Apple WWDC 2011

The last couple of weeks have been kind of an onslaught for nerds and geeks out there. E3, the annual gaming expo in Los Angeles happened, as well as Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conf.) in San Francisco. Both events were multi-day affairs, and I’ll get to E3 in a later post.

At WWDC Apple unveiled iOS5 as well as some additional peeks at OSX Lion. I’m gagged by an NDA, at least until July when Lion comes out, and September when iOS5 finally launches. However, that doesn’t preclude me from speaking about the features that have already been outed by others and Apple. Up first:

iCloud is a service that has been talked about for almost year now ever since Apple finished building a massive data center in North Carolina. Prior to the announcement I thought that the service would behave much like other cloud services out there: storing remote copies of my data to allow them to be pulled down later. iCloud Logo Backup, simple file storage/versioning, and web services provisioning (considering MobileMe is being killed off).

The reality is much, much different. What I’ve seen thus far is a backup service for all of my apps, and a remote pull for new device restores. As a developer I can store key/value pairs for things into the user’s space on the cloud, and poll to get those items back. This is the credible answer to lack of a “file system” on the iOS. The service also seems to be built around “cutting the cord” when it comes to syncing all of the devices. Snapping photos and storing them in the Pictures app sends them to the cloud to be asynchronously pulled back down to other devices that you’ve pre-selected. It apparently only does this for the last 1000 photos which again suggests that this service is really structured around backing temporary data up as a user background feature rather than an active process.

Music syncing is kinda crazy though: Apple will sync your entire library to the cloud and allow you store 25,000 songs up there. It’ll automatically pull down the iTunes purchased data and those assets will not count toward your file size or count limits. In a twist, the service will also scan your existing library of files (that you may or may not have legitimately acquired) and if it finds a suitable iTunes song match, it’ll let you “store” or at least pull down a 256-kbit AAC version of that same file! Apple only needs to store one version of the file out on the cloud, and we all just have a handle to it. This feature is slated to cost $24.99/year, but I’m wondering if I get to keep those high-encode files once I stop paying.

I’m not sure whether or not this is an “outed” feature yet, but I’ll give my big thumbs up to being able to download or update apps asynchronously. Finally, no in-order waiting for 30 updates to download to my phone.

Notifications: Prior to loading the new OS, I actually had turned off notifications for just about every app except for Boxcar which became badge only. Turns out Apple felt my pain a bit and launched an all new interface for them. You can now swipe them from the lock screen to be taken directly to the app generating the notification, as wel as access them from a “roll-down” interface by pulling down from the clock. They seem like lightweight widgets when accessed from the roll-down, and my understanding from other’s screenshots is that the weather and stocks apps will be updated to store some data in this tray. Nifty!

Location-based alerts sound awesome. Being able to pinpoint a 4D point in space/time and have your device remind you to “Pick up a book of a stamps” or whatever you need is perfect. Again, building these things in at the OS level is incredibly smart because developers will be able to bring the best representations of these services to the surface.

There are a gazillion more features in the pack including AirPlay mirroring (which I’ll talk about in a later post) but these are the few most important to me. Moving onto Lion for a second, I’ve noticed that OpenGL 3 is not one of the big features mentioned in their list. Snow Leopard’s feature doc listed OpenGL (as well as OpenAL) prominently. Why does this matter? Sadly, the current version of Mac OS only supports Open GL 2.X extensions, and none of the newer shader programming that accompanies today’s rich media applications. Literally, they are two versions behind which is odd for an OS that could easily integrate these libraries into the OS considering they have a specific hardware target. Hopefully we’ll find that all out in a few weeks here when Lion drops on the App Store as a digital download.

The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

Twitter launched it’s very own photo-sharing and video uploading service today, courtesy of the great minds behind Photobucket (who are still around..apparently?). You can’t help but feel bad for TwitPic or yFrog or any of the number of photo-sharing services that launched with the open API that Twitter provided. All you needed was an API key and some gumption perhaps to create the next cool thing that could operate as an adjunct on the site. Now that any number of these sites have taken off, Twitter has decided to step in and offer their own service. So what do you do if your TwitPic? Die off in oblivion I guess…Twitter Lgo

Last week Google announced some housecleaning for some of it’s API’s: Places, Prediction, Tasks, and Translate. Of these 4, I’ve only used Translate to any real success (or need). However, the outcry of some of the developers in the comments is truly sad. Some of these folks have created entire applications or infrastructure around these API’s that Google freely hosted. There was never a guarantee that these things would stick around forever. I don’t think anyone ever really thought about it–Google offers essentially unlimited space for just about everything, why would they even bother to deprecate and remove code they were giving away for free? Some of these services have been replaced with elements that can be called from within an HTML5-compliant browser so its not a complete loss. But if I were a dev that was using the Translate API through JS or other libraries, I think I’d be a bit pissed off.

So where am I going with this? These platforms that are created by these companies are artificial islands of relevance. By leveraging the (often) free API platform you’re helping raise the awareness level for those tools that you’re using: I had a friend show me how to write simple JS Translate widgets that would real-time translate a page in the DOM without re-requesting the page. I’ve seen rather kick-ass things done with data manipulation done using the Charts API. For me, they increased my awareness of some of the cooler things one could do with Google’s external tools. Maps is a huge one–something I’d like to leverage in a future showcase.

Gaming is one area where I can draw a lot of corollaries. With the rise of the mature PC FPS in the late 90’s, games were becoming little islands of activities. Mod tools were being released by the developers or often being generated by the community and were being used to create substantial in-game works. I one saw an interactive museum someone built in the Half-Life 1 Source engine. Game mods for Unreal Tournament? How about Akimbo Arena, or any of the more create DM maps made available? id Software made it easy to modify Doom and put it back out provided you weren’t modifying the core game engine files. What happened to these platforms? For the most part they were killed off by console gaming. With a “security” barrier barring entry, user-made downloadable content has been a no-show on the Xbox or PlayStation systems. Often publisher’s will pack together a sampling of top-rated mods from the community and push those out under their own container, but this is few and far between.

Most of the mod tech I’ve seen recently is visible, but doesn’t get a lot of exposure unless you’re specifically looking for it. Bethesda highlights folks who are still creating mods for their games such as Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind at least once a week. I’m sure somewhere, there’s a kid making a mod for Quake 3 Arena, but I haven’t been looking for it regularly. For me that platform island is no longer relevant and is gone.

Next week I’ll explore some of the newer platforms out there and what those companies are trying to do to bring you on board. It’s a busy week between Apple’s WWDC, and the opening of E3. We’ll see.