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Apple Keeps Dazzling

Last week Apple announced an array of new software and hardware.

They haven’t had a big reveal like this in a long time.

Here’s my breakdown:


HARDWARE

Retina Macbook Pro
Apple’s top of the line Macbook Pro now features an astonishing “Retina” high resolution display, similar to the iPad 3. It’s the highest resolution laptop display ever, and t’s safe to say that eventually the Retina Macbook Pro will become the standard Macbook Pro. For now it’s a pricey luxury item. In a few years it will be the standard. The SSD hard drive and RAM are non-replaceable, and even the battery is locked in. This is the new reality, get used to it.

Macbook Air
Apple bumped the max RAM and storage options for the Macbook Air, and added USB 3. While the Retina Macbook Pro is a dream machine, a maxed out Macbook Air will continue to be my #1 recommended laptop.

Mac Pro
Mac Pros got a weak CPU bump, infuriating loyal Mac power users. Pretty quickly, Apple leaked info to the that a truly redesigned Mac Pro is in the works. CEO Tim Cook confirmed this. It could be over a year away though. At least it’s not dead. Many (myself included) have been dreading that the Mac Pro would be discontinued. The news (from the top no less) that Apple is working on a total redesign is very good news. The last time Apple did a full physical redesign of their towers, it was revolutionary. One can imagine that it will be again. It’s something to look forward to.

USB 3
Apple is finally shipping new Macs with USB 3. Some may say this is an admission that Thunderbolt hasn’t caught on. Perhaps this is a big ‘post-Steve’ pragmatic move by new CEO Tim Cook. (similar to Facebook adoption, which we’ll get to in a bit)

Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapter
I wish Apple had this available since the release of the first Thunderbolt-equipped Macs. But like USB 3, better late than never.

MOUNTAIN LION

OS X 10.8 will only cost $20
Apple’s aggressive pricing and more frequent updates fly in the face of Microsoft’s few and far between major releases. Though it’s worth noting that Windows 8 is right on the heels of Windows 7. It seems that Apple may be picking up the pace and purposely accelerating the end of the OS X 10.x era. Will there be an OS 11? Or will the desktop OS become so iOS-like when the corner is turned after 10.9 (only 2 releases away!) that Apple will rebrand OS X as “iOS” and cement unification between all device offerings? Maybe we’ll see “Mobile iOS” and “Desktop iOS”?

Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are baked into Mountain Lion. (Twitter at launch, Facebook soon after) Sharing data to those sites becomes easier than ever. This is proof that Twitter and Facebook are becoming as ubiquitous as email.

Safari
Safari gets a unified address/search bar, which is nice. But I still need pinned tabs, which I get in Chrome. If Apple adds pinned tabs, I will switch back to Safari. Safari’s other new features are enticing though: synced tabs, reading list, etc. They tie in nicely with iOS and iCloud. It’s almost enough, but I need my pinned tabs.

Notification Center
There will now be a useful notification center in OS X, similar to iOS and Growl, located on the right side of the screen. Time will tell if it’s usefulness will trump it’s possible intrusiveness.

Reminders and Notes
Reminders and Notes get their own standalone apps, bring them more in line with the iOS versions.

Dictation
Apple has added built-in dictation, which can tie directly into apps. Siri can’t be too far around the corner.

iOS 6

Smart Banners
One of my biggest peeves when I’m visiting a website via Safari in iOS is when I get a splash page or pop-up informing that there is app for that website. Smart Banners can do away with that, and instead a small notification will slide down. This is far better than the variety of splashes and nags that we all have had to suffer through. It doesn’t mean those other intrusive nags will go away, but most sites will likely take advantage of Smart Banners as they are less annoying to site visitors.

Refined Controls
iPad apps can now be locked. In other words, iPads can be doled out that only run one app, which can’t be exited from. This has obvious, powerful implications for schools, parents, employers, kiosks, and point-of-sale.

