Apple. The name has become synonymous with good design. But it’s also had a few missteps in recent years. Skeuomorphism is taking the place of clean interfaces. At today’s WWDC, Apple shared details of new MacBook Pros, the next OSX Mountain Lion, and iOS 6, all of which will be available by July. Here’s what we loved and what we hated.
Apple Finally Drops Google Maps
Apple has finally ditched the sclerotic Google maps app that comes on every iPhone, in favor of its own mapping system which will be able to give you turn-by-turn directions. It was about time—Google’s application hasn’t improved one jot from a usability standpoint, ever since it was introduced.
What’s particularly exciting is that Apple’s maps will crowd-source the traffic data it detects from all the people using the app—and then use that information to calculate less-trafficked routes. While this idea has been around for quite sometime, it’s one that requires massive scale in order to work well. Apple has nothing if not massive scale. (That weird sound you just heard was Garmin, TomTom, and every other GPS maker screaming into a pillow.)
The maps, apparently, are powered by Flyover. This was probably the smallest surprise of Apple’s announcements today (given that the tech has been shown off in other incarnations before). That said, as part of Apple’s new 100% vector maps system, this powerful 3-D rendering feels like—is there a better word for it?—the future.
The new MacBook Pro will have the highest resolution display in the world. What goes unsaid, in that statement, is that a GPU is cranking hard and hot to drive all of those pixels all the time. Any manufacturer would add fans to keep things cool. But Apple? They’re using two asymmetrical fans to cool the system, with slightly different blades. They cut through the air at different frequencies, sounding quieter to the user. (Usually, fan blades are all symmetrical, meaning each one builds upon the noise created by the others.) Genius.
Airplay Mirroring, Without Cables
The problem of sharing your screen is an age-old one, especially when it comes to giving meetings. Apple is enabling Apple TV to stream desktops over Airplay. Because as nice as Apple TV’s YouTube integration may be, sometimes you just want to pull up exactly what you’ve got on the screen. Furthermore, it’s always nerve-wracking sharing your computer screen. It’s not just a machine for business; your computer is the center of your personal life, too. So OS X Mountain Lion will automatically disable message notifications—things like tweets and emails—when plugged into a projector.
Siri in Cars: Eyes Free
Siri hasn’t changed the world just yet, but Apple isn’t slowing down with voice (nor should they). But the best Siri announcement of the day was that it’s coming to cars, called Eyes Free. With a button press and voice commands, users can "Keep [their] hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road." We don’t know much about the feature yet, except that 12 major auto manufacturers have already signed up to support Eyes Free in the next year.
Keeping a wallet full of rewards cards is a pain in an era when we barely need wallets. But I do like my free lattes. Passbook is an iOS 6 app that rolls all your paper/plastic cards—from Starbucks rewards to United tickets—into one app that holds them all. The catch is that, from what we can tell, credit cards aren’t included. And it’s all scanner-based. What happened to the NFC revolution driven by Apple? This is an odd stopgap.
The Skeuomorphism Beats On
The felt Game Center app. iCloud Reminders with fake legal pads and, is that Comic Sans? And a paperclip attachment that’s making its way into all sorts of apps like the more deeply integrated Twitter. Do kids these days even know what a paperclip is? Do kids these days even know what paper is?
The Notification Center
The idea is great in theory: One portal to filter all of my notifications from email, Twitter, iMessage, and Facebook. But in practice, this is the sort of "simple" solution that’s terrifies me. Just look at the above image, showing the scope of Notification Center. We have video from one person. An email from another. Even though Notification Center simplifies all of these windows into list form, it’s no conceptually easier to manage. Apple is making an assumption, that all notifications from all services are equal, at any time of the day. But the fact is, Facebook is of #1 importance to me on the weekend, while email and Twitter drive my workweek. Attenuating this noise for me would be a service. Funneling it into one big jar is not.
The Lack Of A Unifying Theme
Between OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, we’ve seen dozen of new features at WWDC today. Many are great ideas that will scratch "Why can’t I do that?" itches for users. But the more features that were piled on, the less focus there seemed to be.
More clearly, each feature that Apple showed looked differently and worked differently. Some features were toggles. Others were invisible. Some information syncs in iCloud. Other pieces are local. Some components are driven by Siri. Others seem to not know she even exists.
We’re beginning to see fragmentation in Apple’s own feature set. If voice is the future of Apple and Siri is the future of voice, then OS X Mountain Lion shouldn’t just feature new voice-to-text capabilities, it should feature Siri.
If Twitter can be integrated into any action I take in any desktop app (thanks to a new API), why can’t the same be said for any service supported by Apple’s new Notification Center?
Without an umbrella—some unifying, central hub between the Apple OS and connected apps and services, and OS X to iOS—every new feature is just a new feature. And with enough "features," it sure begins to feel like bloat.