Keynote Day

I have a little travel ritual. The night before a trip, when I’m pulling clothes out of the dryer and rounding up cables and chargers and finishing up the writing I need to do before I go and pulling together the files I need so I can continue to write once I’m there and trying to decide which camera to bring and nervously eyeing the clock and wondering if I have time to clean the kitchen and also losing my optimism that this will finally be the trip in which I actually get a reasonable night’s of sleep before I have to haul ass for the airport, I repeat the following phrase:

“My life would be sooooo much simpler right now if I weren’t leaving tomorrow.”

I spend a few moments fantasizing about that parallel world in which I’m spending this same evening getting a little work done, watching a little TV, doing the dishes, and then sleeping for six to eight hours.

Then I’m snapped back to reality.

You can tell that I’m not in San Francisco right now. One, I didn’t start this post with “Greetings from San Francisco, where I’m holed up for a few days to attend the keynote that kicks off Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Secondly, I seem to be clear-headed and rational and I actually have time to blog this morning.

Mind you, I’m resenting my clear-headed, rational thinking. That’s what led to my staying home. If I can line up someone to cover my travel expenses, or if I get a vibe about the event early enough that I can book an affordable flight, or if I think that I’ll miss out on a lot of the story by staying home and following the liveblogs, then whoosh! Off I go. That’s why I’m a regular at these events.

But this time:

  1. No such luck;
  2. Apple didn’t even announce any kind of WWDC keynote until less than a week ahead of time…and while I could be pretty sure that they’d do a keynote, I could only be “pretty sure” that it’d be open to the media, which added up to “book a flight and book enough nights in a hotel to cover any likely keynote day, based on your hope that there’ll be something you can attend”;
  3. I’m 95% sure there won’t be a hardware announcement today (so: no chance to get early hands-on impressions of some new thing) and Apple can give me a briefing over the phone.

In the end, I flipped ahead to the end of the book and saw myself shuffling out of the keynote hall at Moscone West and thinking “I could have stayed home, read three liveblogs simultaneously, phoned some sources in San Francisco, and written the exact same column I’m about to write in the next two hours.

“Only I’d be writing it on the brand-new 11″ MacBook Air that I paid for with the money I otherwise would have spent on airfare and two nights of meals, hotel, and transportation.”

No, I didn’t buy an Air. But that’s the principle. The other thing is that I’m up to my neck in work on the new book and the water’s rising. Plus, it’s E3 week and Microsoft will be delivering their own Interesting Keynote, which I’ll need to write about. It’s a terrible week for me to take off and close my office.

Just because I’ve decided not to fly out for WWDC doesn’t mean I don’t think Apple will show off anything important, o’course. This will clearly be Apple’s biggest announcement since they showed off the original iPad.

Though from what I know and what I suppose, I’d probably rank it closer to Apple’s original iPhone keynote. Today, Apple’s showing off MacOS 10.7, iOS 5, and iCloud, a new service that glues everything together. Overall it feels less like “we’re coming out with the next version of an existing thing” and more like “Here’s how we’re defining the direction of the company for the next five years.”

I’ve dabbled with and abandoned a couple of different columns about what iCloud will be. I think the only smart call is to wait and see. The more I hear about iCloud the more certain I am that any comparisons to Dropbox, or to Amazon or Google’s cloud music services, will seem laughably clumsy when Apple turns over all of its cards. “The glue that holds everything together” will sum it all up, methinks.

Cloud music will be its most visible and most easily demonstrated feature but in reality, I think iCloud means that a new Apple service will manage all of the information you deal with on a regular basis and make sure that anything you need can be projected into any device you’re using.

The strongest clue in this direction came last Tuesday, I think. Apple released new iPhone and iPod Touch editions of Pages and Keynote. Previously, they were only available for the Mac and the iPad, where (frankly) they make clear sense. Are you terribly likely to want to write a 1000 words on your iPhone? Or build or even edit a presentation on that tiny screen?

(Though, yes, the idea of flying somewhere to give a presentation and boarding the plane with just your iPhone and a VGA adapter in your pocket has a definite Bell Labs “The Miraculous World Of 2000” filmstrip quality about it.)

Beyond that? I’m hoping that iOS 5 incorporates better systems for app switching and alerts. I want to see better voice control.

Last week, I ended a column on Windows 8 with a warning directed at Google’s Android team. “When a new version of Microsoft Windows hands you your ass in the category of user-interface clarity and simplicity,” I said, “It’s time to sit down and seriously think about the choices you’ve made in life.”

I now say the same things to Apple. Android’s voice commands are insanely good. You want to go to the nearest Outback Steak House? You hold down the Search button and say “Navigate to the Outback Steak House.” It finds the nearest one and off you go. Speech-to-text dictation is also quite solid. You wouldn’t want to dictate a whole email with it, but it’s perfectly serviceable for text messages.

Notifications aren’t perfect in Android, but they’re better than what we’ve got in iOS. Tap the menubar and a list slides down. There it is: everything that any piece of code has recently wanted to tell you. Did that podcast finish downloading? Yup: your podcaster left you a note. Cool. I had a hunch that there was a way to improve upon iOS’ “I’ll block the screen with a dialog box that has to be dismissed by the user” approach.

I also think it’s time for iOS to have some sort of high-level mechanism for interapp communication. There are ways for one app to pass information to another, but usually it requires a lot of coordination between the developers of those two apps. TextExpander, for example, isn’t terribly useful as-is. It expands keyboard shortcuts into large blocks of text, which is lovely, but you then have to cut the text from the TE app’s pasteboard and then switch to the destination app and then paste it in.

