Apple saves the desktop from extinction and realises its future vision for computing

17 Oct 2014

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage in Cupertino, California, last night, where he revealed new iPads, a 5K Retina iMac and ambitious plans to storm the worlds of e-commerce and wearable computing

BERLIN – Not only has Apple made the desktop computing genre sexy again with the new iMac Retina 5K display, but under Tim Cook’s leadership it is the fully realised technology giant it always wanted to be.

The Apple you saw on stage last night from Cupertino, California, wasn’t a company still weaving through the jetstream that accompanies the loss of the great leader that was Steve Jobs, one where you were waiting for Cook – the operations guy – to find his mojo. What you actually saw was a company very much at ease with itself, sure-footed and more certain of its destiny. Software engineering vice-president Craig Federighi was even willing to clown around the stage, poking fun at the inevitable rumour mill and bow to US TV chat-show host Stephen Colbert’s demands to be made Allied Supreme Commander in Charge of Security.

What Cook made very clear yesterday was that with the launch of the new Apple Watch in the new year, Apple will be very much operating on full tilt with a retinue of products that will span wearables, tablet computing, notebooks, desktops, software, digital media and e-commerce. It will be, in effect, firing on all cylinders.

Last night, Apple launched two new iPad devices – the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 – which feature Touch ID, Retina and even a specially designed processor (the A8X) for the iPad Air 2.

The event, coming on the heels of the launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones a few weeks back, also saw the official global launch of OS X Yosemite for free worldwide. Apple Pay will launch in the US next week.

Computer science is at the core of Apple

More critically, as well as launching a new iMac mini with processor and graphics four times faster than its predecessor, Apple proved it hasn’t abandoned its heritage in desktop computing by setting a new benchmark with the iMac Retina 5K display, said to have a screen seven times higher in resolution than the most up-to-date HD television in the market today.

You could be forgiven for thinking Apple is a mobile-first company, considering the revolutions it started with the iPhone, iTunes, the iPad and, of course, what it has done to software with the App Store, but in fact it is a technology colossus that embraces computer science at its very core and on every level, from coding to processor design.

Proof of this can be seen in its new coding language Swift launched only this year at at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and which Federighi said will take the development of iOS and OS X to the next level. “It may achieve mass adoption faster than any language in language history,” he said.

Cook said that in the first 26 days of launching the iPhone, Apple has sold more of the devices in its history and next week the new smartphones will launch on all four mobile networks in China.

“Pre-orders have set a new record,” Cook said.

Apple’s move into the mobile wallet territory is also compelling to watch. The payment technology, which launches in the US on Monday, has been fully embraced by Visa, MasterCard and American Express, and now all of the United States’ top banks are on board, with Apple having signed 500 banks in the last month.

“We believe Apple Pay is going to be huge and it will change the way we pay for things,” Cook said, reminding his audience that the Touch ID on smartphones and tablets, as well as Apple ID in the cloud, will ensure Apple Pay will span physical retail, as well as online retail transactions.

With the expected onset of the Apple Watch, Cook said that in the coming month WatchKit software will be rolling out to developers to ensure the new device category is met with an abundance of clever apps he said will be all about self-expression, health and fitness.

“They join an incredible product line-up, our strongest line-up ever.

“Each product is not only the best in class in its category, but they’ve been designed to work seamlessly together. All made possible by the most advanced operating systems on the planet, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite,” Cook said.

Rapid adoption of iOS 8 in just 26 days

Apple’s software engineering vice-presidenet Craig Fegherini on the line with US TV chat-show host Stephen Colbert

Federighi pointed out the rapid adoption of iOS 8. Despite glitches that accompanied an initial update, the operating system has set a new standard that should cause concern for its rival in the smartphone OS space, Google.

“In just under four weeks 48pc of iOS users are running iOS 8. Compared with Android KitKat after just one year which has reached just 25pc of its user base, iOS 8 has almost doubled that rate after just 26 days.”

Federighi made clear the depth of Apple’s grasp of software and unifying it all into ecosystems that span mobile and desktop computing. Federighi also showed how Apple’s iOS devices enable third-party widgets, third-party apps, the inclusion of third-party filters in Photos, and even third-party keyboards that let users communicate in Klingon if they wish.

“We’ve made it possible to get HealthKit to glean data from a Bluetooth-enabled weighing scale that turns your iPhone into a personalised health consultant.

“We’ve given developers access to Touch ID, too.”

This new openness also extends to the Mac world, where with OS X Yosemite and the newly supercharged Spotlight and Safari, extensions to third-party sources have been made even more possible.

“What makes OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 special is that they work together, and at the centre of all of this is iCloud.”

This coming together of mobile and desktop is best summed up by what Apple calls Continuity, a kind of unified communications system that lets you take calls from your iPhone on your Mac or iPad or just start working on a Keynote presentation, for example, on an iPad, continue working on an iPhone and, if you want, complete the job on your desktop. When the Apple Watch launches early next year, Keynote fans will also be able to use their watch to manage presentations.

Apple has its finger on the pulse of the future of computing

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple changed the course of personal computing history in 2010 with the iPad, which Cook described as “the perfect blend of simplicity and complexity, a device jam packed with advanced technology in a thin and light package that you can use all day long.

“With so many people using the iPad for so many things, it is not surprising that we sold more iPads in the first four years than any product in Apple history. Over 225m have been sold worldwide.”

A telling moment occurred when Cook revealed that more iPads were sold than any brand’s PC devices worldwide in the third quarter of this year.

Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller pointed out also that the Mac platform grew 18pc year-on-year, compared with PCs, which declined by -1pc year-on-year.

Cook summed it up by saying Apple, three years after the passing of co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, is a fully realised technology company.

“This is the strongest product line-up that Apple has ever had. People need different technologies for the way we live our lives and customers typically use more than one of our products.

“You can take that technology everywhere you go because we’ve made our notebooks even better.

“Now you can be closer to your content, touching it, with the iPad Air, which is more powerful and incredibly thin. And there are no devices better for holding in the palm of your hand than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

“Soon you will wear powerful technology on your wrist.

“This incredible line-up of products is something only Apple can create. Designed to be incredible products individually but also designed to work together,” Cook said.

“This is our vision for computer technology, and we’re only getting started.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years