Monday, June 23, 2014

Apple to Pull Further Ahead Fall 2014

Recently Apple marked the 25th anniversary of the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).  Its opening Keynote Address is typically the venue for Apple to announce new features of their software - and this year has heightened my excitement to a level never seen before.  Granted, I am an Apple Fan - I admit it (a reformed Amiga fan).  But, that aside, you have to admit what Apple is doing is truly groundbreaking in the aggregate.   Here's a brief synopsis of what to expect, and why I think Apple is leading.  Also, my analysis on why I think Apple will surge ahead in market share in the coming 12 months.

I've said it before, that Apple has accomplished a monumental feat that dominates market penetration, while at the same time maintaining security and reliability for the end-user, but a recent post by Rene Ritchie of iMore I think puts it most succinctly:
"Apple has been working on delivering a comprehensive inter-app communication system for years but they wanted to do it in a way that didn't compromise security or usability. That iOS is as insanely popular as it is, as big a target as it is, and has effectively no malware is a miracle of modern system design. "
Au contraire, monsieur Ritchie.  Rather than a miracle of modern system design, I would say it was intentionally set out from the beginning to be so - engineered by design to be secure.  It is a marvel of modern system design, one that every systems designer should strive to emulate.

PC's (OS X)

In terms of Personal Computers (traditional desktop/laptop/notebooks), I have said for years that OS X is leaps and bounds ahead of Windows in terms of functionality, utility, interoperability, efficiency, and security (a lot of -y words!).  At first during the Keynote, I was not impressed with the new OS X 10.10 Yosemite - it looked like a lot of gloss (endless presenter comments of look how beautiful and elegant it is - wow, we have semi-transparent windows!!!).  However, as the presentation went on, in typical Apple fashion, the meat and potatoes of true enhancement built to a crescendo - but the OS X (PC) side is truly now only half the picture - with the mobile side necessary to complete the full appreciation of the tremendous value of what they have done in outshining Windows, Android, and Chrome OS, and others.
  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks adoption has reached 51% of market penetration - in 12 months (8 months of release, 4 months of Beta)!  Windows 8.1?  A pathetic 9%.  In almost 2 years!!!  What does that tell you?  And the cost to consumers and business to upgrade?  Dude, don't get me started.
  • Window Transparency - true, OS X has finally "caught up" with Windows in providing transparent windows and dialogs (if you consider that an advancement), but to be honest the first thing I do when using Windows is turn off the transparency.  First of all, it slows the performance down (you can see it noticeably even on today's processors).  Second, it is damn annoying and distracting.  After 24 hours of using Yosemite, I am totally a huge fan of window transparency on OS X.  It is subtle, understated and muted - but a truly nice effect (from one who hated it since Windows Vista).  Well done.
  • Safari Web Browser - since Mavericks, Safari has outshined the competing browsers in every aspect.  I have given up using Chrome, and the new Firefox, as nice as it is, is nothing compared to Safari - especially as you take into account the synergy across devices.  Couple that with touch pad gestures, and forget it - I never want to touch another browser again!
  • Apps - especially built-in apps.  Just in the past couple of weeks, I was trying to figure out how to take a picture of myself with my Lenovo built-in web cam - and me, a Tech geek, could not figure it out!  I finally just did it with my Macbook, and transferred the picture via Dropbox.  Give me a break!  But look at the stuff that comes with OS X Yosemite, and it is crazy especially when you look at Continuity (see topic below).
    • Maps - a very nice Maps app, with built-in integration with your mobile device and the OS X operating system.
    • Mail - I have started using Mail sometimes instead of GMail web page, it is good for certain things.  Yosemite extends this further.  The ability of Mail to recognize contact information embedded in the text of a message, and interact with you to add or update your Address Book, is fantastic.  Integration with Calendar makes it work like a dream - as you always imagined the digital world of the future should.  If you didn't see, the image markup capability is truly stunning - I hope they extend that to iOS!
    • Calendar - much better than Outlook Calendar, this integrates with my Google Calendars, and Outlook/Exchange calendars, seamlessly.  I use this as much as I use the Google Calendar web page.
    • Messages - for a while, I have enjoyed using my laptop to participate in texting - but it only worked on iMessage.  They finally extended it to SMS (aka non-Apple) users, and the synch with my phone is seamless.

Mobile Devices (iOS)

