Apple is Back

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.

Until now.

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.

Closing thoughts

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.

WWDC 2013: It’s like the old times again

I’m really excited about the imminent keynote to kick-off this year’s Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference. It’s usually a time when the fruity company announces its latest and greatest – at one time, the next iPhone, but more importantly, its latest addition of OS X, and iOS. Whilst we Apple devout aren’t expecting a new iPad or iPhone announcement this year, Apple designer Jony Ive’s influence on the latest iOS – iOS 7 – is widely expected to make its debut.

However, with so many conflicting reports, and the tight secrecy that’s for once befalling a recent Apple event, today’s keynote is actually anybody’s guess. Which is exactly as it was a few years ago, exactly how I remembered it, and exactly what drew me to religiously following these Apple events.

It seems that in the past few Apple events, perhaps since the ones held around Steve Jobs’ death, Apple’s tightness on secrecy has loosened somewhat. In fact, before the iPhone 5 was announced in October last year, we knew most of its features. The official keynote event just became the formality for a product that was, for the most part, already announced through its copious part leaks.

I guess that’s the beauty of a software-centric event: software can be a lot more tightly controlled, since it’s mainly developed and built in a centralised location, and not much can really be leaked. Sure, we’ve got a very grainy photo of a pre-alpha (i.e. really early build) of what the new iOS will look like. Which doesn’t say much, as it would’ve changed significantly in subsequent builds and internal tests.

But there’s so much Apple can potentially talk about. They’ve been conspicuously silent in quarter 1 this year, whilst their competitors have been very busy: Samsung announced the Galaxy S4, a monster of a mobile device; Microsoft revealed the (lacklustre) Xbox One; even Google held its annual I/O conference and has been making waves with more details on its Project Glass. Whilst Apple mentioned moving to a yearly release cycle for OS X, it revealed nothing at the beginning of this year about 10.9, despite having announced 10.8 in the same timeframe last year, having it ready for the WWDC ’12 developer rush to test. Right now, however, 10.9 is still anyone’s guess, and time will only tell…

Then there’s Mac hardware, something that’s widely expected to debut despite a lack of major part leaks (is Tim Cook finally “doubling-down” on secrecy like he promised almost a year ago?). But pro-level hardware is best targeted at pros, who will be in abundance at the Moscone West centre in San Francisco for the week-long conference. A new Mac Pro is imminent, and might get launched – significant for us consumers and prosumers, since whatever specs the big Mac gets will inevitably set the tone for the next generation of Macintosh hardware.

I will be following the keynote with scrutiny as it unfolds, via the live blogs. You’ll be sure to get my verdict of whatever transpires soon after. This is one Apple event fans can be sure not to miss – there’s just too much drama surrounding it!

A quick roundup of what’s rumoured to be announced:

Most likely:

  • iOS 7: completely redesigned, with a “flatter” and “black and white-heavy” look, headed by design guru Jony Ive, the man who designed Apple’s iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks, and a multitude of their other successes.
  • OS X 10.9: major speculation on what it’ll be called, it its going to be named after a big cat at all.
  • iRadio: an Apple-led streaming music service that’s long been rumoured.
  • New MacBooks: MacBooks with Retina all-round, perhaps?
  • Mac Pro: could the beast of a machine they pass for a computer finally get the major update it deserves…?

Less likely:

  • New versions of iWork and iLife for Mac
  • Logic Pro X
  • Aperture X

Least likely:

  • New iPhone (5S or 6?)
  • Low-cost iPhone
  • iPad 5
  • iPad mini with Retina display

iOS hardware is a big enough market now for it to warrant its own, dedicated event. Historic precedent also indicates that, following iPhone release cycles up to 2012, these devices would be announced in the September-October timeframe along with the final build of iOS 7 perhaps.