The Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

WWDC 2013 Post-Game Review

Just under a week ago, Tim Cook walked out on stage to present the keynote at WWDC 2013 (Video here). It was an astounding success. I think Apple has become Tim Cook’s Apple, and the products announced are living proof of that.

After letting them percolate for a few days, here are my impressions of what was announced.

iOS 7

The iOS look and feel has remained largely unchanged since the first iPhone release. Same icons, same springboard, same buttons and UI elements. I think the key to the iPhone’s success was this beautifully simple UI, and the fact that Apple got it so right at the first attempt was amazing.

But the current iOS UI is starting to look worn in as we have all gotten used to it. I believe it was designed to teach us all how to use touch screens. We all now know how to use them. It is time for a change.

My first response to the new iOS 7 look and feel was this: “It’s what Windows Phone would look like if they used real designers”. My first impression was of large swathes of bright white, tall and thin letterforms, borderless buttons and UI and the same flat look as Microsoft’s metro. Yuk.

But then I looked closer. The colors are more subtle, the shapes more organic, the text more readable and yet the UI calls to action remain visible and present, unlike Metro. Er, not Yuk. It grew on me so quickly, especially after I started using it.

The updated email UI, the new weather app look, the today view on Notification Center, multitasking that looks like Palm’s Web OS and the edge-to-edge use of the display are exceptionally functional and beautiful.

Of course this new look led to a typical Internet brouhaha. Designers shouted about how much they hated the new look, that the icons were horrible and the new control center looks like a mess. It was the typical knee-jerk screaming reaction to change.

But they had not yet used iOS 7.

I installed it on my old iPhone 4 just to get a feel for it. And when I showed it off 24 hours later, I realized that I did indeed like it, a lot. The screens are easier to read, the tappables are just as explicit and easy to see and understand, and the content, not the chrome does stand out.

Considering that they had only 7 months to come up with this Developer Preview look, I think we can all look forward to some amazingly rapid changes before the final release and years of Apple’s legendary iteration on this look and experience. I think iOS just seems to work better with the new look.

Other likes: The radio service, the new photos interface, AirDrop, lost iPhone features.
Meh: iCloud keychain (1Password for ever!), apps near me.

OS X Mavericks

I’m a Mac. I spend all day, every day working on OS X. Over the years, I have had to adjust my working style to suit as new editions came out.

The biggest change for me moving OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard to 10.7 Lion was the full screen apps change. I could full screen an app, wonderful, but my second monitor became useless unless I was using Aperture. It was distracting to see boring gray linen where I expected to see my other windows.

So I switched from a two monitor setup to a single monitor setup. And got used to using gestures to switch between Mission Control desktops, which I then justified as helping me remain focussed. Until I realized that that was actually true, I did remain more focussed and more productive on a single monitor setup.

The new independent multi-monitor features of OS X Mavericks looks just the trick. Independent monitors, menus on each screen, independent spaces, just right. It should have been done in Lion. I’m glad Apple finally got it right.

I do like the new calendar look and feel, and finally someone has intelligently found a way to scroll a calendar. Finder tabs are cool, and integrated tagging looks great, I just hope it works with OpenMeta.

On the geeky side, the new compressed memory, coalesced timers, app nap and click-to-play flash look fantastic and I am looking forward to seeing them in action.

Other likes: Maps and notification actions.
Meh: iCloud Keychain, iBooks.
Dislike: The name — I don’t know the place, but it feels like a plural name applied to a singular item, and therefore just wrong.

Haswell Macbook Air

I am writing this on the top-of-the-line mid-2009 15” Macbook Pro with dual 3 GHz cores, 8GB of RAM, a new SSD and a failing battery, and this machine is plenty fast for my needs (as long as it’s plugged in).

The new base model Air is benchmarked at just over double the performance of my current machine (the current Macbook Pro is four times). Yet it weighs less than half, runs on battery more than twice as long as this computer did when new, has hyper-threading, a higher resolution screen (13”) and yet has the exact same size keyboard.

The Air has iterated quickly from a pretty but slow, expensive and underpowered netbook into the current pretty, fast, cheap and did-I-mention-fast notebook that makes it the best laptop ever made. It’s amazing to think that this tiny device killed off the bottom end of Apple’s laptop line, and is squeezing the top end.

My next computer will be this new 13” Macbook Air. I’ll get double the performance with half the weight…

The Mac Pro

… Until I get one of these.

I bought my first Mac Pro in 2006, one of the first revision ones and used it at home for everything until I switched over to this laptop in 2009. And then it ran as my home server until 2011.

