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Apple reminds us it's the software that really matters

Andy Vandervell


Apple reminds us it's the software that really matters

There wasn't a shiny new gadget in sight...

OPINION Tim Cook and Craig Federighi showed the best side of Apple last night, the side that creates great experiences and not just shiny new stuff, says Andy Vandervell.

I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an Apple press conference as much as that. While recent product launches had some highlights like Touch ID, iOS 7 and Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks lacked really exciting ideas to hang your hat on. This meant the focus remained on boring crap like 64 BILLION TRANSISTORS, DIAMOND CUT CHAMFERED EDGES and "HEY LOOK, PARALLAX! WOOOO!"

Apologies for the all caps, but it seems to me the only appropriate way to convey the apathy enduring fury generated. There are only so many shiny distractions I can tolerate before my mind starts to rot and my cynical death stare becomes permanently set to grumpy cat.

Apple hasn't been doing a poor job generally, but none of its recent output made me sit up and take notice. Mac OS X 10.10 and iOS 8 did.


Cook and Federighi ran one the slickest post-Jobs Apple presentations

Tim Cook's vision for Apple is made real

Why? Because yesterday's developer's conference dealt with the things that make our lives a little nicer. It was packed full of small, finely tuned treats and more than a few genuine surprises. Not the kind that signal a revolution, but the kind that make me think "yeah, that actually looks really neat". That sounds kind of trivial, but lots of small, clever things make up a convincing whole.

It also felt like the first Apple presentation since Steve Jobs that Tim Cook really owned. Last year's iPhone launch was stilted and awkward in many ways, but he and his team looked totally at ease. This was Cook's vision, his ideas for the future. This was Tim Cook's Apple.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the the 'continuity' theme Apple drove home throughout, a theme that really flows from the focus on collaboration Tim Cook so pointedly highlighted when he infamously axed former iOS boss Scott Forstall. iOS 7 left many wondering whether this was the right move, but I think yesterday proved it most certainly was.

So long as there's oxygen in the air I suppose people will continue to compare Cook to Jobs, but he's proved beyond any doubt now that he is his own man and he's shaping Apple in his own way. And it looks good.

iOS 8 features

Apple courted developers with numerous substantive improvements

Tighter integration, greater freedom

At first these things sound mutually exclusive, but Apple pulled the neat trick of bringing its two operating systems closer together, while also opening them up to greater third-party support. It's these two things that really made yesterday's keynote feel like a serious step forward.

Was it all totally new ideas? Obviously, not. There was plenty of liberal borrowing of ideas, themes and concepts from all over the place, with iCloud Drive in particular standing out is an admission (or merely a recognition) that a Dropbox style cloud service makes more sense than the version one ideal of iCloud. But, as typifies Apple when it's doing good work, it demonstrated how all these ideas (Handoff, phone calls on Mac, iCloud Drive etc.) worked together seamlessly.

It was the third-party support that really stood out, though. Again, it comes with the caveat that Apple is very much a slow follower here, but it made all the right moves to please developers, Apple users and (potentially) wavering Android users. Custom keyboard support is huge, opening iOS to a level of customization totally unheard of thus far. It's a selective bite, but an important one.

But the real transformative measure is the support for third-party extensions and interoperation. Up until now iOS apps have mostly been sandboxed from one another. This created all sorts of irritating limitations, such as the difficulty in working on the same file using different apps. This means you can open photos in another image editing app and save those changes to the Photo app, rather than it saving a separate photo; and it could allow the likes of Pocket to introduce 'Save to Pocket' in Mobile Safari instead of using bookmarklet workarounds.

These are just a couple of very small examples and Android die-hards will no doubt consider them small beer, but they're important steps and it looks as if Apple has executed them in a very slick way. And, of course, these are the kind of features that ensure app developers continue to be excited by the possibilities open to them on iOS -- a not insignificant point in the battle for mind share in the mobile world.

These steps, and the numerous others I haven't the time to mention here now (third-party Touch ID support being a large case in point) comprised a compelling, convincing and interesting whole. Apple still makes nice shiny gadgets, but the software is what makes them worth owning. Long may it continue.

Next, read What's new in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8 vs iOS 7


June 3, 2014, 1:44 pm

Apple reminds us it's the software that really matters...when you can not up keep pace with your competitors' hardware.


June 3, 2014, 2:30 pm

they are showing that the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Some mobile devices have better processors or cameras (better parts) but apple products, in my opinion, offer a more complete, enjoyable, and better executed user experience.

Prem Desai

June 3, 2014, 3:48 pm

If software really matters, why is iTunes still out there?

Why isn't iOS up there with the best - just playing catch-up for the last few years.


June 3, 2014, 4:30 pm

Tighter Integration? Still not even a pimple on Windows 8's buttocks.

Mike Walker

June 3, 2014, 4:48 pm

Windows what?! Lol

Actually Reasonable

June 3, 2014, 5:56 pm

Google craps out a new OS every fews month. Great for "innovation" bad for integration. iOS7 has an adoption rate of somewhere around 87%, whereas KitKat is less than 7%. So yes, theoretically they have been playing catch up, but manufacturers are STILL selling phones with gingerbread, so effectively when people buy android many of them are failing to see the benefit unless they buy a flagship device that the manufacturer promises to update. I'd take my Galaxy S3 with cyanogenmod any day. But the reality is, many android users are not getting the best experience.

Actually Reasonable

June 3, 2014, 5:59 pm

That's because many manufacturers idea is to just pack as many features and the fastest processor into a phone as possible and slap android on it, calling it good. There is something to be said for specific optimization that apple does. If you through KitKat on a phone with the specs of an Iphone, it would run like a second rate android phone.