Passbook
Passbook is a new Apple app that aggregates loyalty cards, gift cards, boarding passes, movie/sports/concert tickets, etc. The UI looks great, and it’s a brilliant idea and will be very useful. Imagine a boarding pass that live updates the gate number if it changes. Passbook uses a card-like UI that looks clever. It will be faster to flip through the cards than locating individual apps. Passbook could also be a sign that “iWallet” is around the corner. The next iPhones could have NFC chips. Imagine being able to tap your iPhone to a sensor in a store and the purchase is made using the credit card you have on file with Apple already. The possibilities are intriguing.

Siri
Siri gets major expansion with many useful new features. Services like Yelp and Fandango are integrated with Siri, as are sports statistics with nice baseball card style results. You can also post to Twitter and Facebook via Siri. And Siri will now be available on the iPad 3.

Maps
Apple is replacing Google Maps with their own map solution. Turn-by-turn navigation has been added, along with Siri support and traffic info. Even Twitter and Facebook is integrated to maps. And auto manufacturers are on board to start adding dedicated Apple/Siri buttons to steering wheels. Sadly, there is no street view in Apple’s new maps app. Presumably Google will release their seperate Maps app for iOS, which some may prefer. Street view is is a killer feature, and Google’s Zagat integration is a popular alternative to Yelp.

Facebook
Facebook is being integrated into everything in iOS, just as Twitter was. For Facebook users, this is fantastic. Again, Facebook and Twitter are becoming as ubiquitous as email.

Facetime
Facetime will now work over your cell connection, instead of being wi-fi only. This is huge for many people. I think it’s a good indicator that an LTE iPhone is right around the corner.

Phone
The phone app gets a long overdue new set of features. You can send instant responses to callers, as well as set up rules for certain callers to be sent to voicemail, etc. When your phone rings, you can swipe up and choose to Accept, Decline, Remind me later, or Reply with message. You can setup custom messages for one-click responses in addition to Apple’s default “I’ll call you later”, “I’m on my way”, and others. The reminders can be setup not just to certain time intervals, but also can be location based, so that when you get to a certain destination, the phone will remind you to call someone back.

Do Not Disturb
There is a new Do Not Disturb feature which lets you turn off all notifications, calls, etc. You can whitelist certain people, and set schedules. It looks very useful.

iCloud and Photostream sharing
Photostream can now be set up to share with others, and non-Apple iOS apps can now tap into iCloud storage. I have to wonder if and when non-Apple OS X apps will be able to tap into iCloud storage.

WRAP UP

The ‘appification’ of the OS
Looking at all the meshed integration of features in iOS and Mountain Lion, it’s almost as if Apple is turning the OS into a one gigantic App. It’s the appification of an operating system. Instead of the OS feeling like a platform for apps to run on top of, iOS and OS X (for now mostly iOS) are becoming so enmeshed with apps and services that the OS itself is turning into an app-like entity, filled with baked-in features and services.

Mac growth
Mac users have quadrupled in the past few years. The iOS halo effect is powerful.

“Late” doesn’t matter
Many new iOS features have been available in Android for some time. USB 3 is of course a late arrival. As is the Thunderbolt-to- Firewire adapter. And new Mac Pros are still very late. It doesn’t matter. Mac users that wait for these things aren’t like regular consumers. The late arrival of some new hardware and software features may irk, and at times infuriate Mac users, but it’s not driving many of them to Windows.

Apple vs. Google is about way more than maps
Apple replacing Google’s Maps app is just one battle in a bigger war. The big war is search. Apple isn’t building a search engine, but they can erode users’ dependence on Google by providing so many tie-ins to relevant useful information via apps and services all meshed together, providing dynamic, well-formatted results, that raw searches on Google will become less necessary for most users’ most popular searches. Sports stats, movie times, maps, etc. The more information Apple is putting at our fingertips, the less old fashioned searching needs to be done via Google. Apple has also aligned with Twitter and Facebook in a deep way. The enemies of my enemy are my friends?

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