Apple WWDC 2015 Reaction

So as I’m sure we all know Apple kicked off their 2015 World Wide Developer Conference with a whole slew of new announcements about the Mac, iOS, and the Apple Watch. As many of my friends know I am a bit of an Apple fan. However, I would not consider myself a fanboy. I am a bit more realistic than the run of the mill devotees that bow to everything their particular fanboyism favors. Not just referring to Apple fanboys.

Back to Apple’s announcements. I don’t believe many, if any, of yesterday’s announcements were necessarily revolutionary. Much of what Apple has been doing since the iPhone was released in 2007 has not really been revolutionary. It’s all been a fairly logical evolution of their product lineup. I do believe that Apple has been more responsive to user feedback in more recent history rather than just dictating what their users will experience.

Mac OS X El Capitan

All in all not really that much to report. The major changes that they have announced are nothing earth shattering. Split screen is simply Apple playing catch-up with a feature that Windows has had since Windows 7. Although, the Windows version doesn’t work that well with multiple monitors. The one nice feature addition that I did see is the mouse shake enlarging the pointer to make it easier to find.

Spotlight

Spotlight has been refined to make it easier to use and provide a larger breadth of information. They now allow the Spotlight window to be re-sized and moved. The larger change is that it now accepts natural language queries. This is apparently a feature that has been present in Windows 8 for a little more than a year and can only improve with Microsoft’s inclusion of Cortana in Windows 10. I think the hope was to see the inclusion of Siri in OS X for uniformity between desktop and mobile. I believe Apple has missed the mark a bit with this.

Safari

The changes that Apple anounced for Safari are the high points of the El Capitan experience. No matter what browser I use I always have a bookmarks bar for my most used pages. Moving those to miniature tabs keeps them handy while also keeping the interface cleaner.

I also have to give a round of applause to Apple for tackling the noisy page issue. While Google Chrome has had a feature that indicates which tab is making noise it doesn’t provide a way to selectively silence it. The result is that you either have to hunt down the the ad on the page to silence it or just give up and close the tab. I’ve found pages that don’t even provide a control to silence them. An immediate turn off that usually means closing unless there’s something important I’m trying to accomplish. Then I have to mute the whole computer.

The rest of Apple’s OS X announcements were honestly nothing to write home about. Most of the changes are relatively minor improvements or refinements. Maybe there a lot of under-the-hood changes, Metal included, that will improve the user experience. Overall though, El Capitan is not a huge jump compared to previous OS X updates.

iOS 9

As with OS X there doesn’t seem to be anything that really wowed me about iOS 9. Seems to be mostly refinements in the user experience.

Search & Siri

The search feature is definitely something that Apple is focusing on in both iOS and OS X. As has been Google’s focus in Android lately. The Search experience in iOS is definitely becoming more in line with what Google Now by offering suggestions before the user has even begun a search. I have always felt that the iOS Spotlight search was out of place. I have only occasionally used the feature to track down apps that seemed to be alluding me at the time. The Spotlight search has always seemed especially redundant since the introduction of Siri.

I like the idea of a responsive personable search assistant like Siri or Cortana but I’ve found that the vocal search results that my wife gets from her Nexus 5 are move valid and relevant than the same general searches that I’ve attempted with Siri. In the past it seems that Siri has had a specific subset of things she does well and the rest she shuffles off to Google and just presents a set of results. Nothing very intelligent about that. Especially when the results don’t necessarily match your query. Now that the two features are combined I hope we can get more meaningful results.

iPad Multitasking

The one feature that everyone has been hoping for in iOS is some sort of side-by-side multitasking. Having done iOS programming I understand the reason it has taken so long for this feature to be implemented. I definitely see this as a positive step forward for iOS and the iPad.

My only wish would be to have that feature in my iPad 4. Alas, that feature will be missing from my device. Even the original iPad Air does not receive the full set of multitasking features. The 50/50 split view will only be available to Air 2 users. I’m sure there are technical reasons for limiting those features to newer devices but sometimes I can’t help but feel that Apple is holding back features to keep the upgrade cycle going. Apple is, after all, a hardware company and anything they do with software is done to drive hardware sales.

Keyboard & QuickType

Definitely some nice additions here. Text selection especially has been a sore spot that has been difficult at times and near impossible at others. Having the cut, copy, and paste buttons  right on the keyboard will be a huge improvement compared to the difficulty of trying to get the pop-up menu to appear to paste a section of text.

One thing that I noticed and that has been pointed out by others is that the letters on the keyboard are now upper or lower case depending on the status of the shift or caps lock. This has been one of my complaints about iOS is that it’s not immediately visibly apparent whether or not you’re going to be typing caps. While the shift key has always given that indication the contrast in the change from iOS 6 to 7/8 isn’t necessarily enough for some people’s minds to register case quick enough.

Battery & Storage

Definitely on the minds of most smart phone users is battery life. I personally don’t usually have a problem with battery life on my iPhone 6 but there are those that use their devices more compulsively and burn through their batteries in quick order. I believe iOS has generally been on the nimble side as far as battery performance is concerned but Low Power mode is a feature that has been needed for when you don’t have quick access to a charger.

This wasn’t announced during the keynote but iOS 9 is going to bring improved app sizes. Developers will be able to indicate which app content is required for each device type as well as specify content that can be downloaded and deleted dynamically to a device only when it’s needed. A feature that will also be available is for the App Store to only provide the 32-bit or 64-bit binary required for a specific device. Currently both formats are downloaded to a device even if they will not be used. When implemented these features will allow apps to take up much less space on a person’s device.

