WWDC 2017 in review…be it a week late

I was going to make a podcast regarding the WWDC 2017 but since coming back from Australia I’ve been coughing up phlegm which I have recently found that I have bronchitis (yay) so rather than struggle through a podcast I decided to do a written article instead. First thing I have to say is that I am well and truly wowed by what was put together for WWDC 2017 year – no annoying third party companies appearing on stage showing off gimmicks few people care about in favour of a non-stop back to back keynote. The keynote was so packed that many got the feeling that Apple had to trim back some areas to make room for the improvements being bought to the iOS, macOS and tvOS platform not to mention the across the board refresh and announcement of products that are going to be shipped in the future – something that Apple never does. So rather than doing a essay like form I’ll just write out some bullet points regarding those aspects of WWDC 2017 that interested me/excited me etc.

1) iMac Pro and Mac Pro – a great addition to fit into that middle ground between the top end iMac and the entry level Mac Pro. The problem is that in the past there was always a gap between the PowerMac and iMac but it was small enough to make the PowerMac a lot more affordable for those who wanted more power but without a high workstation price attached to it. The iMac Pro fits that middle ground and to be perfectly honest if you’re a person who tinkers then buying a Mac isn’t for you but if you’re a person ho wants to get things done then most people stick with the configuration that came with the computer rather than doing piecemeal upgrades – I am talking about people working in a large organisation where there is a professional IT department who takes care of the fleet of computers.

I say that because when workstations are sold by large OEM’s are certified out of the box to work with software titles because the drivers, hardware, and software have all been tested to work together with the idea that when the customer receives it that they can assemble it, switch it on and start using it out of the box without having to deal with incompatibility issues. When you purchase a Mac from Apple the idea is that you can take it out of the box and know that what ever you throw at it that the net result will be a reliable experience – be it playing games or getting work done. Now, when it comes to the modular Mac Pro that was mentioned a 1-2 months ago ( link ) it will be interesting to see how they navigate the ‘after market’ upgrade and whether Apple will sell to customers or whether authorised third parties will step up along with ensuring that the drivers are merged in with macOS to ensure that if one has to do a clean install that it is possible (today you have to put back the old card, clean install, install the driver then shut down and put the new card in the machine).

2) The MacBook Pro and MacBook were updated – I’m pretty happy with how things are going with my MacBook but then again I tend to remember two rules of thumb; Firstly, a laptop is designed to be first and foremost a computer designed for portability (maximum battery life, cool operation etc) and everything else comes second. Secondly, when Apple introduces a technology they tend to go ‘balls to the wall’ and in the case of USB-C that is the situation but eventually in a few months USB-C devices will become more common and the whole ‘donglegasm’ that USB-C haters seem to have such an issue with will cease bing an issue (assuming it was an actual legitimate issue in the first place). For me it was great that Apple had the balls to make the decision just as they did with removing the floppy disk, the removing of legacy plugs by going 100% USB and Firewire etc. At some point you have to stand up, make a decision and then stand behind it rather than apologising to a small minority make a lot of nose on Mac Rumors and the /r/apple subreddit on Reddit that try to make out as if their noise equals the major. The simple reality is that Apple made the change and millions still went out to buy their new laptop and still received positive feedback for their latest product line.

3) The focus by Apple on the under the hood improvements in IOS and macOS give me confidence that Apple is focused on ensuring that they’re not only delivery great features that consumers want but are also focusing on ensuring that those features are reliable and optimised rather than like the Windows world where they stay perpetually incomplete (the UWP Music application and lack of MTP synchronisation of ones music library). My main interest is on the macOS front, in specific, the development of Metal 2 and moving the whole WindowServer across to Metal 2 which should hopefully mean that the experience for those with multiple screens hooked up that they’ll no longer see the major CPU spike due to the improved optimised nature of Metal 2 over the OpenGL stack that it used to rely upon along with many other improvements ( link ).

4) Metal 2 is now ready for ‘prime time’ is the message that Apple has sent out – Metal 1.x for Mac seemed to me as a ‘let the developers kick the tires and see what it does’ where as Metal 2 has more of a ‘you guys can start taking this seriously because this is going to be the future of graphics on the Mac’. It’ll be interesting to see how Metal 2 compares to DirectX in terms of migrating games across but so far there are two major engines (Unreal and Unity) not to mention the work that Apple is doing with Valve so hopefully that should translate to games in Steam being optimised for Metal 2 going forward.

