My Thoughts on the WWDC 2012 Keynote

With this year’s WWDC having come to an end, I wanted to share my thoughts on the things Apple announced during last Monday’s keynote. There were three products announced: the Retina display MacBook Pro, Mountain Lion, and iOS 6. In this post, I’ll discuss each in order.

Retina Display MacBook Pro

The Retina display MacBook Pro was perhaps the biggest announcement at the keynote -- so big, in fact, that Phil Schiller went old school and unveiled the device with a black shroud.

This new 15-inch Pro is unquestionably the future of Apple’s notebooks line. Its design is sort of a cross between the MacBook Air and the Pro: thinner, lighter, and Flash-based but with “pro” features like the Retina display, a discrete graphics chip, and up to 16GB of RAM. It’s also priced professionally: this new Pro costs $2199. Make no mistake, though, the hallmark feature of this new notebook is the Retina display. It has a resolution of 2880x1800 at 220 pixels per inch. That’s 5.1 million pixels jam-packed in a 15.4-inch space.

The addition of the Retina display to the new MacBook Pro is a prime example of how Apple rolls, whereby a marquee feature starts in one place but slowly spreads across the company’s other products. Even moreso than Flash storage, thinness, and Thunderbolt ports, Apple clearly believes the Retina display is the future of notebooks. It’s only a matter of time -- and economics -- until Apple extends the Retina screen to the MacBook Air. (Not to mention the iMac and the Thunderbolt Display.) The prospect of an 11-inch Air with Retina display is particularly salivating. I had a chance to spend a few minutes with one at Best Buy. The display on that thing is absolutely amazing, and it’s amazingly thin and light. I’m definitely saving my pennies to get one. One oddity, though: when I walked up to the computer, the screen wasn’t set up to show off its Retina-ness. Rather, it was set up to show more space, so everything was tiny. I changed it, but as soon as I walked away, one of the store people changed it back. In any case, the biggest question surrounding the release of the new MBP is whether to buy one or wait for a Retina Air. It’s definitely a tough choice for some. What’s crazy to me about the new MBP is that at 0.71-inches thin and 4.46 pounds, its thinner and lighter than my Late 2008 13-inch unibody MacBook (0.95-inches, 4.5 pounds) I’m using as my main machine. It’s going to be awfully tempting to go for the new 15-inch Pro once it comes time to replace my MacBook.

In sum, John Gruber has the best take on the significance of the Retina MacBook Pro:

The new “next-generation” MacBook Pro with Retina Display is, in short, “Back to the Mac” for hardware. This is an iOS-inspired appliance — battery, RAM, solid state storage — all of it is sealed in a magnificent enclosure. Consider too that it no longer even says “MacBook Pro” on the front of the display. It’s just like an iOS device — a brilliant display surrounded by black glass.

 Nailed it.

Mountain Lion

Truthfully, the Mountain Lion stuff was the least exciting for me insofar that I’ve been using the betas for quite awhile now. In fact, that I’ve been using Mountain Lion for so long makes using Lion --  which my 11-inch Air that I’m using to write this review is running on -- kinda weird. Mountain Lion is pretty much Lion evolved, but you tend to appreciate the little touches MoLo adds, stuff like Notification Center and the Tabs View in Safari.

Because of my experience with using Mountain Lion, I don’t have much to say about it, save for a couple of points. The first point is that the OS now is pretty damn stable. I downloaded the WWDC build after the keynote, and it’s really good. I don’t think we’re very far from seeing the GM seed. As to the second point, I really like the concept of a new feature called Power Nap. What Power Nap does is download apps and other things while your system is in sleep mode. This way, once you wake it up, your system is already up to date. Unfortunately for me, this feature is only compatible with SSD-based Macs, so I won’t be able to use it on my main machine, though it will work with my Air.

Mountain Lion will be available in July on the Mac App Store for $19.99 -- $10 less than the Lion upgrade.

iOS 6

This section has the potential to be long, so I’m going to try to limit iits length by discussing the marquee features that hold the most interest and relevance to me. I’ll also try to mention some of the minor additions that I find interesting. Overall, I will say that iOS 6 is akin to Mountain Lion in that it adds polish and a Wow, that’s nice factor to the OS. Put another way, if iOS 5 was revolutionary for its overhaul of the notifications UI and Siri, then iOS 6 is more evolutionary in scope with its enhancements for Siri and the (somewhat) refreshed look of UIKit.