At work, I used a 2008 Mac Pro, 8 cores, 32GB RAM, oodles of disk and had it at 100% CPU and RAM use day in, day out running Hedge Fund models. No computing device I had ever seen came close to the desktop power and compute speed of that Mac Pro for anywhere near the price. It gave me productive advantage as a programmer, and business advantage with its massive compute speed. It’s now my current home server, just waiting on the day I need to boost up another financial model on it.

Yet the current iMac and current MacBook Pro laptops have caught up in performance. The current Mac Pro graphics cards are too old to run Photoshop CS 6 properly, they do not have thunderbolt ports, and are starting to wheeze. It’s been too long since the Mac Pro has been updated for professional users. We’ve been waiting too long.

And then Tim Cook previewed the new Mac Pro in his Keynote.

Thud. Jaw dropped, hit the floor and cracked the floorboards.

New Xeon’s, super fast flash storage, dual high compute graphics cards, six full speed thunderbolt channels for almost unlimited IO throughput, in a sexy cylinder the size of a large coffee pot.

Unbelievable.

I loved the look of the PowerMac G4 Cube. It’s too bad the engineering and sales were not so great. The new Mac Pro shows that Apple can create amazing professional grade computers that outperform anything and yet still innovate massively on design.

Of course, there have been some complaints about it too. You cannot add or change the video cards, or add more internal storage. Really? If you want to change video cards to play games, get a playstation. The video cards chosen are high-compute, chosen to help people like me use Open CL and massively increase our compute or render capability, and yet they can still drive 3 x 4K displays. And the plethora of full-speed Thunderbolt ports means that these computers have double the standard SAN bandwidth per channel used in data centers to access external storage. I kind of expect Apple to actually release their own external storage chassis to go with the new Mac Pro when it does get released, a new XSan.

All in all, the new Mac Pros look amazing and seem even more so on paper specs. I want one!

Developer Tools

Xcode 4 has finally hit it’s stride. Xcode 5 takes it to the next level. Since most of what’s new in the development libraries is under NDA, I cannot comment on them other than to say: Wow!

But a couple of publicly announced features do stand out.

Install-on-demand (promoted on the OS X Mavericks for Developers) page looks brilliant. We’ve all had to live with old builds, or jump through hoops on OS X, or use hacks like homebrew, to install and update to the latest open source developer tools, software, databases and libraries. Now OS X Mavericks does it for you. No more hacks, no more hassles. I hope it is as simple as a yum or gem update command.

The other is the ability to use an OS X Server as a Continuous Integration server. I never got comfortable with Jenkins, it seems to be a strings and baling wire Rube Goldberg way to run things, especially when it came to Objective-C projects. I am hoping the new OS X CI server is more robust. And I also hope I can use it to CI my non-Objective-C projects.

Other Announcements

The iWork in the cloud announcement did not really excite me. It is amazing what they could do in a browser, but I would have preferred newer desktop and iOS versions. Keynote is almost as old as my laptop, and with all the new technology that Apple has released over the years, it is in dire need of an update.

And where are the collaboration features? Why else would you create web versions unless you want to help people collaborate?

Not Announced

A lot of pundits were disappointed that Apple did not announce new Haswell Retina Macbook Pros. I did not expect any announcements there as the rMBP was bumped in February. Even the bumped version still struggles to run the retina screen, and the new Intel graphics that will power the next generation retina screens is not quite out of the lab yet. I do expect the next bump before the XMas buying season, probably the same time as the next iMac refresh.

The same goes for thinner thunderbolt displays, new pro software, a watch, a TV and unicorns. I do expect a next generation thunderbolt display, which will support Thunderbolt 2, and new Pro software to come out with the new Mac Pro’s and take advantage of all those graphics card cores.

Apple also did not say anything about iCloud. To be fair, the purpose of the keynote was to show off the best, not apologize for the worst. I have not yet gotten to the video sessions for iCloud, so I am hoping there are some new tools and technologies to make iCloud sync more reliable (and easier to implement).

One More Thing

I don’t really care that WWDC 2013 sold out in 71 seconds, there’s no chance I would have gone anyway. But I am grateful to Apple and the people that did the work that we were all able to access and watch the videos of talks the same day they were presented. What a wonderful thing for Apple to do for our community. And I do like that those who had hotels and flights and no tickets still did go and held altWWDC. Maybe one day I’ll go for that.

Summary

I really do think that the 2013 WWDC announcements are awesome, the best in years. Both operating systems get huge updates, new Air’s, and the new Mac Pro show that Tim Cook’s Apple is still at the very top of its game in design, focus, innovation and delivery. I am really excited to use the new hardware and software as my daily drivers.

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