WWDC 2013 is Apple's chance to reassert a unified vision

Beyond iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, Apple's moving in multiple directions -- and sometimes spreading its focus too wide

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In-car systems

Apple last year announced Siri Eyes Free, a version of its voice-based personal assistant meant to be incorporated into cars to let drivers control functions such as their phones, stereos, navigation, and perhaps one day other services (climate controls or repair alerts, for example). Most car makers voiced support, but little has been seen of Siri Eyes Free since. (GM has Siri Eyes Free as an option in a couple current low-end models. And BMW said last week all its 2014 models would support it, along with Samsung's SVoice.)

Yet there's been a lot of activity in the "connected car" space, with smartphone-savvy stereos, driver- and engine-tracking gadgets, and a renewed effort by BlackBerry to link cars to its radio network to push firmware updates to car computers and deliver configurable dashboards. This is an emerging service area ripe for an Apple boost this year.


Apple's Web browser is commonplace in OS X and iOS, where it's the default browser, but it's a dud in Windows. On PCs, Google's Chrome has become the rising star to challenge the faltering Internet Explorer and the established but boring Firefox.

Safari is designed to work as part of a greater Apple ecosystem, syncing bookmarks and open tabs across Safari on all your devices. But Chrome does that, too, and it works on Android in addition to Windows, OS X, iOS, and several Linux versions.

Other than the fact it's built into iOS and OS X, the rationale to choose Safari is unclear these days. Yes, on iOS, Safari is more compatible with HTML5-plus-AJAX websites than the competing browsers, but that advantage surely will not last; Google's Android Internet browser already has caught up, and Chrome can't be far behind. Apple needs to take a new look at Safari's purpose and unique value, because neither is clear now.

Networking protocols

Most people forget that Apple includes a bunch of proprietary networking protocols in its products, such as Bonjour for device self-identification (it's how Macs broadcast their iTunes libraries to each other, for example), AirPrint for driverless printing, and AirPlay for video streaming. As Apple's devices have become mainstays in business, those "alien" protocols have colonized the network -- much to IT's distaste, as they tend to be chatty protocols that consumer network bandwidth. But their presence is permanent, so much so that the major router vendors now offer tools to manage the Apple protocols in the enterprise.

With competing protocols emerging, such as Miracast for video streaming, Apple would do well to take a deeper look at its protocols and how they work in the colliding personal and business worlds, including with complementary standards such as Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4, and even NFC. They could be a unifying force for much of the "connected device" vision as Microsoft's Exhange ActiveSync has become for device management and security.

Content creation

Apple's iBooks Author debuted a year ago, promising to up-end the textbook publishing market by transforming static textbooks into dynamic, rich-media containers for delivery via the iPad. Amazing e-textbooks have been created in iBooks Author, but overall, the software is rough to use. It's not clear if this was a minor test project or the first step in Apple trying to refresh the moribund e-publishing software market dominated by Adobe's bloated InDesign and Quark's creaky XPress, poor products for creating the kinds of next-gen content that iBooks Author can create.

Apple's Pages word processor has also faded, suffering from a limited feature set and not-always-intuitive user interface. (Its Keynote cousin for slideshows, however, is a great tool despite the lack of meaningful updates in four years.)

As the document-creation tools from Apple, both iBooks Author and Pages could be boosted into major tools that deliver on the promise of dynamic digital media. As it stands, both feel neglected and in fact shoved out of the way.

The same goes for QuickTime Pro, the underappreciated OS X service for making screencasts and recording video and audio. By contrast, Apple's iMovie, Final Cut Pro, iPhoto, and Aperture -- its tools for video and photo manipulation -- feel more central and supported.

It appears that Apple has forgotten that text-centered information is the most easily absorbed and flexible way to deliver information, both on its own and in concert with the newer presentation media.

A broad common fabric whose pattern is unclear

There is indeed a common fabric across these technology forays connecting strongly to OS X and iOS: They all support a broad ecosystem of information and entertainment, both consumption and creation.

But they do so in ways that don't always clearly mesh to users and developers. For example, delivering an e-ticket is a very different kind of information service than streaming a movie or delivering navigation in a car. That's OK -- they are different types of information, after all. But I believe Apple would benefit if the Apple-ness of all its services and tools was more consistent and clearer in value than they are today.

I'm not suggesting a mega-platform -- such "theory of everything" efforts implode under their own weight -- but a meta-context where whatever Apple service and tool you use, you intuitively get why it should be from Apple because of quality, experience, and "I never thought of that" innovation. As Apple widens its focus into so many areas, delivering that Apple-ness is not easy. But failing to do leads to the kind of unpleasant, awkward technology stews we've seen Sony, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard -- and even Google and Samsung, though not as badly -- deliver.

This article, "WWDC 2013 is Apple's chance to reassert a unified vision," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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