Thoughts on WWDC 2013

As usual, some thoughts on this year’s WWDC

I found the keynote and sessions much more stimulating than last year. Things that particularly stood up :

First, Apple is not abandoning the Mac, nor professional users. There’s still a lot of work being done on OS X, and not just spit and polish. Given the architecture of the new MacPro with one of its GPU not dedicated to graphics (see this article on how the new MacPro’s design really is new, and not just because of its cylindrical shape), low-level stuff like OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch appear to be part of a much wider strategy, not just cool new tech. Even the venerable AppleScript platform is getting some new features, much to the relief of many who expected it to be abandoned because it would be inherently incompatible with the Mac App Store requirements.

There’s also the announce of a long overdue update of iWork for OS X. I really hope it will be more than cosmetic, like the previous one was. At least it’s nice to see Apple putting back more efforts behind its own OS X software.

Second, obviously, iOS7. The new “flat” design may look off-putting at first but I find it quickly becomes very familiar, and visually restful compared to the crowded look of iOS 6. I hope that the welcome restrain on graphic appearance won’t be spoiled by an overuse of the physics engine, though. Be wary of the “new tool” syndrome here.

Regarding iOS7’s visual appearance, it is quite interesting to see that it was indeed pioneered by Android (and even Windows Mobile to some extent), as a means of differentiation from iOS’s skeuomorphic style. Given that it appears such an abstract style was Johnny Ive’s intent all along starting from the first iPhone prototypes, I wonder if the iPhone would have been such a success if Ive’s design had been favoured over Forstall’s. I feel that the original iPhone opened the door with a familiar enough UI, then Android proved that something much more abstract would work, thus breaking the path for iOS 7.

A side note on skeuomorphism compared to well, “non-skeuomorphism” (what would be a better name for that ? “free-form” ?). Skeuomorphic UIs may look cool and instantly familiar, but it does constrain what you can do with them. The best example is Calendar in OS X Mavericks compared to Mountain Lion. The Mountain Lion version looks like an actual calendar, and you can move the pages as you would with one. And just like a real calendar, you can’t really see the last half of a month followed by the first half of the next one. In Mavericks, you just have a continuous scroll which may be less impressive visually but is way more useful and practical, because it lets you see any portion of a week or month no matter where it starts.

Update Aug. 2nd 2013 : As for the new look being an improvement or not, I was mostly positive when I first saw the screenshots and after a week of using it on my iPhone and several weeks using it on my iPad, I think it’s way better. This article by Matt Gemmell summarizes the evolution very well.