No, that title wasn’t being sarcastic. I know I’m at risk of being called a winbloze fandroid for this, but to be perfectly honest…I’m just being perfectly honest. It completely escapes me how Apple has managed to become so popular over the past 10 years and created such a large and loyal customer base in the process. For many years now every new release from Apple has been thoroughly unimpressive from a technical standpoint, but even though that has slightly changed with WWDC (Worldwide Developer’s Conference) 2012, the company has, in my opinion, still managed to fall miserably short in terms of practical usage. Today we’ll be taking a look at the most noteworthy announcements that were made, and examine why Apple has yet to really grab me.
Siri for iPad
Who doesn’t know about Apple’s speech-to-text system, Siri for the iPhone 4S? It seems that every time someone pulls out an iPhone anymore, others nearby can’t help but ask them: “Does that have Siri?” For the sake of this program alone, 4S users are constantly the envy of other iDevice users, and ever since the release of the 4S, members of the jailbreaking community have spent countless hours attempting to port Siri to other devices as well. It makes sense, then, that Apple would branch out a little bit and bring it (her?) to the new iPad as well.
Why you shouldn’t care: Well, if you’re an iPad 1 or 2 owner, you’re out of luck, first of all. Only the new iPad is getting the Siri treatment, even though every iDevice since the iPhone 3S is fully capable of running Siri. But even if you are a New iPad owner, plan on going the way of every 4S user out there that had fun joking around with the app for a week and then ceased using Siri entirely. The simple fact is, Siri’s not that great. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I have had Siri in the past, so I am speaking from experience here. Apple may love to tout Siri as a selling feature for their devices, but in terms of practical usage, Siri is sure to end up forgotten by 90% of its users.
Retina MacBook Pro
For those who don’t know, ‘Retina’ is the title ascribed by Apple to any screen with a very high pixel density. In the past we’ve seen ‘retina’ screens placed on the iPhone, iPod, and most recently, the iPad as well, and today you can now purchase an ultrabook from Apple bearing the same trademark. That’s right folks, the new MacBook Pro comes sporting a 2880×1800 resolution screen occupying only 15.4 inches of space, diagonally. That’s a density of 220ppi (pixels per inch), and on paper, is as seriously impressive as it is to look at in real life.
Why you shouldn’t care: Unfortunately, the great screen is made much less appealing by everything surrounding it. For one, the basic configuration of the computer will set you back $2,199, and that only comes with 8GB RAM and 256GB of solid state storage powered by a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5. Those specs alone are nothing to be ashamed of, but as is typical for Apple machines, the price tag far outweighs the performance, especially considering how high-res the screen is. The biggest factor in how fast an application will run is the resolution it is running at. At 1800p, any very resource intensive applications will easily start to stutter on that hardware. What’s more, there’s currently very little out there that will benefit from the added resolution in the first place. HD movies, for example, will receive no improvement on the new screen no matter what you do, and any non-retina apps will look just as they did before without the developers redesigning certain elements for the new screen.
Even though iOS 5 is only up to version 5.1.1, Apple is already talking iOS 6, which is purported to have “over 200 new features”. Siri is receiving more detailed search results and a dedicated button in future cars to prevent drivers from having to look down at their phones, the new iOS itself is gaining support for several more languages, a “Do Not Disturb” feature and a few messages can change how the phone responds to incoming calls, FaceTime can now be used over 3G, a new Passbook app will let you store shopper cards, tickets, and even boarding passes on your iDevice, and a new Maps application has moved in to replace Google Maps.
Why you shouldn’t care: “200 new features” is blatant Apple-speak. Their idea of a ‘feature’ can be as small as one line of code changed to correct a bug (I promise that is not exaggeration). There are definitely several new legitimate features involved, but most of them are not what users have been asking for. FaceTime over 3G is the exception here, but jailbreak users have already been doing this for ages now, and Skype for iOS–a vastly superior app to FaceTime–has always had this capability. In other words, Apple could have done this from day 1; saving such basic functionality and announcing it as a new feature now is a bit lame. The new Maps application also has received a lot of hype as being simply incredible, but ultimately it’s just a first-party 3D maps app like a few others already available on the app store. Nifty? You bet. Neat? That too. But revolutionary? Meh, no.
OS 10.8 Mountain Lion
Apple has also made much ado about the “over 200 new features” of the final update to Mac OSX, 10.8 Mountain Lion. Besides making one wonder if Apple automatically assumes they’ve made 200 new features for everything, the update also causes one to wonder how close mobile and desktop OS experiences will be in the future. Numerous iOS features are finding their way onto Apple laptops and desktops, including voice dictation, a notifications center, AirPlay, and also new apps like Share Sheets, which integrates into Safari. Starting next month, 10.8 will be available as a digital download from the App Store for $19.99
Why you shouldn’t care: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people praise Apple for releasing updates for $20-30 while new editions of Windows run upwards of $100. But the simple fact is, Apple only gives its users $20 worth of updates. Watch out for that Apple-speak; 200 new features is not necessarily impressive. However, this time around things are perhaps even worse than before. With Mountain Lion, Apple has effectively pushed their Mac line of products into the shadow of iDevices. Many of the OS’s basic shortcomings still have not been addressed after more than 10 years on the market, but at least it looks and functions more like iOS than ever! …but seeing how iOS caters to a shallow user experience, this is probably not something to get too excited about, come to think of it.
Was WWDC totally useless this year? No, it wasn’t. It’s just not worth getting excited about, either. Apple has a knack for focusing heavily on aesthetics–making things sound nice and look good. And for the technologically-illiterate masses, that works. It works great. However, it is extremely frustrating to also see a tech giant missing it on so many basic levels while going on and adding more features that nobody really asked for and that probably won’t improve anyone’s lives. They’ll make new status symbols for people with the cash to afford the latest Apple has to offer, but while they’re cracking jokes with a speech-to-text engine, other people in the world will be making phones that transform into tablets that transform into laptops (just to name one example). Clearly there are more creative, more useful things that could be done with the technology at our disposal, and despite Apple’s silver-tongued presentations convincing listeners to the contrary, there’s really not much useful coming out of Cupertino as of late.