The place: The Soho Hotel. Venue: um… Soho. Mission: to get the skinny on Tiger, the latest incarnation of Apple’s OS X.
Things started badly. Not only had I bumped (quite literally) into Robert Downey Jr. walking into the hotel (he said “Ow”), but I got into the conference hall to discover there would be no hands on testing of Tiger. Just the one Mac was set up and that was for our host Brian Croll, Apple’s Senior Director of Software Product Marketing (below). Damn and blast.
That said, things improved rapidly once the presentation began. Croll introduced us to what he described as “the most powerful and secure OS ever built” (which is not that hard, considering the opposition) and ran us through a slide show of its main new features: Spotlight, Dashboard, the upgraded Safari browser and iChat AV (all announced here). Where the presentation took off, however, was in the practical demonstration.
Addressing Spotlight first, what immediately strikes you is its speed. When pressed, Croll admitted he was using a top end Mac, but he promised the performance comes from clever programming, not the brute force of hardware (for now we will have to trust him on this). In fact, it is so fast that the search is literally refined as you type. Think of how iTunes works when you start typing into its search bar and that gives you a good insight into Spotlight. Results are immediately categorised by format: be it email, image, video, audio, document, etc and these can then be toggled via date, author, last usage – just about anything you can think of. Even starting a programme works through Spotlight. Type “Powerp” and the option to start PowerPoint pops up immediately. A search for “London” brought up a tube map (below) where each instance of the word London could be cycled through on the pdf.
Having become a loyal convert of Google Desktop Search (my favourite of the current batch of desktop search offerings), I have to admit spotlight blows it out of the water and what really strikes you is the benefit of having the search built into the heart of the OS from the beginning rather than being an installed app. We can only hope we see something as good from Longhorn, but I've heard nothing so far...
Next up was Dashboard and this also made one hell of an impact. Essentially, what we have here is a toggle button that dims the whole screen and overlays convenient (and customisable) tools (widgets) which provide information such a stock quotes, weather forecasts, airline flight tracking, measure and currency conversations and handy tools like the calendar, time and calculator.
To take full advantage of these features you’ll need a broadband connection because the information is constantly updated. Multiple instances of each widget can also be run so, for example, you can see the time or weather in two countries simultaneously or track more than one flight. The controls are clear and the animation nothing short of stunning (the whole screen ripples when you place a new widget onto the Dashboard) and no matter how much you cover the screen with widgets, click the dashboard icon again and you are instantly returned to the desktop. Click again and the dashboard pops up with everything exactly how you left it.
As a quick reference tool it strikes me as invaluable, my only reservation being just how many of these widgets will be enabled for the UK when Tiger ships on Friday. Still, since Widgets are just simple HTML and Java code, Croll said he expects third party development to go through the roof. “If you can make a web page, you can make a widget”” he declared to me enthusiastically.