  • Maps. The rebuilt-from-the-ground-up overhaul of Maps is unquestionably Apple’s big “fuck you” to Google, especially since the MapKit API has been rewritten so that developers can use Apple’s new maps in their own apps. The cartography and, in particular, the 3D Flyover view is beautiful, but it remains to be seen if Apple’s own maps solution can effectively replace Google Maps. (Actually, it’ll be interesting to see if Apple allows Google to have a Maps app on the App Store after this. Somehow I doubt it.) Personally, I’ve never used Maps all that much, but I’m nonetheless excited to check out what Apple’s done. I recommend watching Scott Forstall’s demo.

  • Siri. Apple’s made some really nice enhancements to Siri this year, including the ability to launch apps, compose and send tweets, and look up sports, movie, and restaurant information. And, of course, Siri’s coming to the iPad (3) as well. I’m especially excited to get the app-launching functionality. For all the bitching about Apple’s promotion of Siri and it not working as advertised, the truth is she’s getting better -- it’s another example of how Apple rolls. Having said this, however, I still wish I didn’t stutter.

  • Facebook. Like Twitter in iOS 5, Apple’s built in deep, system-wide integration for Facebook, which is great for someone like me who also uses Facebook a lot. What’s great about this is that it’ll allow me to lessen my reliance on Facebook’s app, which, has become bloated and slow as molasses. Honestly, I don’t like using the app anymore. A nice touch: you can now post to Facebook (and tweet) right from within Notification Center.

  • Passbook. Passbook is interesting: I think it’s a harbinger for a mobile payment system. As it stands today, though, Passbook is your one-stop destination for your boarding passes, event tickets, and gift cards. I anticipate Passbook replacing the Starbucks app for me, as all I really use it for is to pay for my coffee. Also, the paper-shredding animation Apple uses when deleting cards is clever and damn slick.

  • Phone. The additions to the Phone app this year are very cool. Rather than just sending it to voicemail, you can now reply to a call you can’t (or shouldn’t) take with a message like “I’ll call you later”. (I wonder what happens, though, when sending messages to landlines.) Even better, you can have your phone remind you to call/text the caller back. Like in Reminders, you can even set up a geofence around your current location so that, for instance, your phone will pop up with an alert when you get leave work to call whomever it is back. Furthermore, I like the Do Not Disturb feature because it’s highly annoying to see (and hear) notifications come in at 3am.

  • Guided Access. This is one of the new Accessibility features Apple’s added in iOS 6. The biggest thing here is that you can now “lock” the iPad into Single App Mode by disabling the Home button. This is great for someone like me who uses iPads with special needs preschoolers, and wants them to focus on one activity. You can take this even further and disable any of the controls in the app so that, say, your child or student won’t be making inadvertent in-app purchases or switch apps. I know several of my co-workers have wished for a feature such as this, and they jumped for joy when I told them it was coming in iOS 6.

  • Miscellany. Other tidbits I think are cool about iOS 6 include the redesigned stores, app updates not kicking you out of the App Store, the iPad getting a native Clock app, and the new icon-driven Share Sheets. Also, there’s word that Apple plans to give podcasts their own app, but I’m guessing it won’t stop me from using Instacast. One thing about iOS 6 I don’t understand is why the iPhone 3GS gets to run it (albeit a crippled version) yet the iPad 1 doesn’t. Hell, the original iPad has the A4 chip. Makes no sense to me.

    I’m tempted to download the beta, but I might wait until v2 or 3 to do so. We’ll see.

As a whole, what was unveiled at WWDC wasn’t surprising -- most of the Apple rumor sites had a lot of this stuff pegged beforehand. There was no Apple TV SDK nor a standalone TV set, but those aren’t the types of things Apple would use WWDC to announce anyway. If you’re an Apple geek like me, you appreciate what was announced, and you look forward to September/October when the next iPhone is revealed. The next few months are going to be exciting, that’s for sure.