For most of 2013, we've been reading about Apple's supposed decline. As the weeks ticked by without any new products to speak of, the discontented din grew louder, declaring innovation was dead in Cupertino, with the ghosts of the iPhone and iPod forever haunting the halls at 1 Infinite Loop.
If its critics would do a bit of homework, they would see that Apple's innovations aren't born out of thin air; they follow a pattern of intense focus and fine-tuning. In short, Apple looks to its own products for inspiration.
You probably remember the WWDC demo. Under the biggest spotlight on the grandest stage, Anki co-founder and CEO Boris Sofman unrolled an 8-foot mat and introduced the world to a new kind of gaming experience, one where the cars are real, but the reality is still virtual.
"If you look at toys from 20 years ago and compare them to toys today they are, minus a few differences, pretty much the same thing," said Hanns Tappeiner, co-founder and president of Anki. "We saw a big gap between (toys and video games) and we thought we could use robotics and AI to bridge that gap, to combine real physical things with some of the things we love about video games. And that's what we did with Anki Drive."
As much as we wanted to believe pie-in-the-sky rumors of iWatches and iTVs, 2013 played out pretty much according to script. But 2014 is wide open — and something tells me it's going to be a huge year for Apple. So what does Apple have in its bag of tricks?
Back in 2009, Jonathan Zufi had a dream. Inspired by a memory of a programming game he played as a kid, he set out to provide a complete depository of Apple's diverse catalog, a place where people could leisurely explore and appreciate its history.
And ICONIC was born. Loaded with more than 650 images, the stunning coffee-table book presents a history of Apple's products as seen through Zufi's lens. But these aren't Best Buy catalog shots or even Apple PR images; flipping through the pages of ICONIC is like having Zufi explain everything he admires about Apple. The angles, shadows and lighting all give a unique perspective to the subjects, like you're looking at them for the first time.
When I downloaded the iOS 7 beta a few days after the WWDC keynote, the first thing I noticed was how long it took for my home screen to appear. Every time unlocked my phone, there it was, a very noticeable transition that delayed my ability to start tapping. All in all, it took about a half-second longer than iOS 6 to get to a useable home screen; it might not seem like much, but it breaks down to about two hours a year based on my own usage.
And it's not just unlocking. Across iOS 7, animations add a fraction of a second to most navigational actions, from opening folders to closing apps. I barely noticed the transitions in iOS 6. They were functional, neat and fast, never drawing unnecessary attention away from the task at hand. Now they seem to demand my attention.
As he was wrapping up his Macworld 2007 keynote--you know, the one with the iPhone--Steve Jobs quoted Wayne Gretzky, comparing his playing philosophy to Apple's: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been." It was a testament to Apple's innovation, its ability to see three steps ahead of its competitors.
The Mac. The iMac. OS X. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad.
Critics like to point to this track record as proof that Apple is no longer innovating, no longer skating to where the puck is headed. There's a certain perverse logic this line of thinking: if tens of millions of people will rush out to buy a new iPhone just because it has a better camera or a fingerprint sensor, then Apple could conceivably rest on its laurels, failing to realizing the tide is turning before it's too late.
The iPad just doesn't feel like an iOS device anymore.
There was a time when it did — mostly during those few weeks in 2010 when pixel-doubled iPhone apps still outnumbered their native counterparts — but these days it feels far closer to a Mac than an iPhone. There are some things I still need my MacBook for, but more often than not I'm reaching for my iPad when there's work to be done.
But while the apps I use for writing and researching are rich and powerful, the system they run on is seeming more and more like an enlarged version of something built for a phone. And iOS 7 hasn't helped.
Designers and Photoshop pros from an earlier generation will remember the venerable Kai’s Power Tool Photoshop plugins, and even though they’ve been M.I.A. for years, one of the wackiest of those plugs – the Fractal Explorer – has been reincarnated as Frax, a seriously cool graphics toy and perhaps the single most impressive bit of graphics code we’ve yet seen on iOS. Available in separate iPad and iPhone versions (iPad reviewed), Frax is a full-screen, interactive fractal playground, with a very fluid, straightforward interface and a decent amount of customization possibilities for generating a wide variety of truly attractive fractal graphics.
We here at Mac|Life know that Apple products are appealing because partly they hold up well and are intuitive to use, but much of the world knows them for just how darn good they look. To that end, as MacRumors reports, Jonathan Zufi has self-published a 326-page book celebrating Apple's design entitled Iconic: a Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation.
A few days after its public release, Miley Cyrus summed it all up with a terse tweet to her 14 million followers: I hate the iPhone update. Now, she could be talking about the lack of a natural language engine in Calendar or the less-defined back buttons, but I have to assume her complaints are mainly related to the new color palette Jony Ive used to paint the icons.