Apple's next OS leap

Apple has pulled out the big guns with its latest hardware software upgrades, in a bid to hold on to the Apple faithful and add new followers to the flock.

The Conversation

The Apple faithful, or maybe just the jet lagged, have been lining up all night outside the Moscone West conference centre in San Francisco to hear Apple CEO Tim Cook announce Apple’s latest changes to its software and product lines.

I must admit to being sceptical entering into the keynote. The rumours about what was going to be announced suggested that this was going to be another set of incremental changes.

The first 20 minutes of the keynote reinforced this view. Tim Cook and others recapped Apple’s continued growth in terms of apps downloaded, user accounts created on iTunes, mobile devices sold (365 million). The upgrades of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptop computers were good but unexceptional. Faster processors and graphics and interestingly not, as some had hoped, an upgrade to the display.

But then, Apple pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat: the next generation MacBook Pro.

This is a truly amazing laptop.

Essentially a fusion of a MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, it is very thin for a laptop of this type. Just 0.71 inches, which is about the same, thin size as the Air. Still heavier at 4.4 lbs. The centrepiece however was the 15.4“ Retina Display with a staggering 2880 x 1800 pixels.

The laptop has top end quad core i7 processor and up to 16 GB RAM. Storage is provided with up to 768 GB of solid-state disk. It now features USB 3 ports and HDMI output. An interesting feature is the inclusion of dual microphones with beam forming to enable new audio features. It also has extended battery life claiming up to 7 hours.

And there was more.

Mountain Lion, the new Mac OSX operating system, has new apps, bringing iOS apps like to do lists, notes and iMessage to Mac OSX. Other iOS features like the notification centre can be accessed using a side swipe on the track pad. A new version of the Safari browser brings faster Javascript, an integrated address and search bar (finally) and the ability to synchronise tabs across devices.

Siri didn’t make it but voice dictation, based on some of the Siri technology did. Dictation is now integrated into all apps on the Mac.

PowerNap is a new sleep feature that updates content when the laptop is put to sleep.

AirDisplay has now been built in so that the Mac can stream video and audio to enabled devices.

Mountain Lion will be released next month for $19.99 for an upgrade. Essentially it is free. This compares with Microsoft Windows 8

Finally, and most significantly, iOS 6 was announced.

80 per cent of Apple users are on the latest version of iOS compared to 4 per cent  of Android users on their latest operating system. This makes a big difference to the ability of developers to make use of new features and is something Google and the other smartphone manufacturers will struggle to match.

Siri has been upgraded – it can understand questions about sports – American of course. So if you happen to be in the US, you can ask Siri questions about Baseball, Basketball and US Football. There is improved information about restaurants (again US only).

Most usefully, Siri can launch apps directly and more importantly it has been brought to the new iPad, another surprising but welcome addition.

Siri can also be launched in Eyes Free mode – this is a feature designed for the car where manufacturers will add buttons to the steering wheel of their cars. The display of the iPhone does not light up in this mode minimising any distractions to the driver.

Facebook follows Twitter with integration into apps on iOS.

Phone has new features (yes the actual phone part of the iPone). The phone has a pull up screen that shows on incoming calls and allows you to answer a call with an automated reply message or the ability to set a reminder. The reminder feature can activate once you have left the location that you are in.

You can set your phone to a Do Not Disturb feature allowing you to stop calls and text messages from notifying the phone.

FaceTime is now available on cell networks in addition to wireless.

PassBook is a new app that allows electronic tickets to be organised and accessed simply. This is particularly useful for boarding passes and electronic tickets. Deleting a ticket is done through an animated shredder. The power of this app is that it is fully integrated with the phone. Updates to a gate on a boarding card will show up on the screen.

Apple Maps. The much anticipated replacement to Google Maps brings novel features including anonymous crowd-sourced traffic information. Apple have also added turn-by-turn navigation. The maps are also integrated with Siri. The maps includes a new 3D feature called FlyOver that lets you view parts of cities in 3D with full 360 degree rotation.

Overall, iOS 6 will help Apple retain its dominant position in the mobile market. The new features show Apple’s increasing insinuation into numerous other industries in a way that other manufacturers including Google and Microsoft have not been able to match. Ironically, the new MacBook Pro has probably staved off the complete move to mobile with a real reason to hang onto a laptop.