Steve Jobs and Team Apple took the stage at the WorldWide Developers' Conference today to unveil what the world has anxiously be awaiting - updates to the Mac OS, the iPhone/iPad OS and the unveiling of iCloud. The keynote speech, at a whopping 120 minutes, was chock-full of new features, tools and services.
Unfortunately, what was unveiled by Apple - which has long been known for "setting" the bar - was a lot of copycat sort of features that seemed to take their cues from Google and others.
Auto-save feature: Apple has ripped out the "Save" button in its productivity apps, including Keynote and Pages. The apps not only saves automatically - so users can close out the app and reopen it from where they left off - but users can also access earlier versions of the project. It's great not to have to worry about saving your work - Google has been auto-saving files in its Google Docs platform for some time now, as well as a history of all of the revisions to the documents. Nothing new from Apple here, folks.
Notifications: The company showed off its new unobtrusive way of notifying users of new messages, mail and other alerts. Now, icons appear at the top of the screen so that users, swiping downward with a finger swipe, can see all of their notifications in one shot. Sound familiar? Yup, that's the way Android has been notifying its users of new messages and alerts for some time now. Again, nothing new here.
Cloud Calendar: Ooooh. Aaaahhh. Apple is now offering the ability to share calendars with other people over the cloud. Now, moms and dads can share a calendar about the kiddos' soccer games or members of a project can share key dates with each other. I love this feature - and have been for years, via Google Calendar. My wife and I have been sharing a Google calendar for years now, keeping each other updated on football practice, awards ceremonies and back-to-school night. In fact, now that the kids are older, they're sharing on that calendar, too. What an amazing breakthrough in technology, huh? Yup - back when Google launched it several years ago.
iMessage: This isn't so much of a Google copycat as much as it is a Blackberry copycat. The idea of sending text-based messages to others is hardly revolutionary - that's basic SMS. Honestly, I wasn't a fan of the proprietary Blackberry Messenger when I was using one of those devices. Why on Earth would I be interested in iMessage? From the Google perspective, messaging like this is already available to Google Voice users, who can send messages like this from either mobile device or Web interface.
PhotoStream: Apple's offering of cloud-based photo sharing falls short based not on what Google alone is offering but more because of what third-party startups are offering. The idea of syncing photos and storing them in the cloud for 30 days seems so... I don't know. It just isn't all that compelling. Android users already have the option of instant uploading/sharing to third-party photo sites, such as Flickr and Picasa, as well as Facebook and Twitter. The winner here, though, is a startup called SugarSync, which automatically creates a backup of every photo shot on your mobile device to an online folder. SugarSync also syncs files - whether photos, documents or presentations - to the cloud from pre-configured folders on your desktop/laptop, allowing you to access them from any Web-connected device.
Music: It was the announcement we were all waiting for. And while parts of it were intriguing, I'm just not sold on Apple's iCloud for music. The idea of syncing music purchased on iTunes is a great idea but I'm not really big on paying $25 a year for iTunes Match to "legalize" music I've ripped from CDs I previously purchased or digital tracks I've bought from other online retailers. It wasn't the price that bothered me as much as it was the idea that I am losing control over my own music catalog and how I use it.
This music announcement was an important one for Apple - which revolutionized the way we purchased and listen to music via the iTunes/iPod ecosystem - because Amazon and Google both beat Apple out of the gate with cloud music offerings. Sure, uploading my personal tracks to Google's cloud - which offers free capacity for 20,000 songs - was cumbersome. And trying to figure out which tracks to upload to Amazon without reaching into my wallet for my cloud storage capacity was a time-consuming process, too. But once you get through it the first time, it's a piece of cake. In fact, that cumbersome process reminds me a bit of the first time iPod owners sync their devices to iTunes. That sync process isn't fast at all.
In the end, Apple fans will certainly rejoice at all of these announcements - but I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed by Apple's headlines. Nothing in that keynote event - which seemed to drag on and on and on - jumped out with a big Wow factor. Instead, it felt like a attempt to build some excitement around a lot of "me too" news.
In fact, at one point, things seemed to be so "me too" that I couldn't help but wonder which Steve was on stage - Jobs or Ballmer?