The other big part of Metal 2 is the focus on encouraging developers of applications to take notice of what the framework can do for them – a subtle hint that long term OpenGL is in maintenance mode but all new development will be occurring on Metal 2? I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time Metal 3-4 comes along that there will be a significant number of developers taking advantage of it, especially Adobe, if it means that those depending on such software titles end up seeing major leaps in performance on the same hardware thanks to the use of Metal. Would I love to see Apple make a last ditch attempt to update OpenGL to bring it inline with the latest specification along with a focus on optimisation of drivers and the OpenGL stack? Sure I would but I can see what their argument would be, “why invest in the past when we can focus on the future and bring developers with us which will benefit customers a lot more in the long run”, to which I would say that I definitely agree.

5) APFS is another big change that I am looking forward to as HFS+ is the last part of the operating system that seemed to have pretty much stayed the same with the move over to Mac OS X apart from a few non-mainstream variants popping their head up such as the case sensitive format that was used on iOS (from what I understand it saves memory – I read that some where so don’t quote me on that). As for the length of time regarding how long it has taken for an HFS+ to finally appear, I wonder to what extent part of al involved not only having to make sure you ‘get it right’ (file systems aren’t something you can muck around with – if the driver crashes or there is a bug then it could mean someones whole storage device filled with precious memories suddenly disappears) and what it also has to do with ensuring compatibility so that when the file system is migrated that everything continues on smoothly. The multithreaded nature of the file system should allow greater performance under a heavy load which should also help reduce the number of ‘spinning beachballs’.

6) Under the hood improvements in terms of optimisation, particularly regarding Grand Central Dispatch, LLVM/Clang improvements, announcing the phasing out 32bit support, the inclusion of HEVC encoding and decoding with hardware acceleration, HEIF support (will be interesting to see whether developers start using it instead of png/ico for their icons if it means higher resolution icons at a small file size), driver optimisations and so much more.

7) The iPad and iOS improvements point to a future where it will be the mass market device for customers who don’t want to deal with the nitty-gritty details of owning a comer whilst Mac and macOS will be kept for the niche market – power users, developers, gamers who want a great Metal 2 based VR experience, the creative sector that rely heavily on Adobe etc. I don’t see it ever replacing Mac or iOS replacing macOS because they’re two different products that are dealing with two different customer bases with different sets of problems that require different sets of solutions. Someone that might benefit from it would be my mum but then again it would involve her being in a mixed environment where her laptop is replaced with a iPad Pro then for the desktop an iMac would do – but the keyboard on the iPad Pro I don’t think she would be all that fond at using having typed on it myself and both me and my mum both known how to touch type so I have a feeling that even though the iPad Pro would do the job it wouldn’t be a good form factor.

Conclusion: All in all I have pretty damn excited about the direction of Apple. Although I have heard doom and gloom merchants throwing their five cents worth into the ring what I end up hearing in reality are commentators unable to grasp the basic concept that because something isn’t marketed to them it doesn’t mean that Apple has thrown in the towel when it comes to the future of the Mac platform. If you look at what was done on the macOS platform in terms of the underwood changes, the including of VR capabilities plus the support for external GPU’s, then it is clear that Apple certainly see a future for the Mac platform be it platform for those who want/need a Mac vs. getting an iOS device. Regarding the commentator opining on the latest MacBreak Weekly podcast (episode 564) in reference to upgrading ones Mac – what is the alternative to the Mac? Has he run Windows 10 recently? The disjointed incoherent mishmash of a UI, the mountain of problems that plague users on /r/Windows10, the lack of any direction as it appears Microsoft’s main focus recently has been on their middleware and server side of the business with the client seeming to get minimal investment at best given the half assed updates so far that fail to address issues such as the lack go MTP sync in Music, the lack of consistent high-dpi behaviour, the lack of a consistent UI experience or at least some sort of public roadmap to reassure the customer base that Microsoft is actually doing something? Why would I or anyone for that matter want to give up the coherent and integrated experience with Mac all because I have a childish temper tantrum because Apple didn’t add some whizzbang bullshit feature like a touch screen merely to keep the ADD inclined impulse buyers interested in the Mac platform considering  such such features add nothing of any value to the average persons productivity on said devices?

So personally it appears that with the reorganisation taking place recently at Apple, the best days are ahead with no signs that Apple is going to give up on the Mac platform – need people be reminded once again, Apple has stated numerous times that they have no interest in making a clusterfuck hybrid design that is a compromise between the two worlds and ultimately sucking at delivering what traditional computer owners want in terms of power and delivering what traditional tablet users want which is an appliance like experience out of the box. If Apple says something flat out that they aren’t going to do xyz there is a pretty good chance that they’re not going to do it so lets strop trying to make themselves happen simply by posting rumours – touch screens on Mac’s aren’t going to happen.

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