Apple CEO Tim Cook and one of his top lieutenants today outlined the next iterations of the company's critical iOS and the less-important OS X before an enthusiastic audience of developers.
OS X gets a new name this year: Yosemite.
Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software -- the weeklong smorgasbord is for developers, not customers -- and for the first time in the last three years passed on delivering a small side of hardware.
But Apple hammered hard on the software side, trumpeting changes both for end users, and in a departure of sorts, dedicated a large swath of keynote time to talk up the new iOS SDK (software developers kit), which will offer some 4,000 new APIs (application programming interfaces) -- including ones that Apple had previously kept to itself.
"This was more about the future of Apple than the present," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, in an interview after the keynote. "This is not something we can digest today and see the impact, but it's very important. It's not just about their stuff now."
Milanesi was talking about the long-awaited openness that Apple demonstrated as it ticked off a host of ways developers will be able to access iOS at the system level, create cloud-based apps that rely on Apple's iCloud service for the back end, and tie home automation and health care hardware to the iPhone as the ultimate controller.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, concurred with Milanesi. "Today was about getting more open and growing the ecosystem, by letting developers' apps access key parts of iOS. That's been a key attribute of Android, but now Apple's matching that," said Moorhead.
The other major theme, said analysts, was the enhanced integration between iOS and OS X, exemplified by "Continuity," an umbrella term to cover several features, including the existing AirDrop, which now works between the two OSes; the new "Handoff" that uses proximity awareness to let people start a task on one device, then finish on another; and the ability to create an ad hoc Wi-Fi hotspot with, say, an iPhone, without having to pre-configure the smartphone or enter a password, as is now the case.
Milanesi was impressed with Continuity and its implications for Apple. "Really, if you have an iPhone and iPad, how long will it take you to get a Mac after today?" she asked.
The 'Continuity' features built into OS X Yosemite allow a desktop user to answer phone calls coming into an iPhone.
Milanesi has been a believer in Apple's multi-device strategy -- as opposed to Microsoft's push to combine devices, best demonstrated by Redmond's own Surface Pro 3 -- and saw Continuity as evidence that it would find favor among the customers Apple wants most to court: those with one Cupertino-designed device who have not yet been convinced that an all-Apple ecosystem can work.
Cook boasted that iOS 8, this year's iPhone and iPad operating system, was "the biggest release since the launch of the App Store" and required "two stories, not one," which the keynote split into different presentations, one that highlighted end-user changes, another targeting developers.
Both were conducted by Craig Federighi, who leads OS X and iOS development and spent nearly the entire two hours on stage.
While iOS 8 will not be visually tweaked -- that was iOS 7's job last year -- it will include a host of new or enhanced tools.
The Notification Center will be refined to offer in-context, interactive notifications, where a reply to an incoming message, for instance, can be written and fired off without leaving the center or opening an app. iOS 8 will also receive new keyboard skills, dubbed "Quicktype," that support predictive suggestions and opens the iOS keyboard to third-party modifications; the Continuity features; substantial enhancements to Messages, including individual threading and a "do not disturb" by discussion thread; and as reported earlier, song recognition via Shazam.
iCloud Drive will let iOS users access documents system-wide, breaking down the app-specific silos that files have been forced into previously. Content purchased by up to six members of a family, even on different credit cards, can now be shared using Family Sharing, said Federighi. And Photos, iOS's photograph-management app, will now store all photos and video in iCloud for access via any Apple device.
iCloud storage allowances, however, will remain parsimonious: just 5GB for free. Additional plans of 20GB for 99 cents per month and 200GB for $3.99 monthly will be offered; the former represents a 70% discount from Apple's current pricing.
As anticipated by the rumor mill, iOS 8 will include new APIs for an initiative called "Healthkit," and a dedicated app dubbed "Health," as well as "Homekit," the collection of APIs for managing home automation devices from an iPhone.
"Healthkit is a personal medical lock box, where users can put all their health information, then allow only certain apps access," said Moorhead. "Consumers are looking for a trusted name, and Apple's got a good shot at that."
Apple touted the Health app as the place where various health care-related devices and their supporting apps will contribute data to create a more holistic picture of wellness.
The same approach was evident in Homekit, said Moorhead. "Apple's trying to be the epicenter of your digital home life," he said. "Instead of having multiple apps, you will have just one where all your [home automation] devices work together."
iOS 8 will launch this fall -- most likely simultaneously with the newest iPhone -- and will run on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S; the iPad 2, iPad with Retina, iPad Air, iPad mini with and without Retina; and the fifth-generation iPod Touch. Developers get the preview today.
As expected, Apple also spent considerable time trumpeting OS X this year. At the beginning of the keynote, which was webcast live, Federighi unveiled a refreshed visual look for OS X, the desktop operating system, that was reminiscent of last year's iOS 7 with a "flatter," more minimalist feel.
The Healthkit dashboard aggregates health info from a variety of apps.
Federighi again demonstrated his comedy chops by first suggesting that Apple considered OS X "Oxnard," then OS X "Rancho Cucamonga," even OS X "Weed" after northern California's reputation for growing marijuana, as potential names. Last year, Apple changed its naming convention to label its next decade of desktop OSes after prominent locales in its home state.
"Saner heads prevailed," Federighi joked about OS X Weed, then announced OS X 10.10 as "Yosemite" after the national park in central California.
The new look of Yosemite relies heavily on translucency, especially in the Dock, where frequently-used applications are displayed, and in the recrafted and expanded Notification Center.
As has been par for WWDC, Federighi highlighted only a handful of the new features in Yosemite, many of them changes throughout Apple's first-party applications, including Mail -- which will get an encryption option -- Maps, Messages, Contacts, and the built-in calendar. He also introduced iCloud Drive, which lets OS X and iOS users view documents created and stored by their respective apps, and even upload third-party files to online storage.
Safari will also be updated alongside Yosemite to add a new tab view that stacks tabs for each site. And Apple wedged its way between its customers and Google by offering Spotlight-driven alternatives to standard browser-based searches. "Safari will suggest search results before you go to Google. So what? Well, it means Google doesn't suggest them any more," said Jonny Evans, Computerworld's resident blogger, in a tweet today.
Developers will receive a pre-release version of Yosemite today, with a public launch "this fall." Customers who have registered with the recently-revealed Beta Seed program will also get access to pre-launch copies.
OS X Yosemite will be free.
No shows during the keynote included Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, the co-founders of Beats Electronics, which last week Apple said it would acquire for $3 billion. Some had speculated that the two would make a brief appearance on stage today, but that didn't happen, although Federighi phoned Dre during part of the presentation.
Also AWOL was any mention of Apple's iBeacons technology, which debuted at WWDC a year ago. The Bluetooth-based micro-location and proximity system was thought to be a key part of today's talk, but that, too, did not pan out.
Nor was hardware mentioned, not even a Mac refresh of some kind. Since 2011 Apple has made a habit of introducing new Macs at WWDC, giving the company's oldest platform some stage time after shifting iPhone releases to the fall.
But there was plenty to assimilate.
"This is, after all, a developer's conference," noted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "And Apple's empowering developers to sell more stuff and make the platform more appealing."
A replay of today's WWDC keynote can be viewed on Apple's website.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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