SAN FRANCISCO --Think Apple's critics struck a raw nerve with the company?
"Can't innovate anymore, my ass." That's from Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president for worldwide marketing, speaking on stage at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference.
Schiller was essentially talking about Apple's new tubular-designed Mac Pro, the kind of powerful computer used by developers who make up much of the WWDC audience. But he might as well have been addressing Apple's most vocal detractors, those who say that Samsung is now the company that Apple used to be, and that Tim Cook isn't Steve Jobs. These are the fickle what-have-you-done-for-me-lately types who wonder whether the company that forever altered the tech landscape with the Mac, iPod and iTunes, iPhone and iPad has somehow lost its mojo. As if pumping out game-changing hardware is some sort of divine obligation.
There were no true game-changers introduced at WWDC, though this isn't typically a venue in which Apple goes crazy with new hardware. Apple didn't unveil the branded television that has long been rumored, or the iWatch computer that has also been the subject of considerable speculation. If those products do happen, the fall time frame would seem to be more likely. Apple did unveil that new Mac Pro, a small and attractive computer that - and I mean this is in a good way - resembles an elegant trashcan. The company also showed new MacBook Air models with what Apple claims will be all-day battery life, accomplished in part thanks to the new "Haswell" chips from Intel that are inside.
But this was mostly a software show, and what a show it was. The new iOS 7 for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches looks beautiful and reflects the "simplicity" mantra of famed Apple designer Jony Ive, who is now in control of software. We kept hearing all sorts of rumors about how the new iOS 7 would reveal a "flatter" design. But this is actually all about a depth of design, with functional and translucent layers and subtle animations that make everything somehow appear to be fresh and clean. So while Apple may not have unveiled a new iPhone this time around, iOS 7 when it hits in the fall promises to make your existing handset feel new.
Indeed, Apple has dispensed with the old - no more "green felt" in Game Center or "wooden bookshelves" in Newsstand or yellow notepads in the Notes app. Animated snowflakes or a bolt of lightning dress up a nifty weather app.
The new operating system isn't merely about the new edge-to-edge design. Apple has added promising features, too, including a translucent Control Center that you can summon with a swipe up as needed to turn on Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, alter the brightness, play a song and more. Sure, you could do all of this before by accessing the Settings app (and still can), but many of the most commonly used settings are more easily accessible. Apple has even thrown a flashlight app in there (and pity the poor third-party app developers that now produce flashlight apps).
The newly designed Notifications Center that reveals To-Dos, missed calls, appointments and other things you need to know is now visible on the lock screen, with a convenient "today" summary showing the important goings-on, well, today.
Apple says multitasking works better, too. By pressing the home screen twice, you can see preview screens of all your running apps and swipe to move from one to another. Apple updates apps automatically in the background and does so when you're plugged into Wi-Fi. The idea is that fetching such updates won't kill your battery.
Photos in iOS 7 are now automatically organized into Collections, Moments and Years, which seems like a potentially useful organizing principle, though I want to see it in practice. And when you shoot pictures with your iPhone you'll have easy access to Instagram-like filters (Mono, Chrome, Noir, etc.). You can also tap or swipe to shoot a regular photo, video, pano (for panorama) or square-type picture.
In an apparent dig at Samsung, Apple mentioned that you won't have to bump your phone against another handset to easily share pictures, videos, contacts or other files with a friend who happens to be nearby. Instead, you can now use the peer-to-peer feature known as AirDrop, which lets you tap a button and use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. (The feature was previously available on Macs.)
Among the most welcome new features that show up in Safari (both on iOS 7 and OS X) are "Shared Links," a convenient way to keep track in one place of the URLs posted by people you follow on Twitter.
Speaking of keeping everything in one place, you can exploit a feature known as iCloud Keychain to securely store your passwords, account numbers and credit card information in the cloud.
I'll have to play with the new Siri more to see if I like the improvements that have been made. Siri is no longer just a she - you can pick a male voice now. She (or he) is supposed to be even more obedient. You can ask Siri, for example, to play your voice mail or increase the brightness on your phone. Or to let you know what folks are saying on Twitter.
Another potentially useful feature enhances the Find My iPhone app that can help you recover your phone if stolen. The crook can no longer turn off Find My iPhone or reactivate the device once you have remotely locked it.
Apple's revamped Music app includes the new iTunes Radio feature that seems like more of a direct hit against Pandora than a subscription-based service such as Spotify. There is no on-demand-music option as in Spotify and no subscription fee, either, though if you subscribe to iTunes Match for $24.99 a year you won't see ads in iTunes Radio.
ITunes Radio includes 200-plus music stations that are designed to help you discover new music as opposed to playing the music you already own. But, like Pandora, you can type in the name of an artist or song and build a radio station around that. There's already a lot of competition for your ear, of course - from Google, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora and many others. Apple's advantage would seem to come from the fact that a lot of people use iTunes as their music jukebox of choice. But until I've had a chance to play with iTunes Radio, I'll reserve judgment.
I'll also reserve judgment on the latest version of OS X, dubbed OS X Mavericks (with Apple finally moving away from the feline-type nicknames that accompanied the nine prior versions of OS X).
Apple claims more than 200 new features in Mavericks, including Maps, iBooks and a convenient way to organize and tag files through Finder. As with iOS 7, it is due to reach consumers in the fall around the time, I suspect, there will also be new devices to also talk about.
Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
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