Tech Talk: Apple - Big days ahead? [St. Cloud Times, Minn. :: ]
(St. Cloud Times (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 08--Last week, Apple invited developers and the tech media to Moscone West in San Francisco for this year's edition of the Worldwide Developers Conference, an annual event for developers and vendors of Apple's various hardware and software platforms.
Developers can take part in detailed sessions surrounding design and programming of OS X and iOS applications, among other topics, but the highlight for fans is the conference's keynote address.
Though WWDC is, by name, a developers conference, Apple followers hold out hope that the company will use the keynote to announce new hardware. These reveals range from significant, such as Steve Jobs' 2010 introduction of the iPhone 4, to interesting-yet-not-revolutionary, such as the MacBook Air refreshes last year.
Unfortunately, Apple didn't announce any new hardware this year. However, important updates to both OS X, iOS and the programming language that powers them, as well as news on new health and home automation initiatives, paint a strong picture of where Apple is headed.
OS X Yosemite
This fall, Apple will roll out a new version of OS X, called Yosemite, as a free update.
Yosemite offers users a new, flat visual look, designed to bring Apple's desktop and mobile operating system interfaces closer in line.
Along with upgrades to the standard built-in apps, such as Mail and Safari, Apple is enhancing Notifications and Spotlight to offer an area to view important upcoming life content in one place and make navigating content and applications easier.
Apple also threw iCloud users a bone, offering new, competitive pricing and announcing an app, iCloud Drive, that will help users manage iCloud content on local devices (a la Dropbox). Users still get 5GB of iCloud storage for free, but 20GB ($.99) and 200GB ($3.99) monthly plans also are available.
Users with an Apple computer capable of running OS X Mavericks or Mountain Lion will be eligible for the free upgrade to Yosemite.
No new phones were announced, but that didn't stop Apple from announcing iOS 8, a free update available to Apple mobile devices owners on iPhone 4S/iPad 2 or later.
Continuing 7's flat look, iOS 8 forgoes flash to offer more interface refinements for users and enhancements for developers.
Notifications and messaging responsiveness has been improved, allowing users to interact with notifications without having to enter other apps and providing more message communication options, such as sending voice and video messages.
The keyboard in iOS 8 also has been upgraded, providing more context words to help users complete their phrases. For the first time, iOS 8 also will allow users to install third party keyboards, such as Swype, for people who aren't fans of the built-in keyboard. Users also will be able to add third party extensions to other areas of iOS, like notification center.
Yet iOS 8's biggest enhancements come when working together with an Apple computer running OS X.
A unified look for both operating systems is important, as Apple has plans to link OS X and iOS together like never before. These features, called "Continuity," allow users of multiple Apple devices to take advantage of shared features and functionality between them.
For example, users with a call coming in on their iPhone will be able to take it on their Mac. Messages through SMS or iMessage can be read and replied to on Mac, and vice versa.
The new Handoff feature allows users doing an activity on their phone, such as browsing the Web or looking at a map, to "hand off" that action to their computer, bringing the action up on the bigger device. This works in reverse, too, letting desktop users leaving the house quickly push the activity they were doing to their phone.
These features aren't revolutionary by themselves, but they help expand functionality beyond single, walled-off experiences.
Developers will have another new language to learn with the release of Swift, a new iOS/OS X programming language.
Swift won't completely replace Objective-C, he language currently used to develop for iOS, but Apple says it will make it easier for developers to create fast code for iOS.
For more information on Swift, see the programming language's product page on Apple's developer website: https://developer.apple.com/swift.
HomeKit and HealthKit
While no new devices or revolutionary feature updates were announced, Apple did give some hints as to where it may be headed with the announcement of HomeKit and HealthKit.
HomeKit is a home automation platform designed to let Apple devices and apps talk to other devices in the home. Just as the Continuity features enable connectivity between mobile and desktop Apple devices, HomeKit will let devices talk to smart home fixtures such as smoke detectors, refrigerators, garage doors, etc.
HealthKit works similarly, though it will talk to smart health devices, such as health bands, and allow all trusted devices and apps to exchange information. A new app, called Health, will debut with iOS 8 and be the initial hub for such information, though the HealthKit platform should allow other apps, such as those that track activity or diet, to work with user-approved data as well.
HomeKit and HealthKit, as announced, seem like the steppingstone to something bigger. Following the Continuity model further, it may indicate that Apple-branded smart devices, like the oft-rumored iWatch, are imminent. Such devices would fit the idea of keeping consumers' lives in the Apple circle, at home or away.
Reading between the lines, it appears Apple could have some of its biggest years ahead if it brings Continuity and connected computing further into the home.
This is the opinion of Andrew Fraser, the Times' digital products specialist. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewFraser.
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