WWDC 2007

I’m typing this from a fresh developer build of Leopard on my MacBook Pro. I’d have to say that this build is much more stable than the last couple of releases.

If you’re a die-hard Mac user (or even if you aren’t), you have probably heard of the various announcements Apple made yesterday. I thought I would run through the most notable announcements and add some commentary. There were three main foci of the keynote: Leopard, Safari for Windows, and the iPhone.

Leopard

Leopard consumed the majority of the keynote. Steve Jobs went into detail on just 10 of the 300 new features in Leopard. To me, the UI changes were the most significant. Steve went over topics like Time Machine, Spaces, Boot Camp, and 64-bit support, but all of these were talked about at WWDC 2006. The UI changes are fairly substantial, and I imagine there will be quite a bit of commentary regarding these changes across the blogosphere.

The first thing users will notice is the change in the Desktop, which includes the system icons, menubar, and the Dock. The Dock redesign is simply stunning. It’s a very polished, 3-dimensional implementation. The reflections are perfect, and about the only adjustment I would make is with the application shadows, which are actually above the icons. I understand why it was designed this way (as a visual separator of the icon from background content), but it doesn’t make visual sense. Otherwise, I dig it.

Likewise, stacks is a great new feature that should have been implemented by Apple 10 years ago when they originally patented the idea. This is going to make my downloads directory much more manageable. It’s also very useful for traversing directories. When you have a stack of directories, if one of those directories is clicked on, the stack updates itself with the contents of the child directory. This will be a great way to access development project files I’m working on.

However, it’s not all perfect… The folder icons and menubar both need some improvement. To begin with, the icons do not have enough detail. They look like blue blobs from a distance. This is especially noticeable when it comes to “special” directories like Music and Movies. The categorical aspect of the icon is all but distinguishing. I believe all the folder icons need to be made more distinct.

The menubar changes are probably the worst part of the Leopard redesign. The opacity of the entire menubar is around 50%, which really makes the menu titles difficult to read depending on the desktop picture you choose. When a menu is selected, it’s transparency is normal, which is good, but it looks ridiculous under the translucent menubar. At the very least, the menubar needs to fade in to 100% opaque on mouseover. I expect there will be dozens of 3rd party utility hacks to get around this issue, if the menubar makes it as-is into the final release of Leopard.

Update (6/16): That didn’t take long… Here’s the first hack now.

The nicest change about the Leopard desktop is the look of application windows. Finally, Apple is back to a single window layout–merging the standard, brushed metal, and unified layouts into a single, standard window. While it is a bit dark, overall the design is pretty slick. The important point here is that now developers don’t have to choose what kind of base interface to use in their applications. Leopard windows have a single look, and now UI designers can match their icons, views, and controls to that window layout.

Quick look is a nice new feature in Leopard. I really think this feature has the potential to push Preview.app into obsolescence. It’s very easy to use to display images, presentations, spreadsheets, PDF and word documents. With a quick change to full screen mode, I think this is going to really improve the way users browse through their documents.

The new Finder will probably be seen as a minor upgrade, but I believe it to be significant. The current Finder contains a lot of legacy Carbon code, and Leopard’s Finder should improve performance. It will be difficult to say until I spend more time using it, but I’m hoping threading support is more robust… I hate seeing the spinning beach ball when I get disconnected from a network server, and the new Finder reported fixes this issue. The design also feels cleaner–more enjoyable to use. It’s a subtle, but noticeable improvement. Coverflow also looks neat, but I can only imagine using it in directories filled with images, and even then I would only really use it to scan all the images in general.

The biggest improvements in Leopard will be completely transparent to users… Apple’s going a long way by offering new development technologies behind the scenes, and users will see evidence of these changes in future 3rd party application releases.

Safari for Windows

Safari for Windows is a huge bonus in my eyes. Just from using IE 7 for a few hours, the user interface is a nightmare. Having Safari as an option on my Boot Camp partition here will be very nice. I think Apple is approaching it the right way by marketing towards the web developers with Safari 3′s web debugging features. If web developers are using Safari to develop their applications, then we’re going to see a lot more site compatibility cross-platform. Apple’s plan to market Safari on Windows through their iTunes downloads was vague at best, but if they really do have a million iTunes for Windows downloads every day, that should give them a lot of momentum on entering the Windows browser market.

iPhone “SDK”

Apple’s iPhone announcement was a joke, and far from the “sweet” deal Steve used to describe the paradigm. Developing a web page is not the same as developing an application for the iPhone. Sure, it’s nice that web pages can initiate calls, emails, or physical address searches, but that is not a substitute for developing full iPhone applications. First, while living in a large metropolitan area may keep your iPhone connected 100% of the time, I think that will be far from reality. Without an internet connection, a web page application is useless. Furthermore, applications deserve a position on the user’s home screen. Opening Safari and navigating through bookmarks just to find an application is unacceptable.

In the end, I think John Gruber summarized it best: “It’s great that iPhone seems to have a killer Safari web browser. No doubt there are going to be some terrific web apps targeting iPhone. But there are a ton of great ideas for iPhone software that can’t be done as web apps.”

The Unannouncement

Several media outlets are referring to this years keynote as an unannouncement. While I agree that the keynote failed to show any fancy new hardware or groundbreaking new software, the presentation was packed with details of Apple’s path forward. This is a developer’s conference. The new details shown in Leopard, especially when it comes to user interface design, is important when designing our own applications. In that respect, the keynote showed some nice new UI changes that I think will help bring application consistency back into the picture. Mac OS X is a constantly evolving platform, which I think stems from the semi-frequent release cycle Apple sticks to. Getting a better preview of Leopard’s features gives developers a 4 month headstart on evolving their own applications with the OS, and that’s why this conference is worth it’s cost of admission.

2 Responses to “WWDC 2007”

  1. Olga Yiparaki Says:

    I agree with your comments on the non-SDK for the iPhone. And I agree that SJ should have said “this is a 1.0 product, developers are invited to make Safari-based apps for now, and we will think about an SDK in the future.” I have been suspecting that Apple wants to control the user experience, to make sure the iPhone shines. (all sensible, but I just wish they’d admit it, everyone would understand.) Anyway, I suspect there may be something else going on: with an SDK, it would (presumably) be easy to develop a VOIP app via the built-in WiFi. This could leave AT&T in the dust. And Apple has been wanting to appease them with the exclusivity. I wonder if an SDK becomes reality only when other cell phone carriers are allowed into the iPhone market…

  2. mike Says:

    That’s an interesting thought. I’m sure Skype would be one of the first companies in line to develop apps for the iPhone, so the SDK limitation being placed by AT&T is certainly a possibility.

    I don’t know enough about the rest of the cellphone market to know if there are other smartphones that are only available through a single network provider and whether or not they have similar limitations.

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