June is always an interesting time. Before I started this site, June was interesting because I was excited to see the new Apple products that I’d likely not be able to buy. Then it became the time of year that I would learn about the new iPhone, whose subsidized pricing made it possible for me not only to own one, but to own a new one everytime there was one. It’s third iteration came as the time of year I was most excited to write about, simply because so much was being said, and the allure of participating was incredibly strong.
This year I find myself loving the keynote, excited about the products, and intrigued by the developer-related information. And yet, I’m unable to write about this June’s news the way that I’ve written in the past.
For one thing, there’s the simple fact that I’m not a developer, and this is the most developer-centered WWDC I can remember. But it’s the second thing that makes me hesitant to comment this time around. There are just so many people of absolutely excellent quality writing about Apple these days. Perhaps they’ve always been out there and as the years go on, I just find more and more of them, but something tells me that it’s more than that. Apple, as a topic, has become crowded.
Even so, amid the teeming thousands of responses to this year’s WWDC keynote, I keep coming back to this bit from Jim Dalrymple:
Apple showed that it’s not just the data that is following the user through iCloud to a variety of devices, but it’s bigger than that—it’s a uniform experience that is following the user.
Now obviously Jim isn’t a personality I had to dive very deep to get to, but sometimes the big names are as big as they are for a reason.
Once again, I’m not a developer, and though announcements like Apple’s new Swift programming language make me wonder if I could ever learn, my propensity for juggling too many side projects makes it unlikely to ever come to pass. But Jim’s piece, and this paragraph in particular, helped me realize something about this year’s presentation that matters immensely to non-developers: Apple’s WWDC 2014 message is one of convergence and philosophy.
For quite some time, the Apple community has speculated about the convergence of Mac OS X and iOS. And time after time, Apple has seemingly rebuffed this notion. But WWDC 2014 reveals to us that the two operating systems are indeed on a collision course, though not in the way the knee-jerk tech pundits predicted.
Apple, as is it’s wont, is playing the long game. The short game says to be platform agnostic with browser-based apps like Google, or to build one OS to rule them all like Microsoft with Windows 8. But these strategies place too much focus (unsurprisingly) on the tech, specifically the services, and not enough on the average user. There is a company that does focus on the user, and that company is Apple. However, though this year looks to be about tech and services like its rivals, it’s really about devices and users.
In 2014 users want cloud-connected, access anywhere, high-utility computing on whichever device is handiest at the moment. It’s akin to the old camera saying in which the best camera is the one you have with you. Users not only want that feeling in the current PC and Post PC market, they expect it. Google and Microsoft provide this by creating an entity that users interact with through their device. They seem to say “buy a Samsung or a Nokia and you can access Google or access Microsoft.” These entities have all of your stuff, whether it be Word documents or Gmail messages, someone (or something) has your stuff and you can get to it if you buy a device and use the attending software.
Apple, on the other hand, has designed their system around the device. Think, “I am using my Mac,” or “I am using my iPhone.” Unlike Microsoft and Google, for whom the device is a layer of abstraction between the user and the primary product, which is the respective company’s services, Apple’s devices are zero layers of abstraction from their primary product: the device itself.
Swift and extensions and widgets and all the others make a better Mac, and a better iPad, and a better iPhone, and a better (most likely) Apple TV or iWearable. Apple seems to see its customers saying “I love using my iPhone, but this feels like something I’d rather finish on my Mac or my iPad. Oh, look at that. I can just work on it there too,” which in turn makes the user love the Mac, iPad, and iPhone even more.
For so long now, we’ve become used to the idea of trashing iCloud as a second class citizen within Apple. “When will they get server-side design and engineering the way they do other parts of their business?” we say on our podcasts and blogs and Twitter streams. The thing is, all of Apple’s services, be it developer or cloud, OS or language, are second class citizens to the device itself.
Apple wants you to love holding, using, and owning its devices. Everything they do supports that philosophy. To them, iCloud is only a problem if it makes people enjoy their devices less. A 4-inch iPhone screen is only a problem if people like their iPhones less because of it. Inter-app communication is only important when it starts to make people like using their iPads less or their phones less than another brand. And the same can be said for all of these in reverse. If it’s making the device worse to use, it will be marked for revision or death (be it slow and steady or quick and merciless).
Without a single hardware announcement, Apple has done more with this keynote to reinforce its position as a device company than all the Surfaces and all the Nexuses and all the Glasses put together. Because for Microsoft and Google, those are just another dumb screen that can see their services. For Apple, the services are there to do just that: serve. They serve the needs of the hardware which serves the needs of the user. The primary need? An enjoyable experience with the device.
So how does this all relate to convergence? With one WWDC, Apple has taken a bigger step toward it than ever before. But it’s where they are converging that matters most. Apple and the developer community around it now have the ability to give us the one device that does it all. That device? The one that’s in your hand or your lap or on your desk right now.