I have seen many argue that Apple is way behind, that iPhones lack features considered standard and widely acceptable.  For example, iPhone apps all along have been sandboxed, which limits what the apps can do outside the sandbox that Apple allows (and limits people from tweaking and customizing).  This has led people to either jailbreak the device, or buy a competing product that allows it.  Another example, SD card slots for storage expansion.  I have argued in the past that Apple has been so forward thinking, they have created a day of limitless capacity - you don't have to go buy a stick to throw in the phone, and when that gets too small, buy another!  No, use the cloud - and reduce local storage only to the data you need while offline.  In keeping with that tradition, Apple has kept the focus in mobile devices squarely on the individual user - not on the device and its specs.  (Specs, schmecks.)  Their specs are only awesome in relevance to what it does for the user, not to the geekiness in the spec itself.  (For example, who cares if your phone processor does 8 million gigaflops of operations - if the OS is written poorly, it crashes or runs slowly no matter what processor you have.  iOS is fine-tuned from the bottom up, on a well-organized and well-designed platform.)
  • Security - iOS 7 has been deployed on about 90% of all iOS Devices.  In less than a year!  This is unheard of outside the Apple world.  Android is the other way around - about 9% of the latest OS is deployed, while 91% of Android devices are running OS's multiple years old - and without the latest security protections!  This is a hacker's dream world - so if you support hackers and identity theft, get an Android now.  People, get off Android ASAP, it is a bad deal.  Even Windows phones are more secure.
  • Some may argue these are catch-up, but Apple has been focused on getting it right, not getting it first.   By "right" I mean it functions reliably and is secure, so it puts security decisions in the hands of the users, and clamps down on apps doing things that are patently not secure.
    • Extensibility - arguably one of the areas where Android until now excelled - the ability of one app to do something with another's data, to make "plug-ins" for browsers, e-mail, keyboards, etc.  iOS 8, now extensible - and responsibly so.  Better do it right, than just get it out there and let malware go rampant.  Developers register extension apps as subscribing to certain types of extensions - is it a keyboard?  A picture plug-in?  A browser plug-in?  A storage provider?  And so on - so that it is available in the right portion of your phone, and globally across all apps that utilize those system services.  Users have control of what system resources the extension has access to, and the extension cannot call up some other app in the background - it can only launch an app to the front.  There is no back-end hacking and sending personal data over the Internet, unless the user allows it.
    • Quick contact access from the running app screen - double-tap to access recent calls and favorites (or favourites for our non-American English speakers).
    • Predictive keyboards - yet another example of wait, don't rush - and do it right!  Wow, this makes predictive text on other platforms obsolete.  How they work on other platforms:  You type 2 or 3 characters, and based on commonly used words or common misspellings, it gives a suggested list of words that you may intend.  What's wrong with that, it's an improvement, right?  Except that how Apple does it is more holistic.  What app are you in - Messages, or E-Mail?  Because how you type differs.  Also, to whom are you addressing the message - a friend or business associate?  The language differs.  Finally, what are the previous words?  Without even typing letters, analysis of previous words can give a follow-on word in many cases - simple analytics, that can produce a much more useful implementation of predictive text.


Introduced with OS X 10.10 Yosemite, the iDevices and Macs now support something called Handoff.  This uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), which older devices don't have.  So you need a newer Mac, and a newer iDevice.  Further expanding Apple as a visionary company, I declare that what Apple sells is not a myriad of devices - no, Apple sells the "connected digital life."  They are selling an experience, where a bunch of products (some from Apple, some from others like Chevrolet, Kwikset, Philips, iHome, Schlage, and more) work together seamlessly and securely.  So what does Continuity do, with Handoff?  It uses Handoff to transfer work you are in the middle of, seamlessly and in the background between your devices.  You start typing an e-mail on your phone, then lock it, and finish typing it on your Mac.  Start writing a document on your Mac, then have to get up and go to a meeting, so you pick it up and continue working on it on your iPad.  Seamlessly, in the background - you see an icon appear on the lower left of your screen, to allow you to "receive" the handoff from the other device.  As it should have always been, right?

Laying the Groundwork

Apple realizes that any computing platform is only as good as its software, and a single vendor simply can't make all the software that is needed in today's complex environment, so it needs third parties.  In that vein, Apple has done 3 major things that make it a premier development platform that draws developers:
  1. New API Kits
    • An Application Programming Interface is a tool kit that is made available to developers, so that they don't have to write their own code to do some pieces of what they want to do with an app.  For example, let's say you want to zip up a bunch of files - there is a simple API, so with one or two lines of code you can add Zip functionality to your app.
    • From HomeKit to  HealthKit, to Metal - Apple has done 2 things here.  First, they have brought unified kits to their API that allow developers to easily take advantage of functionality provided from within Apple systems.  Second, they have done so in a framework of security and reliability - so that it will work well, will not crash, and will maintain security to prevent hackers and criminals from illegally or improperly using the system.
  2. New Developer-related Functionality
    • From Handoff to Hypervisor, Apple has laid at the feet of developers the out-of-the-box functionality to quickly and easily add advanced technology to their software.  This is both on the iOS mobile platform, and on the Mac PC platform.
  3. New Programming Language
    • As with any technology, if you start completely fresh today with what you learned from the last 10 or 20 or more years working with older stuff, of course you will come out with the most incredible new things - informed by, but unencumbered by, the past.
    • After going through only about 50 iBooks pages of the Swift manual, it is my expert opinion as a programmer that Swift is absolutely the best, most expressive and most concise language on the market today.  Obviously it has taken many years to develop.  Use of advanced programming constructs, coupled with a powerful way of inferring programming intent with less typing, means that you can use the "looser" programming requirements of a *script type of language (VBScript, JavaScript) coupled with the most advanced ways of defining and building a solution.  This allows you to catch more problems in the language before they become a product, as well as make a more modular and extensible solution that you can leverage to develop new products faster than ever before.
It is my prediction that the next 18 to 24 months will see an explosion of application creativity in the Apple product ecosphere.  For those who don't have a Mac now, you'd better start saving up - because the new world will be so compelling, you just won't want to have a Windows box any more.  Linux or ChromeOS, maybe - but just for playing around.

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