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WWDC round-up.

Yes, yes, yes. We can all see that I’m very late with this one. Apple’s annual WorldWide Developers Conference (WWDC) ran 8-12th June and here am i two weeks later only just writing about it. So in web-terms this is ancient news. We all know1 what Apple announced in their Keynote a fortnight ago so i won’t repeat the details but i just wanted to share my thoughts on some of the announcements…

Snow Leopard

The next major upgrade to MacOSX – 10.6 or Snow Leopard – will only cost a paltry $29 (though i guess in the UK we’ll be looking at £29, rather than a true USD-GBP currency conversion). Presumably this cheap update is partly because the upgrade will mainly be bringing just “under the hood” improvements and partly because Apple want to get everybody using the same system software. Why would they want the latter? Well, it might net a few hardware sales (10.6 will only run on Intel Macs) but if Grand Central (etc) works well then every owner will be very excitedly telling the world how much quicker their Mac just got. How much faster than Windows it is.

The other interesting titbit about Snow Leopard is that it will introduce a new version of Quicktime – namely Quicktime X – and that this version drops the pay-for QuickTime Pro option. I haven’t seen this made explicitly clear by Apple themselves but it does look like the Pro options will just become part of QuickTime. Which is nice.

Safari 4

Version 4 of Apple’s web browser lost it’s beta label at the WWDC and the most noticeable change was that the tabs are back underneath address bar. Phew. Sadly the progress indicator still doesn’t indicate progress. Boo.

iPhoneOS 3.0 / iPhone 3GS

The WWDC Keynote also saw the release of iPhoneOS 3.0 and a new bit of kit for it to run on – the iPhone 3GS. But you knew this of course. I don’t think there’s a web-connected human being on the planet that didn’t. Anyway, the 3GS is pretty much a refinement of the 3G (itself a refinement of the original iPhone) so there’s no radically changes outwardly but the internals have had a decent upgrade, with Apple claiming – and most early reviews agreeing – that the device is now twice as fast.

It is clearly the best iPhone to date but there are a couple of niggling disappointments for me. Firstly, the 3GS doesn’t include a flash for the new 3megapixel camera. Yes, it supposedly deals with low-light situations better than the previous model but we don’t all live in Californian sunshine, Apple. C’mon, stick a little flash on the thing. My other complaint is that the new Spotlight search function in OS3.0 does NOT search inside SMS messages. What?! The one thing i’ve wanted for years now on a mobile phone is the ability to search through the thousands of texts i keep. Now Apple provide a potential solution but balls it up. I really hope they “fix” this with an update soon.

So will i finally myself an iPhone? I’m not sure. It’s definitely the most tempting iPhone model yet but i’m a tight Yorkshireman and paying £800-900 for a phone (even though it’s in installments) would be painful. I might wait and see how much Apple charges for new iPod Touch (which i’m sure will be announced within next 3 months or so) and what features from the iPhone 3GS it gets. If history is anything to go by, we might see a 64GB Touch which might make the 32gb (the capacity i’d get if i was to buy an iPhone 3GS) model a bit cheaper.

MacBook Pro

The most surprising news at the WWDC Keynote was that the MacBook Pros got updated. Apple’s high-end laptops now all sport the non-user-serviceable battery that promises to last 7 hours (the one the 17-inch MBP introduced), have new higher gamut screens, upped CPU speeds, larger hard drives and 4GB DDR3 RAM as standard (and will now expand to 8GB across the board).

In addition, the 15-inch model loses its ExpressCard opening but gains a slot for SD cards. Adding an SD slot still strikes me as very “un-Apple” and i’m curious as to why they’ve added it. Strange. Anyway, there’s also a new low-end 15incher that doesn’t have the dual graphics cards – instead it just sports the onboard graphics that the 13″ aluminium MacBook does.

Of course, that 13″ aluminium MacBook is no more. As-of the WWDC Keynote, it became known as the 13″ MacBook Pro. And to ensure it is worthy of the new Pro moniker it gets a firewire port, the SD card slot and backlit keyboard as standard along with the other MBP updates (screen, battery, cpu, etc). The Pro moniker strikes me as a little odd given that it’s graphics aren’t as good as the 15- and 17-inch. But then maybe that’s why they’ve intro’d the low-end 15 incher?

This also means that now the only MacBook is the white polycarbonate number, which got an unannounced speed bump shortly before the WWDC. So we’ve sort of taken a back-step. Sort of. And all this unusualness has led some to speculate that this means the “MacBook” will become the oft-rumoured Mac Tablet-esque device. I really doubt that however. The re-naming of the 13″ aluminium notebook is, i guess, i recent reactive decision forced by the state of the economy rather than a something that was always on the books. Otherwise surely it would’ve just been a 13-inch MBP from the start, no? Something “big” like the introduction of a tablet device will have been in planning for a long-time – there would have been no need for this re-shuffling of monikers to fit a tablet neatly into the line-up. If the tablet is coming, it is coming separately – either suffixed like the MacBook Air (MacBook Touch, perhaps?), or a new category altogether (iPad? iTouch?).

Steve Jobs

No, a new version of Steve Jobs wasn’t announced at the Keynote but there were many rumours before WWDC that Mr Jobs may turn up and do the Keynote, or at least a part of it. Unsurprisingly that didn’t happen. Given that we were fairly certain the event was going to be about iPhones and Snow Leopard (yes, the Mac updates came as i surprise to yours truly) and neither of those are revolutionary (of course they’ll be labelled as such in marketese but i’m talking in a more proper sense of the word), so i was quite sure Steve wouldn’t turn up. He could leave the “boring” stuff to the underlings. No, he’d save his return for something big. Something with more spectacle. And like the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone before it, something he’d conceived and wanted to proudly reveal to the world himself… Something with a 10-inch touchscreen perhaps?

  1. If you happen to have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, there are some other round-ups of the WWDC from The Registerarstechnica and daringfireball