We examine not just what was announced at the keynote address of this, the 25th anniversary of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, but also how it was announced – and what that tells us about Apple
What is a developer?
The keynote kicked off with a video that celebrated developers and the work they do – apt, given the audience mostly comprised devs, and this was a keynote filled with stuff that matters to devs rather than consumers. It began with people describing what they think devs would be like, often in terms that evoked tired old stereotypes – “a guy behind a door that’s got enough of a crack that can slide a pizza underneath”. Amusingly, this dude suggested devs probably wear glasses…
Cook appeared to be relaxed and confident – enough even to be in a playful mood
Cook hits his stride
On his first few appearances, it was clear Tim Cook didn’t have the commanding easiness on stage that we came to associate with Steve Jobs. But this time, he strode onto the stage with a big grin, a cheery wave, and a bellowed “good morning!”; it may be that he’s getting more comfortable in this role, it may be he knew he didn’t have to carry the whole thing (Craig Federighi especially, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, would shoulder a lot of the responsibility), or it may be he knew the devs in the audience (and those watching around the world) would love not just the specifics of what was about to be announced, but also the change in tone and spirit of Apple that they seemed to portend. Whatever it was, this was at least Cook (and Apple) appearing to be relaxed and confident – enough even to be in a playful mood.
Playing the percentages
Apple claims Mavericks – launched in October 2013 – is installed on half of all Macs, and that Windows 8 – launched a year earlier – has made it onto only 14% of PCs. This isn’t just Apple engaging in a some light ribbing of Microsoft. Devs like an operating system that’s adopted quickly, since it lets them: a) focus their development and testing on a smaller number of versions; b) use new features in the OS and development environments to do innovative things; and c) do old things better.
Do you remember iDisk? Introduced in 2000 as part of the iTools suite (which morphed into .Mac then MobileMe then iCloud), it was web-based storage into which you could chuck anything. But it had special folders that did particular things, such as letting you run a small website from the Sites folder, or sharing files through Public. Apple canned it when it introduced iCloud, but now, with iCloud Disk, it’s back, pretty much. There are differences, but it does feel like Apple is admitting defeat: it tried to introduce a new, simpler document management system (apparent on iOS where the full file system isn’t exposed to the user, and ‘sand-boxing’ of apps is even more aggressive) that worked per-app, but it seems Apple is listening and is making a tacit admission that we’re not ready to move on from files and folders yet. (Or that nobody has worked out a better alternative.) The per-app silos are still there – in folders – but you can be more flexible as well, because apps can open compatible documents from inside the silos of other apps.
The jokes begin…
Apple has switched from naming OS X after big cats over to places in California, and Mavericks’ successor needed a new name. This gave Federighi the excuse for many gags, first suggesting OS X 10.10 was nearly (for the sake of the joke) named after the city of Weed in Siskiyou County, California. Frankly, not all of Apple’s cringy gags worked, but, the humour was happy and goofy in a way that Jobs’ acerbic humour never was. Whether this is good or bad is up to you, but it was emblematic of a shift in how Apple presents itself.
Federighi suggested OS X 10.10 was nearly named after the city of Weed in California
Cook was basically saying: don’t expect the iPhone 6 to be announced today
Embrace the dark side
The introduction of the dark mode in OS X Yosemite – switching from translucent white for the window and other interface elements in the new design to translucent black – got a big reaction from the crowd. And, if you watch carefully, you’ll catch Federighi allowing himself a pleased little smile at the applause.
It’s all about the devs
“You’re also going to see the mother of all releases for developers; it’s so huge we’ve dedicated an entire section of the presentation just for this,” Cook said to a captive worldwide audience. We weren’t even 10 minutes into the keynote presentation, and Apple was already beginning to clearly signal what we now know to be absolutely true. That is, while many had come to expect Apple to make significant announcements specifically aimed at the wider public (even during a developer-focused event), this keynote was going to be heavily skewed towards the devs. It was Cook basically saying (and saying it nice and early): don’t expect the iPhone 6 to be announced today.