When Apple Whispers to Devs, Consumers Read Lips
As glitchy as iCloud can be, it works for millions of people. In fact, it delivers enterprise-class functionality and you don't have to worry about it, much less futz around configuring it. Yet iCloud remains astoundingly, frustratingly limited. What happens when you want to share a document? Collaborate on a document? Store a video file to let grandma and grandpa download it? It's not that easy.
When Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off next week in San Francisco, it won't just be application developers watching.
While the company speaks to business partners and professionals who use core Apple tools every day, the rest of the Apple enthusiast world will be paying close attention. What will Apple reveal?
A new iWatch? The next iPhone?
No and no. Products that can have their own launches won't show up at WWDC.
A new MacBook Air? A MacBook Pro?
Probably; new Intel Haswell processors are hatching.
A fancy-but-flatter iOS 7 in all its new glory?
I hope so.
What Really Matters at WWDC
Still, I'm not a developer, so many of the enhancements and tweaks that Apple will share with devs to make their lives easier, better, and more powerfully Apple won't apply to me -- at least not until the developers start using the Apple goodness to deliver new apps.
So what do I care about? What do I think is actually important to everyday Apple enthusiasts these days . . . that might come out of WWDC?
Two things, really, and they're interconnected: iCloud and Apple TV.
Let's talk iCloud. As glitchy as it can be, it works for millions of people. More to the point, it delivers enterprise-class functionality to consumers -- and they don't have to worry about it, much less futz around configuring it.
iCloud coordinates your music, movies, and TV shows, syncing content via your many Apple products -- MacBook, iPad, iPhone -- mostly behind the scenes. Better yet, it coordinates your calendars and email, contacts, and even some documents -- as well as your Safari bookmarks and Reading List, iBooks and apps.
Oh, and it lets consumers back up their iOS devices to the cloud! There's Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps powered via Apple iCloud services, too.
So there's a lot there -- a heckuva lot more going on with iCloud than say, Dropbox.
And yet, iCloud remains astoundingly, frustratingly limited.
In order to do simple things like store important files in the cloud, an Apple fan has to ignore iCloud -- unless you only use a particular app to store a file in iCloud. The concept of a file system, of a file you can "see" as a physical thing sitting in the vaporous cloud, is pretty much ignored by iCloud.
So you can't really dump a set of files in iCloud to back them up or access them from multiple devices, much less from a non-Apple device. Oh wait, yes, yes you can -- if they are documents created from Keynote, Pages or Numbers, and if you start with an Apple device and then finish with an Apple device.
So what happens when you want to share a document? Collaborate on a document? Store a video file to let grandma and grandpa download it? It's not that easy.
If Apple would open up iCloud to developers in more flexible ways, consumers wouldn't have to have separate Dropbox accounts -- or other services -- to integrate with iOS apps. There are millions of Dropbox customers, right, who seem pretty happy. Still, Apple is falling short both with iCloud vision and services -- and a few basic expansions could simplify the Apple user's world.
Meanwhile, What's This About Apple TV?
I don't know what's holding up Apple when it comes to producing a full-fledged Apple HDTV, but I'm sure it has to do with production, cost, navigation, and how to connect all the different types of content into something that actually makes sense. So a big mess.
The existing Apple TV still could use a kick in the pants, and I hope Apple will create an Apple TV App Store and let developers create apps for the Apple TV. Sure, right now we have a few cool apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and some sports channel apps, but the reality of what Apple TV is right now is far away from the vision of what it could be in the near future.
Yes, you can use AirPlay to display content wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone to your HDTV screen, but that's not the same as a built-in app. I think consumers are ready for built-in apps. I know I am. We don't have to have a big fancy Apple HDTV to enjoy apps today, so I hope Apple isn't holding back waiting to perfect a product that may never become perfect.
The sad part is, we don't need a huge app store with half a billion apps to transform our living experience. Heck, I'd just like a nifty slideshow-based app that includes weather information and music -- something dirt simple but more usable than Apple's own built-in slide show app.
Something that would let you use your HDTV as a giant picture frame but include basic information and music at the same time -- letting your TV be part of your life when you don't want to watch television programming.
Developers come up with this sort of stuff -- not always Apple -- so when are we going to get a better framework upon which to build? Anytime soon?
WWDC will tell us, and that's why I'll be paying attention, too.