OS X & IOS: BEST FRIENDS FOREVER
Apple, the company who just spent US$3 billion out of its US$159 billion cash reserves to acquire headphone maker and music streaming newcomer Beats, recently concluded its 25th Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at San Francisco. Historically, WWDC was seldom the stage for new hardware announcements, and the trend continued this year.
But it’s a totally different story on the software side of things. The Mac and iPhone maker announced new versions of OS X and iOS (both due this fall), and both are overflowing with new features for end users and app developers. Like many others, we’re are dazzled by OS X’s newfound ‘translucent materials’, exhilarated by iOS’ long awaited openness, and excited with Swift, the new programming language for OS X and iOS - but simultaneously, it’s clear to us too that this WWDC was significant on another level. This was the WWDC where the king allayed the fears of his people, rallied the troops, and waged war on the enemies all at the same time.
Predictably, Apple’s next Mac operating system, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, sports a major redesign reminiscent of last year’s iOS 7 redesign. The focus on ‘clarity and utility’ basically means a flatter look, with more than a dash of translucency effects, as well as brighter and louder colors. Some examples: the dock is now back to 2D; you get a sense of what’s underneath when a translucent Finder window overlay another; the default folder icon’s color is an eye-hurting bright blue; and the Safari browser is stripped of most of its chrome. Even the system font isn’t spared, with long-time steward Lucida Grande making way for the thin Helvetica Neue that’s already in use in iOS 7.
But Yosemite isn’t just about the looks; it also gains several new user-facing features. Notification Center adds a new Today view, just like iOS, allowing you to see everything that’s lined up for you today. More importantly, it supports widgets (e.g. a calculator), and you can add more once developers create them for their Mac App Store apps. In fact, widget support is also coming to iOS 8’s Notification Center.
Then there’s Spotlight, which now opens up the search window at the center of your screen, similar to Alfred, a popular third-party app launcher. But the redesign is more than skin deep: in addition to finding stuff on your Mac, Spotlight also leverages on online sources, such as Wikipedia, Bing, and Maps. And it even gives you inline previews. With Spotlight’s newfound super powers (also bestowed on iOS 8), Apple is giving you yet one more reason not to ‘Google’ for things or fire up Safari (or Chrome), which continues to support Google Search.
Many built-in apps are updated too. The most significant ones in Mail besides the usual promise of faster syncing performance is Mail Drop, which makes use of iCloud to allow you to ‘attach’ super-sized attachments (something like the Dropbox support you see in some email clients); and the ability to annotate documents, doodle on images, and fill out forms right in the email.
One of the biggest cheers in the keynote was reserved for iCloud Drive. As the name implies, this is iCloud gaining a Dropbox-like file system. Since it’s now a ‘drive’ (one of the entry points is through the Finder), you can put all kinds of files on it, organize them in folders, tag them, and all the changes will sync across your Mac, iOS, and Windows
devices. Sure, Dropbox/Google Drive faithfuls and geeks that regularly rotate between different platforms probably see no impetus to switch, but it’s a no-brainer for those who only use Apple products.
Moving forward, it’s no longer possible to talk about OS X without mentioning iOS. Indeed, a big sub-text of Apple’s WWDC keynote is the fact that OS X and iOS are growing together, and when both come together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Need evidence? Look no further than the ‘Continuity’ features demoed. The most impressive example has to be Handoff, which enables your Mac to know the last thing you were doing on your iOS device and vice versa. Say, you’re writing in Mail on your iPhone. As you approach your Mac, Yosemite would have synced the unfinished email, and added an icon to the dock to let you know you can continue where you left off on the desktop. With iOS 8, the icon will appear on the bottom left of the lock screen.
And there’s more. With the upcoming mobile and desktop OSes, you can make and receive phone calls on the Mac; read and reply text messages (both regular messages from non-iOS/Mac users and iMessages) on the Mac; and AirDrop files between an iOS device and a Mac. Great user experience that’s device agnostic - that’s the biggest advantage when you’ve control over your own hardware and software.
So, what’s new in iOS 8? If you’ve noticed, we’ve already gone through many of them above (Notification Center widgets, Spotlight, iCloud, Continuity features). Other notable ones include actionable notifications; shortcuts for contacts in the multi-tasking view; the ability to mute and rename threads in Messages; a Family Sharing function for sharing store purchases, photos, calendars, locations, and more; and a new Photos app. For those frustrated with Photo Stream’s 1,000-photo limit, Apple has introduced iCloud Photo Library, which will attempt to store all the photos you’ve taken in full resolution, as long as you’ve enough iCloud storage space. 5GB comes free as part of your iCloud account, but you’ll be able to buy 20GB of storage space for just US$1/month, or 200GB for US$4/ month.
And then there’s the QuickType keyboard, which offers predictive text based on your writing style in different apps. And for the very first time, iOS will support third-party keyboards. Naysayers will say that this and the support for widgets are yet more examples of iOS copying Android, but Apple clearly doesn’t care. For us, we see this opening up of iOS as wins on two fronts. For one, it will help stop more iOS users defecting to the Android camp (remember, bigger iPhones are supposedly on the horizon too). Secondly, it may even lure Android users to iOS, now that the latter has these features and touts better user experience. After all, in CEO Tim Cook’s own words, many iOS first-timers started off with an Android phone ‘by mistake’, and have since switched in search of ‘a better life’.
A redesigned UI, and a new relationship between your Mac and iOS devices – that’s the story of OS X 10.10 Yosemite.
Spotlight in Yosemite searches online sources like Wikipedia and Bing, complete interactive previews of the results.
Pick up where you left off in iOS (e.g. composing an email) on the Mac and vice versa – that’s Handoff. Let’s hope it works just as Apple describes. After nailing the design in iOS 7, iOS 8 is all about building new functionality and further fine-tuning.
The new built-in QuickType keyboard knows your writing style, whom you’re writing to, and even understands the conversation.
Every message (even those from your Apple-hating friends) will appear in Messages on your Mac.
Soon, you can store files (even those from non-Mac App Store apps) on iCloud Drive, and send them to a Mac or an iOS device using AirDrop.