Apple Watch

While I don’t own an Apple Watch and don’t plan on buying one in the near future but the changes to the watchOS are definitely interesting. I know there was a lot of disappointment in the developer community with the lack of support for native apps and the inability to customize the watch faces themselves. Being able to create custom “complications” will allow developers to add nice indicators for their users to get quick updates on what interests them rather than having to dig or pull out their iPhone.

With the quick turn-around to release watchOS 2 I believe it speaks volumes that Apple is proactively listening to user and developer feedback. They want the Apple Watch to be something that users will actually enjoy using and find useful.

Apple Music

From iTunes Radio to Apple Music it is more of a progression from a free to a paid service. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. Music has been progressively moving away from people’s coveted collections for quite some time. So the idea of providing curated playlists of music seems to be a step up from the algorithmic playlists that other services provide or a personal playlist of music on random.

Coming from the somewhat old-school attitude of music I’m not entirely sold on this yet. I still have personally curated playlists of music on my iPhone. We’ll see how successful this service becomes. At the very least it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the music industry. And Taylor Swift believes that streaming music is “just a fad”. That may be true but that fad doesn’t seem to be weakening. It only seems to be getting stronger.

Conclusion

I believe that the improvements to Apple’s products and services is positive. I believe they may have missed the mark in a few areas or may have not gone far enough. Overall though, definitely needed additions or steps in the right direction. I hope that Apple continues to improve their product line-up and doesn’t fall into the chasm of “good enough” that got Microsoft stuck for such a long time.

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Life Events In IT

My blog has been dormant for quite some time. I originally created it to focus on IT related issues. But then life happened. The company I had been working for was hit pretty hard by some economic realities. They chose to make cuts in their work force. Myself included. The good news is that I was only out of work for about a month and am now in quite a better position than I was at my previous employer.

Prior to creating this blog I had made a conscious decision to change my career. I had originally had been wanting to meld my career from doing the help desk jobs that I had before to doing more systems administration. What I discovered is that I had grown bored of what I came to term “babysitting the servers”. While managing my home network is rewarding in its own way I found doing that professionally was quite mind numbing.

My last few jobs had given me tastes of development. Starting with PHP, MySQL, and a manufacturing system that used Visual Basic for Applications. A little over a year ago after a previous layoff situation I made the conscious decision to move from systems into development. I haven’t looked back since. Due to my lack of experience my first full-time development position took longer to come and was not at the pay I would have preferred. However, it gave me some needed experience and my first real step into the world of computer programming.

I now feel like I can only keep rising. Before I felt like I was stuck in a kind of support hell. Bouncing between dealing with the minutia of individual user problems and babysitting servers. I wasn’t being challenged and didn’t feel like I was going anywhere in my career. In development I feel like I can solve larger problems and am challenged to learn how to solve those problems. My work life is no longer about simply being a cog but a motor. Maybe I’m waxing poetic but in development I believe I can make a real difference and improve the way people work rather than being the thing that lets people do work.

Even at this crucial time in my career and life I kind of feel like I have more to contribute and that larger things are on the horizon. Life is not always the simple progression that I was seemingly leading myself down.

I will try and post more regularly as I draw inspiration from this ever changing world.

Market Reality

I decided to create a blog to air my personal thoughts on the IT world. Having had a heated and passionate discussion on Facebook about Microsoft’s place in the market I have decided to take this discussion to a more appropriate venue.

The discussion that ensued yesterday had got me thinking about the position that Microsoft has put themselves in and what happens when they release a dud version of Windows. By all accounts Windows 8 was unwanted by the masses. For some this is debatable but after the release of Windows 8 there was a notable drop in the sales of desktop and laptop PC’s as noted here: http://www.cnet.com/news/pcs-hit-by-an-ugly-quarterly-drop-as-windows-8-flops/.

Through minimum purchase requirements and other agreements Microsoft has made with PC makers they have put themselves in a position to transfer the risk of dud Windows releases onto those very PC makers. Windows is always a financial success for Microsoft no matter how bad it is received by the public. The result of a dud Windows release is a drop in PC sales, not a drop in Windows sales. Microsoft makes money no matter how many PC’s are sold in the market.

In this way Microsoft has shielded themselves from the real effects of a market driven economy. Computers need operating systems. PC makers are in the business of selling solutions to customers, not parts. To sell a PC without an operating system is akin to selling a car without a gas pedal. Sure, it will start and run but it won’t get you anywhere. There are other options for operating systems out there but that is a discussion for another time. Microsoft Windows has become the defacto operating system for computers. PC makers have no choice but to buy the latest version of Windows because Microsoft stops selling them licenses for the old version.

This all works well for PC makers until Microsoft releases a version of Windows that becomes unpopular. At that point the PC maker must buy Windows licenses they possibly can’t sell because they must purchase a minimum quantity to remain a Microsoft partner. To not be a Microsoft partner means buying licenses at a much higher cost from a third party supplier meaning a lower profit margin for them. Microsoft still makes money but leaves the PC maker in the cold.

In the end the only effects Microsoft sees are negative commentary and a drop in popularity. They never truly feel the real effects of creating an unpopular version of Windows. Market driven economics is supposed to make it so popularity wins. In this case even unpopular wins. A very negative thing for the tech market.

Sounding board for my opinion on the state of IT.