Apple has taken a beating in the last year, with its stock price plummeting, commentary on the loss of its innovation edge, speculation that its Mac and iOS devices have both peaked, the Apple Maps snafu in iOS 6, and a seemingly unstoppable competitor (Samsung) that -- according to popular wisdom -- has learned Apple's own tricks.
At the same time, Apple seemed spread too thin: It makes computers, mobile devices, operating systems, a productivity suite, media creation tools for video and e-books, a Web browser, an online entertainment store, a cloud syncing service, a streaming video TV box, and even a voice assistant for automobiles. Not all the pieces seemed to work together (no e-books on the Mac, no visual iOS integration with the car version of Siri), some pieces seemed abandoned (the iWork productivity suite), and some appeared dated (the iOS interface).
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The rocky road to iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks
In January 2012, I wrote that Apple could afford to coast that year, given its huge lead over Android and Windows. Apple did so, with incremental upgrades in OS X Mountain Lion, iOS 6, the iPhone 5, the fourth-generation iPad, Safari 6, its Mac line, and the Apple TV. Meanwhile, Microsoft shipped Windows 8, an operating system so bad that PC sales have essentially stalled. But Google's Android saw the 4.1/4.2 "Jelly Bean" versions finally make it a solid OS, the Nexus 7 launch the mini-tablet boom, Samsung deliver one smartphone hit and one tablet hit after another, and more recently HTC debut the HTC One smartphone that could reverse its decline. Apple seemed ever more doomed, judging by the emerging conventional wisdom.
Then a funny thing happened: Google announced not much at the endless Google I/O keynote a few weeks ago; there was no next leap for Android or Chrome OS, and Google's big deal a year ago -- its Apple TV rip-off, the Nexus Q -- was completely forgotten. The product was killed before it shipped last summer, and Google said it would try again. Well, not this year. Furthermore, Samsung's Galaxy S 4 wasn't the advance everyone had expected; although it sported a nicer casing, most of its innovations were unfinished and only partially working.
That context may explain why yesterday's announcements at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference seemed so exciting. But I believe that most were truly thrilling and show an Apple that has diligently worked to unify its Macs, iOS devices, and iCloud offerings in a way that makes them better, while casting Google's and Microsoft's competing efforts as dated and incomplete by comparison. Of course, demos don't always reflect reality, but my initial hands-on testing of the iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 Mavericks betas show they work as well as Apple's demos suggested.
Worse for Google and Microsoft, iOS 7 in particular lifts some of the better ideas from its competitors, such as the quick-access settings, universal multitasking, and mini app windows from Android and the ultrasimple typographical design and full-screen look from Windows Phone and Windows 8 Metro, all with Apple refinements that take them further.