Saturday 20 December 2014

Apple serves up taste of the future

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

Craig Federighi, vice president of software engineering at Apple Inc., delivers a keynote address during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Craig Federighi, vice president of software engineering at Apple Inc., delivers a keynote address during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Though there was no new iPhone or iPad revealed, last week's big Apple announcements were important for punters and for businesses. Here's a plain-English guide to the good, the bad and the curious in what Apple announced at its worldwide developers' conference.

THE GOOD

Dropbox simulation

Apple's version of synchronising online services has been relatively poor. But now it's taking a big stride with iCloud Drive and Airdrop, which do lots of what Dropbox and Google Drive does. In other words, you can create and save files on one Apple device and they will instantly appear on your other iDevices.

Whatsapp features

Users of Apple's own Messages miss many of the features that apps such as Whatsapp and Snapchat boast. So Apple is simply "adding" these features, such as audio, video and self-destruct messages into its own messaging system. It is also giving people more control over group messaging.

Instant internet and calls

If your iPhone is close to your MacBook, the laptop can automatically get online through your phone's data connection with no manual intervention. Similarly, calls and messages that come in on your phone can now be taken or answered on your laptop.

Family sharing

Besieged parents can now control app purchases more closely with up to six iDevices able to use the same credit card iTunes account. And the credit card owner gets asked (on their phone) each time someone tries to buy an app. This could help to prevent big bills developing.

THE BAD

Charging for iCloud

As good as all the new iCloud stuff is, Apple is looking to cash in on it at a relatively low data level. If you go over 5GB of storage on your account, you'll have to pay €10 per year or €40 per year if it's over 20GB of data. This has the potential to be a trap for those who end up storing lots of treasured photos and don't know how to transfer them to another, cheaper system.

Sticking with Siri

Even though few use voice-control features on phones for anything but in-car use, Apple is sticking with its Siri function, adding hands-free activation of the feature to match Google's functionality on its voice control system.

Lightning/Beats

It wasn't technically part of the developers' conference, but it emerged last week that Apple may change the headphone connection port on iPhone and iPads from the traditional 3.5mm jack to a new Apple-based one. That means your old (expensive) headphones may not work anymore with new iPhones or iPads. On the other hand, they might, just might, work with new versions of Beats headphones.

THE CURIOUS

Healthkit

Where many have tried and failed before, Apple is venturing with Healthkit, a system that aims to record your medical data (from health apps) and make it available to certain hospitals and clinics. Although it's a logical move, lots of companies have crashed and burned trying to centralise medical information in the cloud as patients and doctors bristle at sharing sensitive personal information online.

Homekit

This was the most-leaked feature before the Apple event: your iPhone and iPad will gain the functionality of a remote control for your home appliances. That means lighting, alarms, heating systems, televisions and any other domestic devices. The idea is to create a system where manufacturers incorporate a 'Made For iPhone' feature into whatever device they make.

New language

Apple introduced Swift – a new programming language that aims to make it easier and quicker for developers to make games and software. This was a surprise announcement and there is a lot of excitement among developers about it. It could make programming more accessible for ordinary people and lower the price of app development to paying customers.

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