Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is going on this week, with Steve Jobs’ keynote this morning. Nothing particularly earth-shattering was announced, but the stuff they did show was cool enough.
I was surprised by my own reaction to the new desktop demo. There’s nothing particularly compelling there, and the transparent menubar is unpleasantly Vista-like, but seeing the demo of the new “Stacks” inexplicably filled me with glee. I’ve been looking for something that does exactly that, and the Apple version is plenty slick. Buying OS X upgrades is mandatory in the Spectre Collie household, so I wasn’t looking for anything to convince me to buy Leopard; I was only looking for stuff that made me look forward to it slightly more.
Releasing Safari for Windows was a really welcome announcement. I tried it on my work machine and was amazed that it renders pages exactly the same as it does in OS X. I’d always just assumed ugly font handling was built into Windows and there was no escaping it, but there it is, running in XP and actually looking like I’m using a computer in 2007. The biggest selling point, of course, is that now the entire internet can see Spectre Collie exactly how it was intended to be seen, and the computer world’s long waking nightmare is at last over.
(And yeah, it’s petty, but his whole “Standard Version,” “Ultimate Version” spiel was pretty damn funny. Especially for those of us who’ve been spending time in the Vista trenches).
What’s not cool, though, is the unprecedented level of spin when it comes to the damn iPhone. Sure, Jobs is known across the internets for his “reality distortion field,” but it’s always been in the realm of good-natured criticism. Apple traditionally does a pretty good job with slick new releases that perform pretty well, and then Jobs comes in and then oversells them just a notch. A feature that would’ve just earned a “huh, that’s kind of cool” suddenly gets upgraded to “OMG THAT’S AWESOME WE LOVE YOU STEVE!!!!!!”
But even the reality distortion field can’t turn a turd into a diamond. It’s pretty insulting that they’d even try to. They’ve been roundly criticized for making the iPhone a closed system; it’s simply not a complete smart phone unless third parties can develop applications for it. Jobs held off mentioning the iPhone until the climax of his keynote, and then made the big dramatic announcement: the iPhone has a web browser!
They would’ve been a lot better off not mentioning it at all, because the end result just makes them look silly at best, intentionally deceptive at worst. “No SDK Required” the slide says. “Sweet.” “You can start building your apps today.” “You can run your applications on Safari until the hardware is released.” “An awesome way to write apps for iPhone.” Bull.
Requiring apps to run on a remote server makes distribution simple, they claim. What it does is makes it so you can’t run third-party apps without a network connection. So you’d better be near a WiFi hotspot, or be ready to pay AT&T’s likely exhorbitant data rates (which haven’t been announced yet, as far as I’ve seen). And forget running anything useful while you’re stuck on a plane flight.
Having no access to the local data store gives excellent security, they claim. What it means is that your apps can’t access anything that would be useful to have on a mobile device, like your To-Do list, calendar, notes, tracks on your iPod, or photos. Unless you want to keep them on a remote server and only have access to them when you’re connected to the internet.
They’ve been struggling to figure out how to support outside development without compromising security or network integrity, they claim. Which is total bullshit; they’ve been struggling to figure out how to avoid giving up any of Apple’s opportunities to sell stuff through the iTunes Store, and AT&T’s opportunities to charge users for as much data access as possible.
All for a device that’s already six hundred dollars plus a two-year contract.
I always thought Apple and I had an agreement. I would keep giving them more and more of my money, and they would provide me with fancy stuff that worked well, and not lie about it. That keynote really hurt. Now I just have to see if I can survive my birthday at the end of the month, two days before the release of the iPhone. When they release a new gadget that every rational part of my brain finds repulsive and a ludicrous waste of money, while the rest of me is drawn like a Visa card-carrying moth to flame. Hopefully there’ll be a run on them, and it’ll be impossible to get one, or else I’m going to enter July feeling really, really stupid.