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Apple has become the Rodney Dangerfield of technology companies: It doesn't get any respect.
During the keynote address at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, Phil Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing, sounded as if he had something to prove when he presented a preview of the forthcoming Mac Pro, boldly reimagined as a cylinder. "Can't innovate anymore, my ass," he proclaimed.
Apple has always been able to innovate. It couldn't have survived in the shadow of Microsoft for so long any other way. Nevertheless, doubts have been growing, fueled by the absence of visionary co-founder Steve Jobs and the lack of a new product line that looks like it could match the promise and profit of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
The decline of the company's stock price from its stratospheric high of over $700 per share in September 2012, to around $435 today, can be seen as one way to measure that doubt.
Apple watchers have been hoping for an iWatch or an Apple television. Instead, they got change: A new look for iOS 7 and a radical revision of the Mac Pro, a product many feared would be a casualty of the mobile revolution.
Similarly, iOS 7 has been criticized. The Verge calls it confusing. Designer Andrew Munsell renders the same verdict. That's unavoidable with major design changes. The new look has also, predictably, has been praised.
Apple deserves some blame here for its hagiographic assessment of its design competency. Its opening video at WWDC presented a precious paean to Apple's design ethos. The words on the screen describe design with the adoration appropriate to a religion: "We simplify. We perfect. We start over. Until everything we touch enhances each life it touches. Only then do we sign our work. Designed by Apple in California."
Were Apple's products truly perfect, perhaps such reverence for design would fit better. Hyperbole works when the product is truly revolutionary, like the iPhone was in 2007. Whether the new Mac Pro meets that bar remains to be seen: It hasn't been released yet. But when it comes to iOS 7, an operating system upgrade, Apple's invitation to be awed isn't quite enough.
For developers, numbers make the case: iOS 7 introduces more than 1,500 new APIs. That means iOS 7 will support all sorts of new ideas. But for consumers, affinity will depend on exposure and experience. That will be possible in the fall, when iOS 7 is released. In the meantime, here's a look at what's to come.
Control Center is undoubtedly a useful addition. Accessible by swiping up from any screen, it provides instant access to important device controls. It also includes a built-in flashlight app. Be glad you're not a developer of flashlight apps, or if you are, congratulate yourself on several years of easy money.
Like the old Notification Center, the iOS 7 version is available when swiping down from the top of the screen. But it looks a lot better without the faux fabric background in iOS 6.
Multitasking is much improved in iOS 7 and is sure to be much appreciated. It will be available to all third-party apps. It includes an app switching interface that resembles webOS's multitasking card view.
Apple's iTunes Radio allows subscribers to create a personalized radio station or listen to existing stations. It's a lot like Pandora. Both offer a free version, supported by ads. Paying to get rid of the ads costs less with iTunes Radio: $25 annually with an iTunes Match subscription, compared to $10 per month for Pandora. But Pandora has its own charms, too.
Recognizing that scrolling through images does not scale well, Apple revised its Photos app to simplify the process of navigating through hundreds or thousands of images. That's good design.
"AirDrop is absolutely the easiest way to share with people who are right around you," said Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering, during the WWDC keynote. Well, perhaps not as easy as handing someone something. But Federighi sees AirDrop as an improvement over Android's approach: "No need to wander around the room, bumping your phone," he said. The whole human contact thing is overrated, eh?
Apple's modern design aesthetic is on full display in its revised Mail app. It allows you to swipe from the left edge of the screen to go back a level in the message hierarchy and to swipe across a message to call up a move/trash option. Some of this may seem familiar to users of the the Mailbox app.
The iOS 7 Camera app has a new UI. It adds the option to take square photos, the format of Instagram. It also includes built-in live filters, which don't quite measure up to Instagram's filters. The shutter animation has been changed to a temporary blur and the speed at which images can be captured has been improved.