Back to the Mac – Apple Event Thoughts

Apple Inc.

When I first heard the tagline “back to the mac”, I thought it was a little silly and just to signify that they were going to announce Lion and possibly a new Mac or two. Both of which they did. However, they really did do a good job of making that theme for the event fit perfectly well in all aspects, but mainly the idea of bringing back innovations from iOS to Mac OS X.

I’d like to go through each of the announcements with my thoughts on each, in the order they were announced in.

iLife 11

iLife 11 wasn’t really a blockbuster announcement in my opinion. To be honest, I skipped past the Garageband segment of the conference when I watched it back later. I’m sure it’s got some nice improvements in it, but it’s not of great importance to me personally.

What I was really interested in was the new version of iPhoto. It’s my favourite of the iLife apps and as a keen photographer, I find it incredibly useful for storing my photo library and uploading my favourites to Flickr. One of the themes of OS X Lion is going to be full screen apps. I’m a fan of this philosophy. As our screens get smaller (for example, with the 11 inch MacBook Air which I’ll get to later), we need to be able to make the best use of the size we have available. A lot of the time, we’re wasting space with docks and universal menus and so I’m all for full screen apps which will increase concentration and minimise clutter on our screens.

One criticism I would have of the full screen mode of iPhoto is that the navigation is completely changed from the regular windowed view, and some people will not be happy about having to learn the app twice in a way, but it wouldn’t trouble me once I got the hang of everything. The uploading aspects have been improved which is also nice to see, as sometimes uploading to Facebook especially was complex and made me want to do it manually. It looks like this won’t be the case any more which is nice to see.

FaceTime for Mac

The annoucement of FaceTime for Mac was a little muted. While I have downloaded the app, and can say that it feels very flushed out and well made, Apple weren’t willing to make this a fully fledged feature of OS X just yet. Instead, they’ve released it as a beta for download from Apple.com. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will prevent a lot of people who may have made use of it miss out because they won’t know it exists yet, and that would be a shame.

Another thing I find strange about this product is that it is a completely separate app and independent from everything else, even if it does incorporate contacts. We’re so used to seeing Apple squeeze so many features into one app, like they do with iTunes, so it feels like a departure from that and a return to simple, dedicated apps like Photo Booth, probably still the most used app on Apple Store demo models. So maybe this product isn’t bad for breaking the norm after all. Nevertheless, Apple have time to come to a decision on how they want it to be before it becomes an official feature of the OS in Lion.

As far as the performance goes, it works brilliantly well on my old first gen MacBook. We did a test call and both my iPod Touch and Mac at the same time. Once set up with your Apple ID, you don’t have to even have FaceTime running to receive video calls. You may wish to turn this off though if you have a lot of contacts and don’t want to be disturbed unannounced. If you don’t mind though, it works extremely well and the video quality is perhaps not incredible, but it does the job with the camera equipment it has access to.

I definitely recommend downloading this beta if you have a Mac with a camera, and if you’ve bought a Mac in the last 5 years, it’s highly likely that you will have. There are only two models that don’t come with built-in cameras, and even the Mac Mini and Mac Pros can work with USB webcams or Apple’s official iSight camera. In other words, you won’t want to miss out. You can download it here.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

We knew it was coming, and most of the feature announcements aren’t exactly too difficult to predict. With that being said, there were some things that excited me. Full screen apps, as previously mentioned is something I’m a champion of. I also am very much in favour of a Mac App Store. Downloading and updating apps on computers should be as simple as it is on the iDevices, and now it can be. Not all apps will be available, but a lot will be and it will be a pleasure to use, you can rest assured.

Mission Control looks complex and confusing for the majority of users. I’m a little confused as to whether or not this actually replaces expose or not, but I’m sure they’ll do their best to make it as easy to understand as possible before the OS ships next summer.

Finally, there is Launchpad which is very clearly inspired by iOS home screens and the recent development of Folders. It works in exactly the same way as it does in iOS but with a mouse. I’m not sure if this will entirely replace the application “stack” folder you can use on the dock, but it definitely would for me regardless of whether or not Apple make it compulsory. It would probably cause me to change my dock habits and have less icons in there, and instead use Launchpad and folders to house the majority of my apps.

I may even decide to hide my dock and give myself more screen real-estate, although you may not be gaining that much from doing that if most apps in Lion end up with full-screen modes.

MacBook Air

I was really impressed with the new Airs. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve really wanted a new laptop that Apple have shown. They are really pushing the boat out here with innovation and the price is really strong in my opinion, as it matches up with the base price of the current MacBook.

The 11 inch model is exactly what I would be looking for in a follow up to my current 13 inch MacBook when I eventually have to upgrade. I don’t really need the size of the 13 inch any more and I love the idea of flash storage in a laptop. I don’t like the idea of hard drives spinning constantly as I worry that they’ll get shaken up and break with heavy use. Flash memory is often unreliable as well for different reasons, but considering that they’re only offering flash in these models, Apple must be very confident in their ability to produce very reliable storage systems with that technology, and that fills me with confidence as well.

The 64gb of storage in the base model isn’t big by today’s standards, but considering it’s flash, and that I still am quite a way from filling my 60gb hard drive from my MacBook, it’s not a big worry at this point. It’s going to take a considerable amount of time before my iTunes and iPhoto Libraries are big enough to fill the remaining space.

Conclusion

Apple did well in showing people that they are still very much committed to the platform that launched the company and still plays a big role in its continued success. They are still the leaders in innovation in computer hardware and software, and they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

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