Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Steve Jobs' keynote at WWDC 06

I just finished watching the video of Steve Jobs' keynote address at Apple's WWDC 06. I was looking forward to this and in fact I followed the live text updates of the keynote from my office on Monday.

But after checking out the video, I'm a bit disappointed. Maybe because they really didn't release any significant new consumer products. Before the keynote, rumors about an iPhone release and other crazy stuff were all over the internet. There was nothing of that sort in the keynote.

Instead, Steve started off by introducing the new Intel-based Mac Pro workstation. The configuration and performance of this machine is pretty good - with a quad Xeon processor. It is roughly 2x faster than the G5. And all this for only 2500 bucks. Good stuff.
He also introduced the new XServe server.

An unusual thing about this keynote was that Steve actually shared the stage with 2 other Apple employees. He was perhaps training new guys to do this presentation thing since he seems to be getting older. The other thing is that Steve did not perform as well as he did at previous Mac keynotes. He seemed a little less enthusiastic and a bit tired. Perhaps this dampened the effectiveness of the presentation.

After this, they introduced the new features in the upcoming OS X Leopard. The OS is slated for release in Spring 07. They started this part of the presentation with a little bit of Redmond bashing. They showed a screen-by-screen comparison of various OS X features and the copied versions on the Vista Beta. In fact, Steve mentioned that he will not be mentioning some of the Leopard OS's features because he doesn't want Redmond copying any of the stuff before they release their OS!

Most of the Leopard OS features were pretty standard stuff and nothing too great. Stuff like to-dos and notes linked to your email, Spaces (a virtual desktop application), etc. Although all these mundane features got applause from the Mac-crazy audience, they failed to impress me. However, there were two features that did manage to excite me.

The first is Time Machine - an automatic backup software. This is more like an automatic versioning system for all your files. Every little change is recorded and ready for backup/restoration. Microsoft is introducing something like this too in the Vista. A file versioning system of sorts. And so, I wasn't that excited until the presenter actually showed the demo of Time Machine at work. Man, the UI was awesome! This is exactly what Apple is good at! He started by showing a folder view with 4 files. A fifth one was supposed to be there, but was missing. So, he clicks on the Time Machine icon in the dock. And instantly, everything but the folder fades to black and you can see many copies of the folder behind this one... going towards infinity on a dimension that was going inside the screen. It was breathtaking - so seemless and intuitive. You've gotta check out this stuff on the video.

The other thing was the new iChat. They had managed to put a few nifty, but mostly useless features into it. Features of the type that were demoed for iPhoto in the last MacWorld (or the one before that). Now, you can do all those nice iPhoto tricks in iChat. These include visual effects like pinch, pull, mirror, etc for video. Another cool feature is that you can replace the background with a photo or a video (!) of your choice while video chatting on iChat. No blue screens or green screens required. So, for example, iChat could show you in front of a bustling Times Square, when in fact, you were sitting in the comfort of your bedroom. Another good feature is screen sharing. You can share the desktop as well as presentations or slide shows while video chatting on iChat.

The reason I am disappointed is because Apple did not have any truly amazing innovation to showcase here. I understand that the engineers have been busy porting their Mac OS over to the Intel architecture. They have now completed that and they took only 210 days to do it - an amazing feat. But still, the kind of stuff they showcased at WWDC 06 isn't something Apple should be boasting about at their WWDC. I don't see anything great in todo lists and stationary for your email or in adding WebDaV support for iCal. Hopefully, the secret features that they didn't mention this time are something really cool. I'm already waiting for the next MacWorld.


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