Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

WWDC: Apple plays catch-up

Yawn. Wake me up when Apple announces something new and innovative.

wwdc 2017 tim cook
Stephen Lam/Reuters

Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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I may have been the only tech journalist in the San Francisco area who didn’t bother with the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Why? Because I didn’t expect the company to announce anything new and meaningful. I wasn’t wrong.

Oh, some people thought it was great. If Apple announced a new apple (the kind that grows on trees), some people would swear it was the tastiest fruit ever, before it was even ripe and ready to eat. I’m not one of them.

The one bit of news that caught my attention is that Apple has stopped neglecting the Mac. For several years now, Macs have been the red-haired stepchildren of Apple’s hardware line.

The new iMac Pro — with its entry-level eight-core Intel Xeon processor; its AMD Radeon Vega graphics and up to 16GB of VRAM; its all-flash architecture; up to 4TB of SSD and up to 128GB of ECC memory built-in; plus 10GB Ethernet — should be not only the fastest Mac ever, but also the fastest PC to date.

But, at a starting price of $4,999, it had better be!

You definitely will want a few for your megayacht.

For mere mortals, the new and improved MacBook and MacBook Pro models, with their Intel seventh-generation Kaby Lake chips, improved graphics, and faster storage, are much more attainable. Their prices — the MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 for the 13-inch model and $2,399 for the 15-inch model, and the MacBook starts at $1,299 — are still high, but within reason.

The new 21.5- and 27-inch iMac models, which also include Kaby Lake processors, better displays, faster storage options, and advanced GPUs, are also interesting, and at a starting price of $1,299, I can see one of these on my desk.

But beyond that, all I can say to WWDC is, “Eh.” And, even while it’s nice to see new Macs, Apple should have been delivering such improvements all along. Perhaps Apple is finally feeling some heat from Microsoft with its new Surface Pro lines?

Yes, the new iPad Pro with its 10.5-inch screen is neat, but do you really want to lug around a tablet that big? I don’t. I remember when the iPad first showed up. They were everywhere. How many people do you see carrying them around now?

Apple is positioning the iPad Pro as a rival to laptops. Aren’t we done with this stupid idea yet? If I need a laptop format, I don’t want a tablet and a separate keyboard. I want a laptop.

Is that so hard to understand? Someone told me he was thrilled he could run three — whoa! three! — applications on the new iPad. Get a grip. I’ve been able to run scores of apps on my laptop for the last 20 years.

The final hardware news is Apple’s answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home, the Apple HomePod. This one is too little, too late — and it’s not even shipping until December.

Then there was the software.

For developers, there’s the augmented reality (AR) ARKit. For this, I have three words: Facebook’s Camera Effects. I also have another thought for all AR fans: Remember Google Glass? AR is a neat idea that’s still in search of a market.

High Sierra macOS features minor updates, but nothing all that interesting. Another Apple fan gushed at me about the new file system. (And here I thought only my fellow Linux geeks gushed over file systems.) He especially loved its disk encryption feature. To which I said, “Apple File Vault 2 has provided this since OS X 10.7, Lion. This is more hype than advance.”

As for iOS, I shudder with every new release. That’s because every release brings Wi-Fi problems and forces more users to buy newer Apple hardware. Indeed, I sometimes think that’s the real point of Apple’s new iOS releases. With iOS 11, get ready to say goodbye to your iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPad 4.

Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer vendors that don’t virtually brick my pricey hardware after five years. Of course, I’m used to desktops that have working life spans of over a decade. Thanks, Linux!

Even Apple, in a press release lauding iOS 11 as a major update, could only boast about its “powerful multitasking features, the Files app and more ways to use Apple Pencil.” Oh, and AR — can’t forget about AR.

I did mention something about hype, right? 

Just to recap, running three apps at the same time is not “powerful multitasking.” The lack of an adjective modifying “the Files app” suggests we’re supposed to be impressed by its very existence. Well, here’s a news flash: On Android, ASUS File Manager has been doing everything Files will do since about 2013. As for Apple Pencil, even the graphic designers I know don’t use it.

Oh, yeah, why do I keep forgetting about AR? Well, wake me up when people start using it.

It’s nice to see new Macs, but otherwise Apple is just playing catch-up and trying to make old ideas new with a coat of Apple reality-distortion paint.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to nap on Apple matters until the company gets ready to release a new iPhone. I’ll want to be well rested when the wonderful Apple hype train gets on the tracks again.


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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