TextExpander works natively inside many third-party apps without any need for cutting and pasting…but only because the TE code is baked right in. I’d love for Apple to come up with some kind of a mechanism where an app can “receive” the functions or information of another app without having to incorporate its code directly. I’d love it if my car GPS app could pass the text “Next turn: right onto Exit 29 in 23.8 miles” to a big, friendly music player app, which could then discreetly display it in a tile.

Well, we’ll know soon enough. The keynote kicks off at 10 AM Pacific. I’ll be sitting here, twitchily eyeing three liveblog windows at the same time, and then I’ll be joining a special edition of MacBreak.

But yes, I’m well-rested and I’ll be in a comfortable chair with a cold beverage nearby. I can’t get that at the Moscone Center. And you know what I did last night? I baked goddamn blueberry muffins, that’s what I did.

So far, I’m certain that I made the right choice. I’m on my sofa and I’ve breakfasted on a fresh muffin. We’ll see if this good feeling lasts through the afternoon. Suffice to say that if Steve Jobs pulls an Oprah and leaps around the stage shouting “YOU get a MacOS tablet! And YOU get a MacOS tablet! And YOU get a MacOS tablet!!!!” while Apple Store workers file out from backstage and into the aisles bearing heaping trays of devices…I shall be disappointed.

I will probably have another couple of muffins. It won’t make me feel much better, but hey, they’re really good muffins.

18 thoughts on “Keynote Day”

  1. As usual, Andy, I’m looking forward to your take on the Keynote.

    But I must admit to being a bit nervous: two major points of focus are The Cloud and social media—two points (to put it kindly) that Apple has never really managed to really nail.

    They’ve obviously devoted a lot of resources, at least to the cloud part, but is it reasonable to think Apple really gets this, or is it likely we’ll see some sort of near-miss?

  2. Glad I’m not the only one watching from afar this year after having attended in the past. I was in line at Moscone last year and saw you being whisked away up the escalator ahead of the masses. I think you made the right call this time, though!

  3. One feature I’d REALLY like to see from any combination of MacOS 10.7, iOS 5 or iCloud is the ability to sync updates (music, apps, etc.) between my Mac/iPhone/iPad/Nano devices over the cloud or at least via WiFi. Cables are sooo last century.

    And…I now have a tremendous craving for a blueberry muffin.

  4. Its a good thing you didn’t really buy that 11″ MacBook Air.

    New ones by the end of the day ;-)

  5. First, the paper should have paid your expenses to go if you deemed it necessary, but as we both know, those days are gone, perhaps for good, and that is not a good for us or journalism.

    And DAMN you muffins. They look devilishly good. I want one. Or two. And I’m in nearby CT and testing A Volt right now, so could get up there on little fuel. But did you invite me? Nooooooooooooo. . .

  6. Glad to know you weren’t black-balled! I felt really bad when you said on MBW that you haven’t received the invitation.

    I’m totally with you on the point that iCloud is much bigger than just a “music thing”…I mean, it has to be. Theres no point on launching a whole different product when they could have written an app to play music of iDisk, which is basically what the Amazon thing is.

    I never experienced any trouble with MobileMe, in fact other than a very poor integration of iDisk to OS X, I love MobileMe. But never could justify the 99 dollar price so I always bought it from Amazon at 40-50 dollars when I could.

    I really hope Apple blows the competition away as they usually do…and I’m off to buy a muffin…you bad man…gave me cravings…must…have…muffin…

  7. @William – It wasn’t a “email a colorful HTML invitation out” sort of event…it was more of an “Email journalists directly and tell them that a badge will be waiting for them at the venue” sort of thing.

    Fret not…I was indeed invited. :)

  8. @Dan – If there’s new hardware, I think it’ll be simple stuff, like a new Airport base station or at best an Air with Thunderbolt. But I’m not convinced there’ll be anything at all.

  9. I think I’d rather have your clearheaded wit and genius than the sleep deprived, slightly travel addled version.

    On the other hand, I’d have MUCH rather had you out for our traditional post-WWDC BBQ than not, so I’m torn!

    Either way, you are loved.

  10. I assume you did not buy the muffin tin you tweeted about to bake your exquisite muffins, or it might have been cheaper to attend the keynote in person after all :)

  11. Is it me or does iCloud seem to be give a bunch on one hand, but potentially take more from the other. Here are the two I am worried about:

    1. Currently, syncing itunes is to 5 computers and as many iOS/iPod as you have. Now it is 10 devices…. does that mean that iOS devices count toward the total? If that is true, 10 isn’t as generous as it sounds.

    2. With the departure of mobileMe (boy, I won’t miss that name), will “back to my mac” be rolled into the OS or does that get canned too? That is one of the great features of MM.

    Typically, apple products enhance the ecosystem, but if you don’t have one, it doesn’t make you feel like you have an incomplete puzzle. iCloud is a game changer for apple, and the new features of it are going to go out to all apple users, like it or not.

    For me, most of it sounds great…. although it is the specifics that apple isn’t talking about that really makes me wonder if the grass will be greener on the side of the fence we will all be “pushed” to.

  12. Must have blueberry muffins. Andy ever tried Kick Ass cupcakes in Sommerville. They have a milk bar next door. It is so wrong but yet so right.

  13. Hi Andy,

    As usual, I think you’re spot on with your comments. The biggest question I had after watching the Keynote is whether this Docs in the Cloud business applies to the desktop as well? They noticeably left out the Mac when they were showing off this part of the software. Perhaps this will be part of a much needed iWork update?

    And as much as it pains me to say it, Windows 8 makes the iOS home screen (especially on the iPad) look dated. Not that I want my stocks displayed in psychedelic 70s colors, but I love the concept.

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