A lot has already been written about Apple’s major announcements at Monday’s keynote to kick-off WWDC 2013. So I’m not going to go over what was announced – that can be found at almost any blog covering tech. What I’m going to write about, instead, is what I felt and thought after dutifully watching Monday’s live stream, as the future of Apple unfolded before the eyes of their devout fans.
“Designed by Apple in California”
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, one of the things he did was create a branding campaign to re-assert Apple’s image in the eyes of the public, but also strengthen resolve from within the company. At that time, Apple had been struggling – badly. They were near bankruptcy. Jobs managed to rescue the company with a number of radical changes, but the campaign – “Think Different” – a poetic, rousing anthem to the world, best encapsulated all that he stood for and believed in regarding Apple. “Think Different” was very much a Steve Jobs manifesto, a strategic move to associate Apple with the great thinkers, leaders and inventors of the past.
So when Tim Cook premiered Apple’s new branding campaign, “Designed by Apple in California,” I was immediately struck by its similarities with the “Think Different” videos, and also by the fact that it was, essentially, Tim Cook’s vision. His affirmation to the public and to Apple itself that the company is back, that it will continue to prosper and innovate as it always has, and that, despite its new leadership, Apple will continue to be Apple. The new campaign reasserts Apple’s roots in Cupertino, adds direction to their new vision for OS X (more on that just now), and confirms their stance as an American technology company that cares for where it comes from (Mac Pro production based in the U.S.) It’s Tim Cook’s manifesto, in much the same way “Think Different” symbolised Steve Jobs.
Watch the video:
Apple is Back
There’s no doubt that after Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO, and then his untimely death in October 2011, Apple’s future was left with a big question mark over it. Jobs was very much Apple. The break between two incredibly inextricable entities left a void, and the new CEO, Tim Cook, was given the enormous task of bridging it, of assuring us that Apple would continue to innovate. But what followed was a series of somewhat lacklustre attempts – sure, we had incredible new MacBook Pros with Retina displays, an amazingly thin iPhone 5 and iPod touch… but the spark seemed to have gone from Apple.
You could see it in the energy displayed by the executives on stage: Craig Federighi, debuting the new OS X, was enigmatic and reminiscent of Steve Jobs in his presentation skill. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing, made the statement that best encapsulated the message Apple was trying to send to the world: upon revealing a radical new design for the much-anticipated new Mac Pro, he remarked: “Can’t innovate any more, my a**.”
The Mac Pro reveal itself was done with the drama and panache that only Apple can do: set to the tone of Muse’s “Supremacy,” it exuded cool. Watch the reveal here:
But it’s the new design for iOS that signifies Apple’s true leap forward. They’ve managed to let go of the past, of the “skeumorphic” design tendencies that Steve Jobs himself was a big fan of. Skeumorphism links software ideas to their real-world counterparts in a very literal way. This allusion makes things look gaudy, overdone, and just unintuitive. It’s what dogged iOS for its entire existence, making it look old and creaky in the face of sleek interfaces from competitors like Samsung’s Android implementation and Windows Phone.
The new, minimalist interface from Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive is clean, well thought-out and befitting of a mobile operating system that runs on devices that pride themselves on distinct industrial design. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the UI, but this is just the beta phase. Much will be altered before iOS 7 gets gold-master certified for public use later this year. For one thing, I’m not too convinced about the icon design; it looks a bit inconsistent and makes for a jumbled home screen appearance. This, and other UI and UX elements will be tweaked, I’m sure. But overall: I’m impressed. The beautiful use of typography, the subtle animations and parallax concept bring life to iOS without reverting to skeumorphic ideas that come across as plain tacky. This iteration of iOS indeed looks classy, refined, and downright stylish – just the kind of thing you’d expect from a company that prides itself on working at the intersection between good design and groundbreaking engineering.
Here’s Jony Ive talking through the thought process behind iOS 7’s new design:
New Direction: OS X
There’s no more big cats in the name. That’s kinda sad. But OS X is now going to be named after places in California, the birthplace and development home of the Mac operating system. That does seem befitting, and works right into Apple’s new strategy with their “Designed by Apple in California” theme.
The new OS X is called “Mavericks”, version number 10.9. It’s named after the popular surfing location in California, and sets the tone for a new generation of OS X. As with iOS, OS X is also departing from its little stint with skeumorphism, and I like what I’ve seen so far. My favourite features with 10.9 are definitely App Nap, a system that intelligently manages application resources to maximise system performance and battery life. It’s also impressive to note that this OS will be able to run on Macs as old as those from late-2007. That’s what I love about Apple: the longevity of their products.
This keynote has made me excited to be a fan of Apple again. I’m confident in their future, one that now has a concrete direction, is rooted once again in good design and innovative engineering principles, and that opens the doors to interesting and compelling new product avenues. I can’t wait to finally get my hands on iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, and I look forward to what the Cupertino company has in store for us in the near future.