The Apple World Wide Developer Conference always has some interesting things to see and today’s keynote was no different. There will always be some hype, some disappointment, some pragmatism and some anger … and different people will feel it about different things, even within the realm of Apple Fandom.
To be honest, there was nothing which was too unexpected. We saw some hardware improvements in the Pro notebook range, tweaks in the consumer (albeit expensive consumer) notebook range and a some other hardware updates didn’t make it into the keynote but have come up on the Apple Store. Until we see the new kit in the hands of testers and real people it is hard to say what difference they will make but two key items on the top end MacBookPro are likely to be spoken about a bit … access to 2 Thunderbolt ports give you high speed I/O to a range of devices, from displays, external RAID enclosures, adapters for Gigabit Ethernet / Firewire 800 / fibre channel and a range of capture devices … and you still have a HDMI port for a second display and video output anyway. Couple that with the Retina Display and you have a device for video editors, photographers and so on … giving them one of the best graphics experiences for seeing their work. Of course, the debate goes on about whether some people can notice the difference with screens of this high calibre, and whether this is a marketing gimmick … and so we will have to wait to see what it is like when people start using the machines in anger.
We saw a raft of features spoken about with Mountain Lion, the next incarnation of OS X (no longer even called Mac OS X … a disappointment to those of us who paid for the original Mac OS X Beta). A number of these have been covered before as we are now on Preview Release 4. The strength which appeared to be taken from the new features seemed to be the accessibility tools (dictation, etc) and the portability of your personal settings to other devices. We have already seen the push for iCloud and how this links with Photostream between your devices … and this increase with iMessage, Notes, Reminders, Sharing and so on …
The key areas I am looking at with Mountain Lion are around AirPlay and Notification Centre. As someone who has a lot of inbound information streams there are some tools I use to manage this, but Notification Centre looks as if it could make a big difference for me.
And then we get onto the area that everyone was waiting for … iOS6.
With no formal announcement of an iPhone5 we are all looking to see what the new OS will do on existing hardware. Although we were told it would work on legacy devices back to iPhone 3GS, 4th gen iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the new iPad (and yes, that is how Apple term it on their site) we do not know how much of the functionality will work. Siri will work on the new iPad we are now told, but will it work on the iPad 2? I doubt it … in the same way it doesn’t work on an iPhone4. A lot of the updates make more sense for the iPhone and iPod touch than the iPad. Moving from Google to Apple’s own Map service, Passbook for holding electronics tickets for cinema, flights, etc (possibly a lead into Near Field Communications [NFC] for using an iPhone for payment services?), improvements in how you manage incoming phone calls and notifications (it has only taken them a few years) … but the accessibility improvements have also seen me amazed that Apple appear to have really understood a need on the iPad. Enabling a parent / carer / teacher to only allow one app on a device as well as restricting touch input on particular parts of the screen seem to be encouraging using iOS devices with children. Engaging them whilst not overloading them.
An area of concern is the increasing integration with Facebook … as much as I generally trust Apple we are now in the situation where the ever changing preferences on Facebook will also have to deal with how that is applied with iOS too.
There is a lot to take on board with it all and I would recommend people watch Tim Cook take the keynote, if nothing else to see the difference between him and Steve Jobs, as well as a lengthier demonstration of all of the above.
As for what it all means for schools and education …
Hardware – Apple personal computers (desktop / laptop) are expensive. They can work out good value if you buy the one which is right for your requirements and you know how to get the most out of them, but in the present times of austerity this is more and more difficult. It seems to be that more schools are going down the mobile device (iOS or Android … and eventually Windows 8 !) and this is understandable. The lack of a decent server in the Apple hardware range does show that management of any Apple Device is not taken that seriously (IMHO) by the folk at Cupertino. A disappointing comment to make, but one many experienced Mac Sysadmins would agree with.
Mountain Lion – Again, the lack of mention of how the Server tools will work means that it will be interesting to see how the devices fit into a school environment. The increased emphasis on a personalised device, with settings and information following you around via Apple’s iCloud, means that there could be clashes in an education environment. The major bonuses for me come in the way of Airplay as a means of ditching the Interactive Whiteboard (until you are ready to make the most of them) and tools such as Dictation.
iOS – Again, the emphasis on a personalised device does work well with BYOD, but the increasing number of schools I speak with who only see the shiny nature of it or the cost cutting side … iOS6 will do little to improve or support the use of BYOD over iOS5. Until we look at the management tools and what settings can be applied to encourage best use of the devices … then we should still plan on making the most of iOS5. Siri is a major improvement, but like all information services (google search, wikipedia) information on its own does not give you understanding and knowledge … so we have to understand the most appropriate use (teachers before technology folks). Accessibility will be an interesting area to work on and develop, and how we make the most of personal devices as a tool and not as a cheap (or expensive) gimmick to generate engagement for the sake of it.
I am trailing Mountain Lion on my work MacBookPro (starting to get on a bit but should be serviceable) and will put my thoughts on this blog as I discover things I like or loathe, or if I spot things that could be fun in the classroom, or things which could help a teacher or SLT change / improve their working life.
I will also be testing iOS6 on an iPad2 (my own one) to see what apps do and don’t work, to try to see if we can lock it down and tweak settings, and to see if there are restrictions on some functionality … hopefully helping people work out whether they need to go for the new iPad or if they can get away with a cheaper iPad 2.
If you have any particular areas you want me to test or try out then let me know. You lot are going to be more inventive than I am for a lot of this because you are pushing the limits in class already.