BitDepth#890 - June 18

Apple finally gets ready to introduce a radical new upgrade to its professional line of computers.
Polishing the Apple
Apple’s new professional grade Macintosh has earned disparaging comparisons to garbage bins. Really small ones though, it measures just 10 x 6.6 inches. Photograph courtesy Apple.

The keynote address at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference found Apple in a curious place. The company is making insane amounts of money, but its share price has dropped over the last few months, and the deadliest word in the world for Apple has been muttered more often lately. That word, of course, is stale.

In the last three months, Blackberry, along with the development axes of Nokia/Microsoft and Samsung/Google Android have fielded strong contenders in the smartphone market that have begun to make Apple’s five-year-old iOS UI start to look, well, dated.

A refreshed operating system for its phones and tablets, iOS version 7 grabbed a lot of time on stage and that’s hardly surprising. WWDC sold out in 71 seconds this year and many of those developers are keen to get a slice of the considerable pie that Apple has been sharing out to the tune of US$10 billion since the App store opened to serve its phones and iPad devices.

Other announcements checked boxes that the company seemed to be ignoring while offering up some juice in the music market segment where it does well.
The arrival of iTunes Radio is more of a preemptive strike than a business initiative for Apple. It’s never been keen about getting into the streaming music business, but it can’t ignore the success of Spotify and Rdio, so the new service is really about keeping streaming music fans in the iTunes software ecosystem that underpins its lucrative hardware sales.

It’s US only, but the music licensing arrangements that have blocked access to both Spotify and Rdio locally suggest that we won’t be streaming any iTunes music anytime soon.
There’s a
new version of Mac OSX that isn’t named after a feline, Airport Express and a refresh of Final Cut Pro X coming, which should offer some hope to professional movie editors who have despaired waiting for Apple to get its act together with the software.

But the really big news at the developer conference was hardware.
Not a new iPhone or iPad, which get all the love, but new Macs.
A new Macbook Air wasn’t a surprise. The svelte laptop sparked the ultrabook movement and remains a prime choice for users looking for power in a lightweight computing device. An Air that’s faster and offers longer battery life is just logical, with sales growth of 100 per cent year over year.

The biggest surprise of the event was the new Mac Pro, the absolute zenith of the company’s computing hardware. Apple doesn’t sell many of these units relative to its tablets and phones, but the people who use these imposing towers are influential creatives who need the most powerful iron. They also haven’t been happy for years now.
The new Mac Pro isn’t an upgrade bone tossed to those power users. It’s a radical rethinking of what a professional tower might look like, as radical in its way as the NeXT Cube was in its day.

What it really looks like is the unholy love child of Darth Vader and R2D2 and it’s a continuation of Apple’s drive toward minimalism and a purer marriage of form and function in its devices.
The device known as a Mac Pro has shrunk from an imposing box with a menacing cheese grater front face into a polished black aluminium cylinder an eighth of its former size that runs up to 2.5x faster.

All the hardware is wrapped around a solid aluminium triangle that the company has dubbed a unified thermal core (what George Lucas could have done with a name like that in Star Wars, one wonders) that sucks heat from a 12 core processor and twin video cards up through the top of the computer.
Current Mac Pro users will quickly realise that Apple has flung everything else outside the um, cylinder. The company is betting on USB 3 (four ports) and Thunderbolt 2 (six ports), now capable of 20GBps transfers to connect all the stuff that was once stuffed into the Mac workstation box.

Expect an explosion in professional devices designed to mate with the new Mac Pro (one reason for Apple’s unprecedented curtain raising on a computer it isn’t ready to sell), ranging from external PCI card chassis to a greater range of fast external drives and big data connectors for photographers and videographers looking to make use of the faster Thunderbolt ports.

The radical redesign of the Mac Pro was only one of several messages that this WWDC keynote addressed. It wasn’t the first such presentation since the passing of Steve Jobs, but it’s the first to address speculation about the company’s direction since then.

So yes, Apple has taken note of the concerns about its ageing iOS platform, yes, it is offering cutting edge updates to its popular Macbooks, yes, it intends to meet the needs of its professional users, yes, it will update MacOS for its computer users and on top of that, yes we can return manufacturing to the USA, beginning with the new Mac Pro.
But really, it fell to Phil Schiller, the bear-like, gregarious presenter of many keynotes to sum up Apple’s attitude with the words, “Can’t innovate anymore my ass!”

WWDC keynote highlights.

Fifty billion apps on the iOS store have been downloaded in five years and Apple has paid developers $10 billion, $5 billion just in the last year.

Apple claims that the MacBook is the number one notebook in the US now, outpacing the PC in annual growth 15 percent to 3 percent over the last five years. Total growth over the last five years: 100 percent versus 18 percent for the PC.

Skeumorphism is gone in Mac OSX Mavericks. ““Even without the stitching, it still sticks to the homescreen,” Craig Federighi wryly noted while demonstrating the new Calendar app.

“True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter and ornamentation: It’s about bringing order to complexity,” Jony Ive on iOS7 which has attracted comparisons to current Android flavours.

Firewire is dead, long live Thunderbolt 2.
blog comments powered by Disqus