SAN FRANCISCO — There was so much high-tech eye candy on stage at Apple Inc.’s developers conference Monday that the Moscone West audience seemed to be riding a collective sugar high.
More than 5,000 developers feasted on a slideshow smorgasbord of brightly colored displays and gee-whiz features from the new iOS 7 software that will soon power millions of iPhones and iPads around the world. And while this software-centric confab elicited few of the fireworks that accompany Apple product launches, CEO Tim Cook and his blue-jeaned lieutenants wowed the crowd at the 24th annual Worldwide Developers Conference with a steady string of new upgrades.
“Our goal is to make great products that enrich peoples’ lives,” Cook told an almost punch-drunk crowd that showered the CEO with adoration befitting a rock star. “These are the values that drive us. They’re reflected in our products over the years, and they’re reflected in the products we’re announcing this morning.”
While Apple, as expected, did unveil an ad-supported music-streaming feature called iTunes Radio, as well as a new MacBook Air and an upgraded operating system for its Mac line of desktop and laptop computers, most of the two hours were devoted to multiple innovations in Apple’s mobile operating system.
This significant software design should give Apple fans three new things: more power, more battery life, and less navigational “friction” as they continue to incorporate mobile devices in their daily lives.
“This transition from iOS 6 to 7 is quite significant in terms of creating a brand new user interface,” said analyst Ben Bajarin with Creative Strategies. “This is a fundamental rethink of design and functionality and it’s much more consumer-friendly. It’s a great foundation for Apple to build upon.”
On stage, Apple executives said much the same thing with their trademark greatest-show-on-earth enthusiasm. Beginning with the opening video, in which Apple creative guru Jony Ive provided a voice-over homage to making products more simple and elegant, the presentation was filled with Cook’s pronouncements of how much users will love iOS 7, which is set to be released in the fall.
And judging by the repeated peals of applause from the developers, they may be right. The audience reaction to features in both iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, the new operating system for the Mac coming this fall, was strong. Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant, will be even smarter, the company said, and sport a much more human-sounding voice. Call up the North Pole on the iPhone’s weather app, and you’ll see falling snow in the background. The camera will now switch from video to still to panoramic mode simply with the swipe of a finger.
In one of the more widely expected announcements, Apple’s senior vice president Eddy Cue unveiled the company’s new music-streaming service called iTunes Radio. The service, which will compete with similar services from Pandora, Spotify and Google, will be free to users but ad-supported. An ad-free version will be available to iTunes Match subscribers who pay an annual fee of $24.99.
Calling it the “best music player we have ever done,” Cue said the service will start in the United States before being unveiled in other countries. Much like its rivals, the service will allow users to create their own stations and share them with friends.
Even though many still question whether Apple without Steve Jobs can continue to truly innovate — and tellingly the company has gone months now without a significant new product launch — the show Monday seemed to be channeling Jobs’ kid-in-a-candy-store excitement about everything Apple touches.
Following the announcement of the new Mac operating system, named Mavericks after the world-famous surfing spot off California’s Half Moon Bay, it was the unveiling of iOS 7 that provided the biggest bang of the morning.
Analyst Avi Greengart with New Jersey-based Current Analysis was on hand for the show and he said users will be blown away by the new iOS 7 features, starting with the way the iPhone’s home screen appearance will magically change as the user moves the gadget around, enabling the viewer to essentially “look behind” the icons.
“That tilt factor will provide a very pleasing initial reaction that’ll be huge,” he said. “But the true and more important improvements to OS 7 are the multitask feature, which will keep apps running in the background and allow users to swipe back and forth instead of having to go back to the home page as you do now. That’s a real pain point for people.”
Among the other iOS 7 features revealed by Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi is the ability to swipe the screen to do things like access the control panel and adjust the screen’s brightness level. But as Greengart pointed out, “the key here is not just the new features in and of themselves, but the ease with which you’ll be able to move around the iPhone.
“That will appeal to the hard-core power users,” he said. “And it’ll appeal to my mother.”