News Column

Chewing on Apple's new bites

June 8, 2014

Spare a thought for poor Apple. I know it sounds ridiculous to use the word "poor" when referring to a company that's richer than many countries; one making so much money that a commentator likened the US$3 billion (R32b) it recently paid for headphone maker Beats as change it had found down the cracks in the canteen sofa.

But things haven't been going all the Cupertino, California-based consumer tech giant's way over the last few years. Its star product, the iPhone, once the undisputed king of the smartphone world, now plays second fiddle in many markets to handsets running Google's Android operating system, leading some analysts to speculate that Apple lost its mojo after the 2011 death of its charismatic co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

So there was much talk ahead of Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday of the necessity for current boss Tim Cook to pull a big rabbit out of the hat in his keynote address.

As it turned out, he had several hidden there. Perhaps not the show-stopper new product announcement some had hoped for, but plenty of crowd pleasing bunnies to keep Apple fans, and stock market analysts, happy.

One of them is the promise of much easier sharing of information between Apple devices like iPhones, iPads and Mac desktop and laptop computers. Apple's till now horribly executed cloud storage service, iCloud, looks set for a major revamp.

With the introduction of iCloud Drive, users will be able to save files in special folders on their computers and access them with other devices, including iPhones, iPads and even Windows computers. Is this the "Dropbox killer" trumpeted by Apple fan boys?

Hardly, given the fact iCloud is geared towards Apple users, while Dropbox and other cloud services work seamlessly across multiple operating systems.

Owners of desktops and laptops running the newly announced Yosemite operating system will be able to answer and make calls on their computers. Great if your iPhone happens to be charging upstairs. And the nifty new Handoff feature will let users "throw" tasks like|e-mails and word processing documents between Macs and nearby iPhones or iPads.

Looking specifically at iOS8, the new version of the iPhone and iPad operating system unveiled, what stands out for me is that it will finally allow the use of third party alternatives to the terrible touch screen keyboard that comes standard with Apple's phones and tablets.

I recommend snapping up the excellent Swiftkey as soon as it arrives in the App Store.

While iPhones have always had brilliant cameras, managing and editing the photos afterwards has never been a stellar experience. It should improve dramatically when iOS8 comes along, with snaps automatically uploaded to users' iCloud accounts making them accessible from any of their devices. They'll also get better editing tools and an improved search function.

As a parent, I'm most excited about the feature that allows moms and dads to set limits on what their kids purchase on the App Store. If snookums tries to buy something with their Apple device, you'll get a notification on yours asking you to approve, postpone or decline the sale.

Cynics have pointed out that all of these features are already present on Android and other competing devices. Still, there's no denying that when they're introduced within the next few months, they'll open up Apple's till-now notoriously closed ecosystem - at least for Apple users. A huge achievement given the company's commitment to ironclad security.

And even if these changes don't tempt many Android users over to Apple, they will force Google and other competitors to up their game, something that's good news for all of us.

Pose questions to @alanqcooper on Twitter or e-mail

Sunday Tribune

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Source: Sunday Tribune (South Africa)

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