What Went Down at WWDC

Mac OS X LeopardApple’s 2006 World Wide Developers Conference, taking place in San Francisco as I write, seems to have disappointed a lot of people with its relatively paltry array of cool new announcements during Steve Jobs’s keynote speech. Many Mac fans, it seemed, had expected to see one or all of the following: an Apple-branded mobile phone, an iPod with a larger, wider display for viewing movies, and a new version of Front Row incorporating TiVO-like features, finally transforming it into what it so obviously wants to be: a fully-fledged home media center solution. None of it happened.

Look What the Cat’s Gonna Drag In

For myself, I’m not particularly unhappy, because what we got instead wasn’t half bad: extremely fast new professional desktops, and a first peek at some very impressive new features in Apple’s upcoming revision to Mac OS X, Leopard. In particular, I’m really looking forward to Leopard’s Time Machine backup software, or at least I’m looking forward to seeing if it will complement my current, SuperDuper!-powered backup solution.

I’m also optimistic about Leopard’s Spaces, which in spite of the name, has nothing to do with social networking at all but is rather Apple’s slick implementation of the geek-popular virtual desktop concept. Though it’s bad news for the worthy virtual desktop contenders currently on the market — like Virtue and Desktop Manager — I’ve always preferred these kinds of major user interface enhancements being built right into the operating system (like Exposé or Dashboard). That is, provided Apple᾿s bakes in these features in a sufficiently developer-friendly way, allowing third party software publishers to integrate their applications smoothly with Spaces and even borrow functionality as appropriate. We’ll see.

On Their Calendar

But really, what I’m most excited about wasn’t announced during Steve Jobs᾿s keynote at all: Apple has decided to join the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium, an organization devoted to “ interoperable exchange of calendaring and scheduling information between dissimilar programs, platforms, and technologies.” At the same time, Apple has already or will soon release an open source version of its iCal server technology, a WebDAV-based application that synchronizes calendar data kept in its iCal program. Read the Consortium’s press release.

This is boring stuff for most people, surely. But as I’ve said in the past, the pathetic current state of data synchronization is a constant thorn in my side. Apple’s newfound civic interest in this area shows that at least some people working in Cupertino are serious about improving this situation, and to me, that’s a cause for excitement. Also, without getting ahead of myself, I’m also going to hope out loud that this new effort will ultimately lead to improved synchronization of iCal data in Apple’s otherwise unimpressive .Mac service, which ostensibly keeps your personal data in sync across multiple Macintoshes. Once again, it’s giving me problems and refusing to sync easily. Excuse me while I go pull my hair out.

Desktop, Not Webtop

Speaking of .Mac, there’s something funny going on with the planned improvements to Apple’s Mail and iCal applications: they’re becoming more and more like Outlook. With Leopard, these programs will add notes, to do reminders and apparently more readily available synchronization of group calendars. Can a direct grab of some share of Microsoft’s horrifically popular Exchange server market be far behind?

What’s more intriguing to me is the idea that, in a time when personal information management features like these are steadily trending towards Web-based forms, Apple remains committed to the desktop. They could almost as easily have built these features into .Mac’s offerings instead, but they’ve integrated them into software that runs only on your local computer — in fact, they’re bundling the improvements to Mail and iCal directly into an operating system upgrade that will largely be popularized by hardware sales.

To be honest, I’m an old fogey in that I much prefer the speed and reliability of desktop applications over Web applications, so Apple’s resistance of this trend pleases me. But I think Apple is missing an opportunity here; just as they’re making the most of the fact that the operating system is so closely tied to their hardware, they could similarly make the most of that hardware/software combination tying in closely with a Web offering. More than a few people, I’m sure, would be ecstatic to see Mail and iCal working seamlessly off the desktop with Web-based counterparts that can be accessed from any browser. Call it .Mac 2.0 or whatever you like, but this is still untapped territory for Apple; there’s a killer set of hardware/software/Web features that only Apple can make happen, and it seems just out of reach. I suppose though, that it’ll all have to wait until after that Apple phone, the Apple TiVo and the large-screen video iPod are finally released.

  1. I agree with everything you said 100%. But, I will say that even though I too prefer the desktop apps, I would love to see a great new version of .Mac to tie into them. I except Leopard to make .Mac improvements — I hope they’re significant.

  2. I sincerely believe that the slowness and instability of web-based interfaces will be a solved problem in 12-24 months, at least on the leading edge. Not sure how long that will take to trickle down to the general populace. If MS continues to push IE updates through windows update, it could be sooner rather than later.

  3. That’s great news, Karl! I didn’t realize Microsoft was on the case! Things should be just dandy before we know it.

    All kidding aside, I think that slowness and instability for Web-based interfaces might be considered solved now — for the leading edge. The real problem is delivering that to the masses… 12 to 24 months seems ambitious. Not impossible, but ambitious.

    Jeff: I’m actually in agreement with everything you said 100%. I desperately want to see a new .Mac service too, one that’s actually worth its exorbitant annual fee.

  4. I hope you can turn off all the fancy HTML nonsense in Mail. I can’t stand it.


    I thought templates, and notes and todos seemed uncharacteristically ugly. The note paper and markerpen look was just aweful and so was the highlighter todo.

    Why add all this useless cruft? Surely no one uses these templates and rubbish anymore. They’ve been in outlook for as long as I can remember. Not that I’ve used outlook for many years.

  5. Maybe you and I don’t find the templates useful, but I know for sure that my mother and grandmother would love something that looks good and has drag and drop ease. Much nicer than an attachment bar full of IMG_0021, IMG_0022, etc.

    If features like that are the kind of thing that attract the casual user to switch to a mac, then so be it.

  6. Though some were disappointed with the keynote, I think they’re forgetting that WWDC actually commenced (at least in my mind) back on 5 April with the release of Boot Camp. If Steve had dropped ‘…one more thing’ at the end of Monday’s presentation and then proceeded to detail and demo a dual (or multiple) OS machine, everyone would have been close to hysterical, the share price would have skyrocketed and time as we know it would have stood still.

  7. Steve that’s a great point, and maybe that’s part of the reason I didn’t feel too shortchanged by the keynote myself — although I certainly would have been excited for more. I guess we’re all getting a little spoiled by the continuous stream of cool things coming out of Cupertino.

  8. I’m also quite excited about the calendar server. In that particular case, the Desktop vs. Webapp discussion really misses the point, because if it’s standards based, there will be compatible web clients available in no time at all.

    My biggest beef with poular web-based calendar apps is that I really do not want to store my data outside the company. Call me paranoid if you like.

  9. I’d like to see an iPod with AM/FM radio and record in/out with levels. Now, that would be something.

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