A series of not-so-huge Apple announcements

Still, a new maps app seems to drive the fan base delirious. Kathleen Maher comments on what has become the Tim Cook and Friends show.  

By Kathleen Maher

Anticipation was high for Tim Cook’s keynote address at Ap­ple’s Worldwide Developer’s Con­ference last week, but it isn’t the Tim Cook Show in the same way it once was the Steve Jobs Show. And that’s a good thing, another welcome indication a new Apple is emerging. On the other hand, there were a lot of announcements and not much news. There were no new market-defin­ing products introduced but there were plenty of updates and additions that are going to enrich the lives of Apple’s prod­uct users. And the response, in general, has been as disproportionately enthusi­astic as ever. You figure it out.

Apple has dumped Google Maps as the default app for its mobile devices and introduced its own mapping service. (Source: Apple)

The biggest attention-get­ter seems to be the new Apple Maps fea­ture which effectively ends the conten­tious relationship between Google and Apple for map software on iOS products. Apple will simply go it alone when it comes to maps, thank you very much. Google Maps will still be avail­able in the Apple store, but they won’t come pre-installed on new iOS prod­ucts. Apple has wanted to cut ties with Google ever since the introduction of Android and the subsequent declaration of war against Google by Steve Jobs. The split was inevitable and not just be­cause of Android. The more important issue in the long run is the ownership of information coming in from iOS users. All in all, Apple would rather have that information than let Google collect it through searches and maps.

Apple Software VP Scott Forstall introduced the new Maps application and stressed that Apple has built the new application from scratch. The new 2D maps are all vector-based and vibrant. The application includes all the features users have every right to ex­pect at this point: traffic overlays, turn-by-turn directions, an adaptive cinematic camera angle that changes the orientation as the user moves along a chosen route. In short, it does what it’s supposed to. The more jazzy features include 3D zoom-in with realistic im­ages of buildings. Not having the thing actually in hand, it’s hard to understand what’s so much better than Google Maps, but it does look like it is equal to the Google application, and being part of the Apple family means it will be nurtured and upgraded. After the live event, Apple announced the map­ping data was supplied by GPS giant TomTom.

Talk to me

Speech and sound are huge for ev­eryone this year. You can credit Siri, yet another residual manifestation of the Jobsian reality distortion field. Siri is good but she’s not all that. A backlash has been building against the poor thing as a result of Apple’s outrageous over-hyping including the John Malkovich, Samuel L. Jackson, and Zooey Deschanel ads (the links are to YouTube) that attribute a lot more conversational skills to Siri than she really deserves credit for. Apparently, the ads are big hits for Apple, but they’re also driving the gullible crazy when they can’t manage to build the same close re­lationship to Siri as enjoyed by Samuel L. Jackson. Apple is promising a new version of Siri, which will be even smart­er with a deeper database, and so the ca­pability might become closer to reality. It’s easy to forgive Apple because Siri came out of the gate with much better capabilities than the competi­tion. Oh, but those ads … Apple never was one for under-promising.

The new Siri is multi-lingual. She can handle French, Italian, German, Ko­rean, and Mandarin and will be able to pro­vide lists of information so that if you ask about a restaurant, she can provide an average price, type of food, etc. The new restaurant features are integrated with OpenTable so you can make a res­ervation and read reviews. Likewise, asking about movies will provide lists of movies related to your query. Sports? Ditto—you can ask about sports stars and get stats or league standings. At the live event Forstall asked, Who is taller, LeBron or Kobe? Smarty-pants Siri knew that LeBron and Kobe are bas­ketball stars, could answer who is taller, and could provide additional informa­tion. So yeah, she is getting smarter.

Much like the new Xbox, the new Siri will be able to open apps with voice control.

Siri is also being added to new cars including models from GM, BMW, Toyota, Audi, Mercedes, Honda, and Jaguar, which will have a Siri button on their steering wheels. Called Eyes Free, you can get information and operate Siri by voice as you drive … assuming you have some kind of Siri-enabled device around.

New MacBook Pro notebooks

Apple rolled out new replacements for their top-of-the-line notebook offering, MacBook Pro. They are sleeker than ever, available with much larger flash drives, fitted with USB 2/USB 3 jacks, and the prices have come down $100. That’s probably a big deal if you’re a committed Mac buyer but it seems paltry from over on the Windows side of the fence. However, Apple has also introduced a snazzy de­luxe model MacBook Pro with a 15-inch Retina Display. It will start at $2,200, and yet it is still pretty, thin, and light at 0.7 inches and 4.5 pounds. It features two microphones for more accurate speech recognition. The new MacBook Pro is being marketed to video makers who can fit a helluva lot of pixels into 2880 x 1800. (Thousands of website developers who cater to Mac users are now scratching their heads trying to plan a re-design to properly serve up images to all those new pixels.)

The new 15” MacBook Pro, showing Final Cut Pro. (Source: Apple)

The spirit of Steve Jobs lingers in the design of these new laptops. Apple is eliminating CD/DVD drives. If you must have one, an external drive is available. Apple has also eliminated the Ethernet jack. Apple seems as enthusiastic about the MacBook Pro product line as Intel is about Ul­trabooks, but Apple is going to have a tougher battle on its hands. The Apple has premiere features, and most Ultrabooks are going to look like bargains by comparison.

Sound is a hot new feature for Apple PCs as well. In the list of new features for the next version of OS X, Mountain Lion (to be released in July), Apple announced a new feature that allow users to speak to the Mac in any program. It takes advantage of Nuance technology, i.e., the Dragon people, and requires an online connection. Your utterances wing their way to the cloud for translation and conversion to text, then travels back to your Mac. The advantage is the software doesn’t need to be trained. The disadvantage comes when you get used to the thing and you’re offline. Uh-oh, did you forget how to type?

Apple has also introduced Power Nap, which allows the Mac to update the calendar and email while it is in sleep mode. Apple says the hit to the battery is minimal.