top-of-the-line model will run you close to 4 grand.

Although, Apple does seem to be positioning these models at those pro users who may be wanting to ditch their Mac Pros or hefty 17-Inchers. For these users, the new MBP RD is a very enticing option. Of course, Apple couldn´t release a new laptop without a video from Sir Ive singing its praises. He did, oddly, go on for a good while about a new breakthrough they´ve had in fan technology. The new fans now work in an asymmetrical manner, which, according to Sir Ive, makes them “imperceptible” to the user.

This is only one of the reasons it´s great to have Jony in control at the Apple Design Studios: How many designers or engineers would actually spend the time to rethink something so often overlooked as the fans? Apple proved generous once again, as all MacBook Pro models will ship today and are ready for your purchase.

Mountain Lion

These new laptops will be compatible with Apple´s new Mac OS X Mountain Lion, which will be released sometime next month. Apple didn´t give a precise date, but so far it seems as if development for the latest big cat is coming along rather well.

This new OS will finally give users “Documents in the Cloud,” ensuring that when someone makes a change to a Pages document on their Mac, the change will be quickly reflected on their iPad as well.

Most of what Apple showed off in Mountain Lion was expected: Things like AirPlay Mirroring, Notification Center and Twitter integration. The surprises came when Apple announced Voice Dictation system wide, saying users can “talk to their Facebook.”

Mountain Lion will also play host to a new version of Safari, which will feature the “fastest javascript engine of any browser on the planet,” as well as TabView, a way to view live previews of every tab you have open. These tabs will also sync across iCloud, allowing you to pick up on your Mac where you left off on your iPad.

All welcome additions as Apple slowly and oh-so carefully brings the two platforms together, without creating some hideous Toaster-Fridge hybrid.

Most surprising from this announcement is the price: Users can upgrade all of their personal Macs–all the way back to Snow Leopard– for only $19.99. Of course, those of you who have already left this article to buy a brand new MacBook Pro with Retina Display (or any other Mac released today) will be able to upgrade for free.

iOS 6

Most of what we saw in iOS 6 was a surprise, as until this point we had only a few predictions as to what would be coming down the pipe, most notably, Facebook integration, Maps and a more feature-rich version of Siri.

Facebook integration will work just like Twitter´s integration. You will be able to share photos, web sites, what have you with the tap of a button. Once you´ve logged in with the Facebook app, you´ll be logged in everywhere. As for Maps, it turns out the rumor mill was almost dead-on as the demo for the new app, though very cool, they didn´t show us much we didn´t already know.

Apple will include anonymous traffic-incident reports, traffic services and turn by turn navigation, all voiced by Siri. You can even ask her where to find gas along your route. The 3D mode looks great and very demo-worthy, allowing you to flyover most metropolitan cities. If you zoom in on one building enough, a Yelp-style business card will appear, showing you exactly what building or business you are currently stalking. Very cool, indeed.

Apple´s Intelligent Personal Assistant showed us more than just her funny side in the Keynote´s opening. Scott Forstall proudly showed her off in what must have been a tricky demo. She´s been learning a lot about sports, as Forstall asked her who won in the Giants game last night. (The answer, of course, being the Texas Rangers at 5-0“¦but that´s another gloat for another time.) Forstall also asked her where the Giants were in the standings, player statistics, and even who is taller, Kobe or LeBron.

The level of integration is pretty deep. Not only can Siri now do things she once was able to before Apple bought her, (such as book tables through OpenTable) she can now launch apps with your voice command. Not only can Siri talk sports, she´s also into movies and is willing to give you movie times and even fetch your tickets and watch trailers, right there in the Notification Center.

Then Apple pulled another surprise. Introducing Passbook, an app which wrangles all of your boarding passes, gift cards and movie tickets. They even added the extra-slick functionality of location data, meaning when you walk into the theater, Passbook pulls out your movie ticket for you, allowing it to be scanned and later “destroyed” via a very cool animation.

As for FaceTime, Apple confirmed the video conferencing feature will work on 3G, much to the chagrin of every wireless carrier currently in bed with Apple“¦which is nearly every carrier at this point.

All told, Apple really stepped up their game as far as iOS 6 is concerned. While many, including myself, had wondered how they could improve the mobile operating system in a significant way, Apple made a great impression with it. In many ways, the introduction of iOS 6 was just as exciting as anything else announced today at Moscone West.

Of course, iOS 6 will ship when the new iPhones do. Forstall only said it will be available this fall, confirming the general consensus of a new iPhone release date.

Most interestingly, iOS 6 will not work on the first generation iPad. Apple normally weens their older products from OS upgrades such as this, but the first generation iPad is only 3 years old and, I assume, more than capable to handle the software. After all, if the iPhone 3GS can run the new OS, which it can, then it only stands to reason the still-powerful 1st Gen iPad should be able to as well.

No Apple Television or iMacs

There was no mention of a Rumored Apple Television or even an SDK to bring apps to the existing Apple TV, something that had been rumored just last week.

Apple also didn´t mention the iMac or Mac Pro at all during the Keynote, though they did quietly release new Mac Pros online, as well as new AirPort Extreme wireless routers and a fancy new Smart Case for iPad which covers both front and back of your tablet.

All in all, a pretty big day for Apple.

For every element we predicted, Apple provided us with something we didn´t, such as Passbook and Power Nap, the latter of which allows newer MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros with Retina Display to receive updates even while it sleeps.

Yes, this Keynote was more about cinching up a few loose ends and making sure their most popular devices got some well-deserved attention.

Running right at 2 hours, Cook and Crew had an awful lot to talk about, but did so just as efficiently as you would have expected from an Apple team.

The conference will continue on through this week, and while we may not get any more official announcements from Cupertino, it´s likely we may see some news leaked from the conference floor.

To quote President of the Internet Leo Laporte, so far, this looks to be the Summer of Tim as once again Apple takes a great leap ahead of the competition before they even have a chance to prepare themselves. Yes, Apple did not disappoint today.