Apple's WWDC 2011 Announcements

— 8 minute read

WWDC is Apple's annual World Wide Developers Conference. Basically every June thousands of nerds who write software for Apple's computers, and now iPhones & iPads, descend on San Francisco to hear the latest news on what's coming up in the world of Apple so that they can be prepared and get started writing the applications that you and I will be using.

At the start of the conference is a keynote speech, typically given by Steve Jobs and other executives. This year, there was three areas of focus for the keynote:

  • OS X Lion - the next version, 10.7, of the Mac OS (operating system) scheduled to arrive in July. Though curiously never actually referred to as "10.7" in the keynote that I can recall.
  • iOS 5 - the next version of the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad OS scheduled to ship in fall, 2011
  • iCloud - storage of your content that gets wirelessly pushed to all your devices

Lion permalink

It'll only be $29.99USD through the Mac App Store, but you'll need to be running at least Snow Leopard (10.6.x) in order to upgrade. Full details of what kind of processor your Mac needs and other details are available on Apple's website.

There are 250 new features listed for Lion, but the big ones to me are:

Mac App Store permalink

This is already available to users of Snow Leopard (10.6.x). A simple and easy way to buy new apps ("In my day, we called 'em applications and you had to go to the re-tail store to buy 'em with your real money! Walking uphill there AND back! Now get off my lawn you iPhone toting hippies!). The big news here is that Lion will only be available through the Mac App Store for only $29.99USD. So there won't be a box to go buy at the store, you'll just click a button and it will download the 4GB OS and upgrade your system on the spot.

Pretty slick. But I feel for all the System Admin nerds that have to try and maintain this for a University lab or office setup. I'm sure Apple will announce some sort of server distribution system for them. (Update: Or burn a boot disc?)

Auto Save and Versions permalink

A feature borrowed from iOS, applications will no longer prompt to save documents you're working on - they'll just do it for you in the background. And on top of that, they'll save versions of the document so you can go back and undo an edit if you want. This, combined with Apple's already in use Time Machine backup system, which you are already doing of course, will save more than a few phone calls to tech support.

Multi-Touch permalink

The success of the iPhone/iPad has shown Apple the way forward is not with a keyboard and mouse. And Lion is going to bring touch and gestures even more to the forefront.

It works great already on a MacBook Pro but it remains to be seen how people will adapt to using it on a desktop. Apple sells a Magic Trackpad that is designed to bring Multi-Touch to desktops - but I can't see the average user giving up their mouse until Apple decides to stop bundling them with iMacs and Mac Pros and force the issue.

iOS 5 permalink

The latest and greatest operating system for the world's most popular phone gets "more than 200 new features", so for those keeping track at home, there's still more new stuff for OS X/Mac than for iOS/iPhone. Apple's still committed to the Mac.

Here are my favourite new features coming to iOS:

PC Free permalink

Apple is finally cutting the cord. This is something Google has had for awhile on their Android phones - but Apple is certainly improving on it with the addition of iCloud. You no longer need to have a Mac to setup your iPhone/iPad out of the box. You'll be able to type in your App Store username and password and download all the Apps and music right to the device over wifi without ever having to touch iTunes again.

Notification Center permalink

It's no secret that Apple's notification system has been pretty poor on iOS. It was good enough for the first few versions of iOS, but by the time version 3 and 4 came out with little to no improvement people were starting to wonder. If your iPhone is locked and you have a notification of a phone call and something else, say a SMS message, once you unlock your iPhone the notification is gone and you have no way of seeing what the notifications were.

In iOS 5 you'll be able to swipe down from the top and see all the notifications displayed in a Apple style interface. Very nice and much needed.

iMessage permalink

At first glance, this one doesn't seem like that big of a deal. But what Apple is doing is attempting to cut the cellular phone carriers (Rogers, Sasktel, Telus, etc. here in Canada) out of the revenue they're getting from SMS/texting charges. Similair to RIM's Blackberry Messenger, iMessage will be a way for owners of iPhones, iPod touches and iPads to send text, video and photos to each other for free.

I'm guessing this is a bigger deal in the States because most people I know with iPhones don't have an additional SMS plan added - though I'm sure those with teenagers will appreciate it.

According to John Gruber, the cellular carriers found out about iMessage the same time as everyone else did.

AirPlay Mirroring for iPad 2 permalink

Buy an AppleTV for a HDTV and along with your iPad 2, you've got the modern whiteboard. Display whatever is on your iPad 2 on the HDTV wirelessly through the AppleTV. As I linked to previously, this is going to be a big deal once people, and particularly educators, wrap their head around the possibilities.

Reminders and Camera permalink

Apple is adding a to-do list app to iOS 5. Nothing too groundbreaking there. Except that they've built in location aware to-dos. So, for example, you can set up a location like your office and have your iPhone notify you when you leave that location to remind you to pick up some milk on the way home. Or when you arrive at a certain store, get a reminder to buy AA batteries for your Magic Mouse.

It's similar to what's built into OmniFocus for iPhone (App Store link), only it'll come baked into the OS.

The Camera app is also getting a refresh. You'll now be able to use the camera right from the lock screen so you no longer have to swipe, type in your passcode, tap the Camera app, wait for it to load, and then hope your kid hasn't moved on to something more interesting than what you were going to take a picture of. They're also adding the ability to press the volume-up button as a shutter - something that I'm sure the makers of the Camera+​ (App Store link) app are none too pleased to see after their app was pulled from the store for months because Apple told them they couldn't add that feature to their camera app.

iCloud permalink

iCloud is Apple's next big thing and will likely set the direction of the company. Your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents wirelessly pushed to all your devices - Macs, iPhones, iPod touches and iPads. With 5GB of storage included for free. It certainly looks like the real deal and so long as it doesn't suffer the same syncing issues MobileMe has, Apple will certainly have a hit on their hand with the current users of their software and hardware.

It may seem gimmicky and of the moment (everything's moving to the cloud, right) - but the Apple pundits are falling all over themselves to proclaim this as the thing we'll remember 10 years from now. I don't doubt it is a big deal and it sure makes for a good turn of phrase, but 10 years is a long time. In hindsight I'm sure it'll seem so natural and obvious that we'd be moving everything out to the cloud/internet rather than relying on our local computer's hard drives.

10 years ago Apple introduced iTunes and shortly after, the first iPod. We'll see if iCloud has the same impact on Apple and the tech world as the iPod did.