Apple's big week: the good, the bad, the ugly
WWDC Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference saw its fair share of big-ticket news items during the last five days.
However, there were plenty of other details you might have missed, capabilities you may not have pondered, and gripes and disappointments you have yet to stew.
Here then, in descending order of interest and value, are The Reg's picks for WWDC 2009: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
5. You-goo-proof iPhone display This nicety wasn't mentioned during the keynote, but it did show up on the iPhone 3G S Tech Specs page on Apple's website: the new iPhone will have a "Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating."
Those of you with even the most meager knowledge of Latin roots understand what that means: oil from your fingers won't muck up your iPhone's display as it now does, and cleaning the display will be a simple swipe'n'wipe action without the need for water or Windex. Yeah, it's a little thing - but for those of us with oily paws, a godsend.
4. Back-to-the-future drive connection Apple has never had the best FireWire implementation, as has been proven to anyone who's ever had to reset their Mac's FireWire PHYs by unplugging everything, shutting down, and waiting ten minutes.
Still, though, FireWire 800 beats the snot out of USB 2.0 - and will until USB 3.0 becomes the next standard. Welcome back, finicky-but-fast, power-hearty FireWire. When you left the low end of the Mac laptop line, we thought we wouldn't miss you. But we did. And thanks for bringing your li'l SD friend with you.
3. Business-conscious iPhone support The iPhone 3G S will include hardware encryption of data, a big plus for IT folks terrified that some executive bozo will lose his or her phone when it's packed with tons of sensitive data, emails, and the like. Coupled with the wipe-it-clean capabilities of the new Find My Phone capabilities, IT folks will sleep better at night.
Also, sessions and labs at WWDC included such business-friendly topics as iPhone Security Best Practices and Integrating iPhone into the Enterprise, both regarding the iPhone not as a fanboy's toy, but as a legitimate, profit-enhancing business tool.
2. Serious iPhone-graphics powers There's been a bit of a buzz about the iPhone 3G S's upgraded 600MHz ARM processor. Of more interest to lovers of a good graphics experience is its assumed PowerVR SGX graphics processor from Imagination Technologies, a company in which Apple has a decent-sized financial stake.
The PowerVR SGX supports the Open GL|ES 2.0 mobile graphics standard, which brings fully programmable 3D-graphics support to iPhone Software 3.0. Let's review: a faster CPU, a noticeably more powerful graphics processor, and support for advanced 3D APIs. We've come a long way since iWhack, eh?
1. Future-proofed APIs Of all that was announced at this week's festivities, the most far-reaching in importance may be two Snow Leopard technologies, Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) and OpenCL. Both are designed to help developers take advantage of the rapidly proliferating cores and threads in today's microprocessors, with GCD focused on general computing tasks and OpenCL aimed at compute-intensive parallizeable tasks such as graphics and media processing.
Apple has full control over GCD, so our assumption is that their engineers can tune GCD to work seamlessly and easily with the company's Xcode development environment and associated GCC compiler. Athough OpenCL was born at Apple, its open-sourciness is now managend by the Khronos Group. Word on the street is that it's harder to implement than GCD - but we'll wait to see what comes down the pike from these two leaps forward.
We would have asked developers what they learned about GCD and OpenCL at WDCC, but Apple made all attendees promise to keep their lips zipped about what went on during conference sessions. Which leads us to...
5. Secrecy at WWDC Aside from the keynote presentation on Monday morning, each and every session at WWDC was a secret affair, with attendees warned that what goes on in San Francisco's Moscone Center West convention hall stays in San Francisco's Moscone Center West convention hall.
Why? You'll have to ask Apple. We asked some of our developer friends, but they couldn't figure it out. Last year, well, yes, OK - Snow Leopard had just been announced and trade secrets needed to be protected. But this year? Nope. For reasons somewhat unfathomable, Apple doesn't want you, dear Reg reader, to know what it's telling its developers.
4. Snow Leopard is Intel-only It's inevitable that an operating system will drop support for older machines at some point - try running Apple's System 6.0.2 on a Mac Pro. But limiting Snow Leopard to Intel machines means that the oldest Macs able to run it are the original MacBook Pro and Intel iMac announced in January 2006. The last PowerPC G5-based Power Mac sold in August 2006 - less than three years ago.
