A few more points that occurred to me, following up on my last post.
Whither the Mouse?
Since its inception in 1984, the Mac user interface has obviously been
designed for desktop computers with a mouse and a keyboard. When notebook
computers came along and we wanted to be able to use them without carrying a
mouse everywhere, or without even a flat, stable surface to put the mouse on,
they had to emulate the mouse as best they could. This may now be reversing.
In the announcement of Mac OS X Lion, there was great
emphasis placed on the use of multitouch gestures as a means of control. I
think Lion will be the first OS designed for notebooks with multitouch
trackpads, with the desktop Macs left to emulate the MacBooks as best they
can. If you consider that a sizeable majority of the hardware Apple sells
today is mobile and primarily operated via some form of multitouch instead of
a mouse, this move seems sensible. And all new desktop Macs ship with the
multitouch-capable Magic Mouse
as standard now.
The Costs of Supporting Java
With regard to Java, there’s been a few comments along the lines of “all the
hardware Apple sells to Java developers must more than cover the cost of the
handful of engineers needed to keep maintaining Java”. I think this
underestimates the costs involved. Supporting Java means, in addition to the
- Java must be accounted for in development plans
- Java must be accounted for in QA plans
- Customer support needs to deal with it
- Security vulnerabilities need to be investigated and fixed
The true cost isn’t so much the money, it’s that it unavoidably diverts some
of the company’s attention from things it would rather focus on. While
continuing with Java support wouldn’t be hugely onerous for Apple, eliminating
distractions that aren’t bringing much benefit can really help competitiveness.
Also, as the vast majority of Java work (since the switch to Intel) has
been on the GUI, I’d expect the Java team knows the guts of the Mac GUI pretty
well by now. Engineering talent isn’t exactly a fungible resource. There’s
probably a development manager somewhere in Apple salivating at the thought of
having the Java people on her team.
Apple and the Server Side
Folks have pointed out that Apple is a heavy user of server-side Java in their
web services. I can think of many ways they can deal with that, and have no
idea which option they’ll take. But I think we can be sure they’ve got a plan
and aren’t leaving it to chance. And despite everyone (including me) getting
very animated over “Apple dropping Java”, it’s worth remembering that their
Java team isn’t going to be shutting down tomorrow.
More generally, Apple’s plans for the cloud are completely opaque to me right
now. We’re all assuming they have big plans for cloud services: they built that
huge new data centre,
and their hardware strategy seems to imply more reliance
on cloud services in the future. The iPad’s greatest weakness is that so much
of its functionality, including just initialising it, requires USB
synchronisation with a PC or Mac. MobileMe syncing is great, but it only works
for a few things.
The new MacBook Air models were just announced,
including one with an 11” screen, which I think is a first for Apple
notebooks. When making the announcement, Steve Jobs said something like “we
think this is the future of MacBooks”. With their emphasis on mobile, wireless
use and limited storage, these too are crying out for more cloud services.
And I think this could be Apple’s greatest weakness. If I were Steve
Jobs, the thing that would worry me most about Android isn’t its “openness”
(however you care to define it), or the temporary situation of shelf-space in
U.S. phone outlets, but the fact it is backed up by the world’s best cloud
services. And they’re only going to get better. Obstacles remain, but the
movement towards doing more and more in the cloud is inexorable. Where Google
has no rival, Apple’s track record is not that great. The iTunes store is a
huge success, obviously, but it’s not really all that “cloudy”, as you need a
Mac with enough hard drive to hold all your content. MobileMe is expensive,
and often unreliable and slow; it really only survives due to the
first class client support on Mac and iOS. The iWork service is not bad, but
lacks Google’s killer feature of collaborative editing. Apple has its work cut
out for it when it comes to the cloud.
Flash, Core Animation and Multitouch
In my last post I claimed Flash didn’t support Core Animation or Multitouch.
Well, @johnyanarella set me right on that. Flash does support both of these. I haven’t used that many Flash apps, so now I’m wondering to what extent the multitouch support is actually used in apps.
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