Apple held its annual developers conference this week where they made a score of new announcements, mostly software related and not about specific new products. Like other Apple events, it was carefully choreographed and filled with presenters that exuded excitement and enthusiasm about what they each presented. It reminded me of an adult version of a kindergarten’s class of “show and tell.” It was done without an audience with the presenters appearing from different locations, so none of the usual awes, oohs, and applause
Like all Apple events, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and become mesmerized by all the shiny objects flashing on the screen. No one does a presentation quite like Apple. But it’s best to wait a day or two to let the excitement diminish and take a second look to see how all of this effects us. Here’s my takeaway on what it all means.
The big news was the expected announcement that Apple is moving away from using Intel chips in its computers, and replacing them over the next two years with their own designs, based on architecture from ARM, a British company that, by the way, was never mentioned during the event. This has a big impact for software developers that need to redesign their software, but for us, consumers, impacts in other ways. The new chips should make the computers we buy next year or the year after run a little faster, and perhaps have longer battery lives. But the expected cost benefit will likely go to Apple’s bottom line and not to lower priced products. It’s essentially the type of progress we expect in tech. Computers with these new chips will begin to trickle out at the end of the year. With such a major change, it’s best to wait for the bugs to be worked out and the software apps to catch up.
Apple continues to try to make the iPad a replacement for the computer by adding more computer-like features: an improved filing system, more robust apps, and a (kludgey) windowing system. But at the same time, Apple is trying to make its computers look more like an iPad. The company announced tools and software to allow iPad apps to run on Mac computers. But, most of the apps are designed to work with a touch screen, and, so far, Apple has shown no inclination to add one to the Mac. This leaves a lot of unanswered questions and second guessing if a touchscreen will ever come to the Mac.
For iPhone users, Apple announced a range of cosmetic changes and new features on how the apps are organized on the display. Icons will have a new look with rounded corners and less intense colors. The organizational changes will allow apps to be automatically sorted by category to better find and use the hundreds of apps many of us now have.
Apple announced the addition of “widgets” to the home page, making iPhones more akin to Android and the Windows 10 operating system. Widgets are small windows of varying sizes that can appear on your screen to display information, such as weather, time or email without opening up the app. It adds complexity but reduces the number of clicks needed to see information within the app.
Apple is taking steps to make their products more private than those from Google, and that’s a good thing. When we download an app, we have no idea what data the app is accessing. Apple will now require each app to tell us first using a box that shows up on the App Store. Apple compared it to the nutrition labels on prepared food. But it’s unlikely we’ll pay attention and doesn’t address why the app needs the data, leaving it up to us to figure that out. Apps will now be required to ask your permission to track you across other apps and websites. These are welcome additions to protecting our privacy, but their practicality is limited. For example some weather apps ask for your location to provide local weather, but then sell your location data to companies that provide that data to the Immigration enforcers from Homeland Security.
Finally, Apple is relenting a bit on not allowing us to chose our default email and browser of choice. Now we can. Apple showed improvements to its Map product, now adding features for bicyclists and routing for electric vehicles that shows best routes for efficient driving and with charging stations. While Apple Maps is improving, Google Maps, particularly its satellite view, is a game changer for in car navigation. Because of its privacy, however, I try to use Apple Maps when possible. Unlike Apple Maps, Google Maps constantly tracks us and shares the data with others.
Apple noticeably made no mention of upgrading most of its other apps. It looks like we’ll need to live with their old Apple Mail and Calendar apps for another year or use one of the better alternatives.
Lastly, Apple announced a new version of its Macintosh operating system. The new version, called Big Sur, provides an upgrade to the Safari browser, including adding some of the privacy features. It’s also providing a major cosmetic refresh to the OS, using elements from the iPhone and iPad, and bringing over the look and functionality of the phone’s notification center and control panel.
By now I think it’s becoming clear that Apple’ is focused on making the iPad look more like a Mac and the Mac look more like an iPad. Their objective, as I see it, is to make us more comfortable moving between their devices, making the development environment easier for its developers to bring their apps to all of the devices, and, most importantly, to use the new chip designs to eventually migrate more of us from computers to iPads. The point of convergence looks like it will be a Mac with a touch screen or an iPad with a keyboard. eventually morphing into the same product, and fulfilling Steve Job’s goal of the iPad becoming our main computer.
UPDATE FROM LAST WEEK
Last week I wrote about how Hey, the new email product, was rejected from the Apple Store and how a the company was claiming foul. Well, Apple essentially relented and allowed Hey’s app back into the store without requiring the company to sell their service from the store.
Should you buy Apple hardware?
What do these announcements mean for what hardware to buy and when? Here are my recommendations.
iPhones – Wait until September when the new phones will be announced, usually providing new benefits (such as 5G) for the same price. Current phones will also drop in price.
MacBooks – Apple recently converted all products to a better keyboard, and I would not hesitate to buy a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro using the Intel processors. If you’re not in a rush you can wait about 6 months when the new models with Apple’s processor will start trickling out and become an early adopter for the good and bad that brings.
Apple Watch – It’s likely Apple will bring out a new watch with oxygen level measurement and longer battery life. So I would wait for that.
iPads – Apple recently refreshed their line so no need to wait.
The good news is that all the new software improvements for the Mac, iPad, iPhone and watch, will be available in the Fall for all of us at no cost and will run on all devices as far back as the iPhone 6, iPad Air 2 and the Watch 3.