There may be quite reasonable technical explanations as to why Snow Leopard requires an Intel processor. Perhaps OpenCL requires Intel's SSE SIMD scheme and can't hack the PowerPC's AltiVec. Perhaps GCD understands Intel's threading but not Freescale's. Perhaps the reasons were discussed behind closed doors at WWDC. But one thing's certain: it's a marketing bonanza for Redmond.
3. No flash in the iPhone 3G S If you want to take decent photos, you use a decent camera - and that's not the one tucked into your cell phone. However, sometimes a moment arises that you want - or need - to capture, and a cell phone is all you have.
If you spring for a new iPhone 3G S, that important moment had better take pace in daylight, or you're S.O.L. Despite the iPhone 3G S's touted improvements in low-light shooting, chalk one up for the Palm Pre.
2. No Flash in the iPhone 3G S Despite reports earlier this year that Apple and Adobe were busily collaborating on moving Flash to the iPhone, Adobe's ubiquitous web-graphics standard still hasn't appeared. Surely the upgraded processor and graphics specs of the iPhone 3G S can handle Flash's processing demands, so what's the holdup?
Is it Steve Jobs' public disdain for Flash? Is it because the EULA for the iPhone SDK states: "No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple's Published APIs and built-in interpreter(s)." The EULA would leave out Flash (and another no-show, Java), but rules are mode to be broken, right?
1. No excitement This is, admittedly, both the biggest downer of WWDC week and the most childish one to report: we fanboys are spoiled. Sure, the new iPhone's nice and all that, but it's not a sock-knocker-offer. Snow Leopard is still rumbling along towards completion this fall. The new MacBooks have decent prices and features, but only fanatical granolaholics are dancing in the streets about EPEAT Gold ratings.
Steady progress, maturing product lines, brawny enabling technologies - but nothing that even approached a bracing blast of shock and awe. And, no, it wasn't because Steve Jobs' reality distortion field was hanging out with him down in his Silicon Valley abode, and not suffusing the corner of Fourth and Howard in San Francisco. It was a week of evolution, not revolution; of incrementalism, not boldness.
To paraphrase author and broadcaster Garrison Keillor: it was a quiet week in San Francisco, my home town.
But although it was a solid-if-somnambulistic week for Apple, one of Cupertino's prime partners managed to step into a steaming heap of odiferous ordure.
1. AT&T embarrasses itself What was a quietly successful week for Apple was a PR pie-in-the-face for AT&T.
First, the telecom giant that everyone loves to hate was laughed at twice during the keynote presentation. The first was when iPhone software honcho Scott Forstall said that although MMS will be in iPhone Software 3.0, AT&T won't support it until "later this summer." The second time came when he conspicuously omitted any mention of AT&T support during his discussion of internet tethering in 3.0 - and then smirked to the crowd when they chortled.
Then there's the fact that the iPhone 3G S will be ready for 7.2 megabit per second mobile broadband right out of the gate, but that AT&T doesn't plan to complete its support for that upgraded standard until 2011. And that's a plan, not a certainty.
Now there's the still-simmering fiasco over AT&T's muddled explanations about exactly how much it will charge existing iPhone 3G owners to move up to an iPhone 3G S during their existing contract.
The latter is especially galling in that it would seem straightforward for AT&T to explain to the world what its exact pricing plans are, and let folks make their decisions. But, no, pricing for an upgrade is on a case-by case basis, no MMS rates have been announced, and tethering isn't even official, let alone priced.
People - most people - understand that since they're on a contract, AT&T shouldn't take it in the shorts by letting them completely off the hook. But there's something also to be said for supporting loyal customers, rewarding early adopters, and building your base through intelligent compromise.
Image counts, and AT&T's image is starting to make Apple look bad. Big Phone is the boyfriend gone to seed, the one you don't want to be seen with at a party, the one who doesn't care about what others think, the one who abuses old friends.
It might be time for a break-up, Apple. You might invite Verizon over again, as you did before you met AT&T. Now that your desirability is well proven, Verizon might see you as a better catch.
After all, Apple, both Verizon and AT&T will be moving to LTE in the 4G future. We suggest that you think of walking into that high-speed world hand in hand with a service provider for which your customers harbor far less distaste. ®