June 3, 2014, 6:48 pm

Great piece, Andy! Just wish the Wall Street analists got it like you did. Software is certainly the "heart" of a gadget, even though it may not be shiny. :)


June 3, 2014, 7:23 pm

The author may have missed it but he based his piece on a developers' conference. Software won't matter if there's no hardware to support it. Sorry for the flawed article but for Apple, software-hardware intergration is what really matters.


June 3, 2014, 8:10 pm

WWDC is a developer's conference. As such, I felt it was appropriate Apple focused on software.

Tom Scharf

June 3, 2014, 11:57 pm

"Last year's iPhone launch was stilted and awkward in many ways"

Interesting that you never get the bad review of the last Apple Dog and Pony Show until the next one occurs. Wonder what he will say about this one next year.

OS-X has been the ugly step child at Apple for a decade. Things like shiny docks have been the world class features of late. This year - No shiny dock! I think I'm going to faint from the excitement. Is this really what billions of dollars buys?

Apple stopped innovating year ago, and everyone knows it. The faithful swoon at copied features because they are "seamlessly integrated" and other such feeble justifications for being well behind the curve.

What Apple really needs to worry about is the potential loss of brand coolness. The in crowd no longer sees Apple as a status symbol. My cleaning lady has an iPhone. When the subsides end at US carriers, it will be much harder to justify the Apple tax for the typical consumer.

Don't shoot the messenger.

Tim Sutton

June 4, 2014, 7:44 am

Oh come on Andy :-)

This might as well have been called "The "Apple Adds Features From Android and Windows Phone But In A Less Thought Through And More Restricted Manner Than They Have Them" Conference."

Nothing here is new. Genuinely nothing. The bare faced theft of ideas is breathtaking, coming as it does from Apple who love to sue people for doing things in a similar way to how Apple have done.

The whole thing screamed of fear from Apple that their competitors were now ahead, and instead of innovating and inventing new, integrated Apple ways of doing things they just stole as much as possible and shoved it all in on top of their existing systems.

If I was an investor I'd have thought "Uh-oh." too.


June 4, 2014, 10:07 am

Oh come on Tim! :)

Yup, there's plenty of ideas we've seen elsewhere already. I'm not disputing that. But, the fact is, it's all stuff people want, and more importantly Apple has chosen the right things and put them together in a way that makes sense and make its products better.

For me this really comes down to how you approach these things. I really don't give a damn who did something first. I think the great majority of the patent rows are a total farce. If the whole tech universe has to revolve around an argument about who came up with an idea first, we're headed down a vacuous and pointless hole.

What do I care about? I care about quality, I care about the experience, I'm interested in the vision that makes up the whole.

I think Microsoft is an interesting case in point. I find its vision interesting, I like many of its ideas. Some are original, though just as many aren't -- there really aren't that many totally original ideas. But the reason Apple and Google are (at present) superior it that they execute their visions so much more effectively, and they aren't beholden to dogma the way things ought to be.

Windows 8 is perfect case in point. The biggest problem with it is Microsoft tried to tell people, to force them, to use it how they wanted, rather than creating a system and an experience that worked *for* the user.

It this, I think, that Apple so effectively conveyed in these updates.


June 4, 2014, 10:09 am

I'll refer to the above comment to save time.

Fair point about 'after the fact' criticism, though. It's something that applies to all walks of life.


June 4, 2014, 10:10 am

People pay far too much attention to share price reactions. It's the long-term investors that are worth watching, not the ones you buy and sell and react in the short-term. It's a perfect legitimate investment strategy for those interested in such things, but it tells you very little about a company's performance.


June 4, 2014, 10:13 am

I confess I don't really understand the complaints about iTunes. Since iTunes 11 I think it's been fine, though I can't speak to the Windows experience of late.

The more important issue with iTunes is that it's anachronistic. Apple needs a proper streaming service, I'm not interested in what iTunes offers anymore. I guess the Beats acquisition will take care of that.


June 4, 2014, 10:13 am

And the evidence it can't 'keep up' is where exactly?


June 4, 2014, 10:24 am

The megahertz myth comes to mind reading this..


June 4, 2014, 8:26 pm

i think you have no idea how powerful Apple Cyclone's technology employed in the A7 chip is, do you? I recommend that you go to anandtech.com and look at their technical breakdown of the iPhone 5s - needless to say, it whips the butt off the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Google Nexus 5.

Prem Desai

June 5, 2014, 7:48 am

Rightly or wrongly, my experience in with iTunes under windows. I gave up on OS X ages ago but that's another story.

iTunes utilises it's own database which help makes searching more flexible and faster - a useful technique and commonly used by developers.

However, what you see within iTunes (database) and what is really stored in the meta tags of your songs are constantly out of sync.

This basic database integrity has constantly eluded apple's developers. We're now at v11 and meta tags are still wrong.

Additionally, when you plug in a device such as an iPod, iTunes effectively freezes or slows right down. This experience carries on even when you try and download more than 1 item or are choosing what albums to sync. I have tried several devices on several pcs.

Also, about once a year, iTunes refuses to launch. The only option available is to uninstall, delete any databases, re-install and use a backup database. I've even tried an empty database and populated it song by song (many hours spent) but the same occurs after a few months.

Based on my experiences, and I'm not alone, I find it hard to take iTunes seriously.

When iTunes was first launched, it was like nothing we had seen before and was revolutionary. Over the years, features have been added (not all relevant to music) and the software has become bloated.

Apple did make an effort around v8 or v9 to trim this, but not enough.

Apple have made the rookie mistake of growing the feature set in iTunes rather than take a step back and see how to go forward. A more sensible approach would have been to develop an 'Apple Hub or Centre' and attached modules such as iTunes, email, store, backup, etc. I just thought of this in seconds - I'm sure there are other ways.

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