Apple introduced a number of new software and hardware products at this week's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, including its new mobile operating system, iOS 7, the next version of its Mac OS, Mavericks, new MacBook Air laptops, and the first update to its Mac Pro workstation line in quite some time.
Noticeably absent was any news about the big guns in Cupertino's stable, the iPhone and iPad. These days, the perception of Apple in the marketplace and in the tech community rises and falls with those two products more than any others. Since we didn't hear much about them – obviously, iOS 7 itself is relevant to current-generation iPhones and iPads but we still don't know what the next iPhone and iPad will look like – it probably wasn't possible for Apple to hit a no-doubt-about-it home run at WWDC.
Here's what folks are saying about Apple's performance at its annual developer conference, which new products are generating excitement, and how likely the new offerings are to help or hurt the company in the marketplace.
Apple's share price dipped following Monday's conference opening keynote. It's never a great idea to read too much into such things, but Tiernan Ray of Barron's figured some of the sell-off must surely have been due to a lack of iPhone and iPad news and the long wait that's in store for iOS 7.
"The software will not be made available until this fall, which, like the lack of a new iPhone unveiling, may have disappointed some individuals who see that time frame as indicating an extended way, possibly, for the new iPhones to arrive, after speculation they might become available this summer," Ray said.
That schedule is nothing new, though. Apple unveiled iOS 5 at WWDC 2011 and released it that fall with the iPhone 4S, and did the same with iOS 6 and the iPhone 5 last year.
TalkSession co-founder and CEO Melissa Thompson, meanwhile, bemoaned a WWDC that offered up "incremental changes, which deliver little true value." Still, despite what she described as a worrisome "chasm" growing between Apple and Google in terms of the risks the two companies are willing to take, Thompson reckoned that Apple's market share "is still safe ... for now."
"The company strategically implemented features, primarily on the back of pure marketing tactics with an added sprinkle of actual innovation for fanfare. As for the conference's 'wow' factor, much of the applause, rested on the back of acquisitions or follow-on trends," she said.
Dan Rowinski of ReadWrite was disappointed that Apple didn't serve up the "one more thing" product announcement encore that was a hallmark of the late Steve Jobs' appearances.
"No other company in the world engenders more speculation than Apple. Yesterday, Apple did nothing to help that speculation by sticking basically to the script in the WWDC keynote. We knew that Mac OS X and iOS would be getting updates. We had a good idea that Apple would give us a few new computers. Apple didn't give us 'one more thing.' There were no surprises," Rowinski said.
Going deeper into the specific news coming out of WWDC, Michael Miller of the Forward Thinking blog called OS X Mavericks "a nice but modest point release" and said iOS 7 represented a much more important platform overhaul.
"I certainly appreciate a focus on improving battery life on mobile devices, but most of the new features are minor tweaks in navigation and responsiveness. They are warmly welcome but hardly revolutionary. In fact, you can argue that the biggest change is the name," Miller said.
Mobile expert Sascha Segan was full of somewhat grudging admiration for iOS 7, which he thinks borrows liberally from the look and feel of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. The big difference, he said, is that thanks to its mature developer ecosystem and commanding market share, Cupertino is in a much better position to push out a lot more copies of its new mobile platform than Redmond has thus far.
Segan also praised the man in charge at Apple.
"This is why Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple. He's the master of execution. Maybe a Steve Jobs, who knows what consumers want before they do, only comes along a few times a generation; maybe Apple doesn't have one of those now. Maybe that makes Apple a ‘normal company.’ It's an incumbent, not a disruptor," he said.
"But you can't deny that Apple has smart designers, skilful programmers, and a passionate fan base. An incumbent can stay on top by innovating, co-opting and executing. If Apple executes the smartphone success playbook the best, it doesn't matter that it learned some of the plays from its rivals. It'll still win the game."
At All Things D, Ina Fried cautioned against thinking of iOS 7 as just a surface-level upgrade.
"iOS 7 is a lot more than just a makeover. While Apple went into detail on roughly a dozen new features of iOS 7, there is a long list of changes big and small that will [also] be part of the new phone operating system when it ships this fall," she wrote. Among those were "better mail search and improved download of TV shows" for consumers, while business users will be able to take advantage of iOS 7’s "better support for virtual private networks, and security and manageability enhancements."
Meanwhile, Nick Bilton summarised Apple's new mobile OS succinctly on Twitter, quipping: "If you have O.C.D, you're gonna love iOS7." And actor Wil Wheaton couldn't help snarking: "Watched a little #WWDC on a break. Excited for iOS users to have some of the things we've had on Android for years."
On the hardware side, Bertila Helena of TechShout noted that folks were already calling the visually arresting Mac Pro update "a trashcan, a coffee mug, a pencil holder and many other things less tasteful." She also noted that the new Mac Pro's innovative heat dispersal system and internal hardware arrangement were likely to be aped by other manufacturers before long.
"This is obviously the future king of all multimedia work, especially video editing, which needs all the help it can get. I would also assume that sort of power would make any Adobe application pop. No waiting!" Dvorak said.
And what about the new MacBook Airs? The new laptops are one of the few WWDC-announced products you can actually get your hands on today – iFixit was already promising a full teardown report late yesterday – but they also appear to have the least amount of ink spilled on them.
After all, what's there to say about a pretty standard upgrade that didn't do much to change up Apple's always popular ultrathin and light laptop line? Joel Santo Domingo laid out the basic specs for the new MacBook Air 11in and 13in, noting that "both systems' exteriors are unchanged from the last couple of iterations."
The main thing to know about the new MacBook Airs is that they're powered by Intel's new Haswell processors, which deliver more efficient performance than the previous generation and hence a better battery life.
Ultimately, Dan Ackerman of CNET found Apple's laptop strategy confusing, noting that Haswell is only appearing in the new MacBook Airs for now.
"It's hard to imagine, but Apple's MacBook line-up has been turned on its head. As of right now, the highest-priced MacBooks are a technological generation behind the least expensive MacBooks, making for shopping confusion if you're about to invest in a new system from Apple," he said.
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