The iEmpire Strikes Back!

It’s time to “Make Apple Great Again!”

This phrase pretty much summed up Tim Cook’s intention at the 2017 Worldwide Developer Conference, an Apple tech-fest hosted in the city of San Jose at the heart of the Silicon Valley. The event brought great enhancements to Apple’s operating systems as well as major updates to its hardware. If you are an avid Apple user, you’ll definitely be excited for the amount of new Apple gadgets released at the event. If you are not a Apple user however, you’ll probably think that Apple again threw out a bunch of overpriced products to scam its customers.

Apple faced serious trouble in the past few years

WWDC2017 came in at a harsh time for Apple due to its poor sales and public criticism. If you exclude the comments from pure Apple haters, most of the criticisms are centred around the specification of the Mac computers and the designs of iOS devices. Many believed that Apple is so obsessed with their iPhone sales that they forgot the product line that made them famous.

Mac Pro (2013)

For example, the current generation of Mac Pro, Apple’s professional line of desktop computers, was last updated in December 2013. You can still pick up the “trash-can” with a third-generation Intel Xeon processor at Apple Stores today at the same price as it was introduced four years ago. Apple’s professional users are upset with the lack of development on the Mac Pro and have threatened to move to Windows if necessary. As for iOS devices, people felt that Apple has rolled back the effort in their hardware design as the unit remained visually unchanged since 2014. These situations made many technology experts to question the creativity of the Silicon Valley giant. As a matter of fact, many people felt that Apple is going downhill ever since the passing of Steve Jobs.

Image from Quatz

However, financial reports have suggested that Tim Cook sold way more Apple devices than Steve Jobs and topped the company as the most valuable public company with $600 billion in market capitalization. In some quarters alone, Cook’s Apple has generated close to $80 billion in revenue, a figure that many Fortune 500 companies failed to achieve in their yearly reports. Unfortunately, the monstrous sale figure won’t last without innovations. The iPhone sales have stalled in the recent quarters and products like iPad Pro and Apple Watch have failed to impact the market. As a result, Apple’s revenue is falling quarter by quarter.

What Makes WWDC2017 Special?

WWDC2017 gave Apple an opportunity to prove that they are not falling behind the trends in technology. The keynote on June 5th has shown that Apple is actively participating in the development of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Smart Speakers. Here are the three main aspects of Apple’s comeback.

(1). macOS / Mac / Virtual Reality

Apple announced the newest release of their desktop operating system, macOS High Sierra, at the keynote. Instead of making UI changes, Apple stated that this release is focused on the optimization of user experience. The biggest highlight of this release would be the support for Virtual Reality and External Graphic Cards (eGPU). Virtual Reality has became a popular tool for scientific research and entertainment in the recent years. Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all came out with their own VR solutions while Apple was reluctant with this technology. Powering the VR capabilities is the new Metal 2 graphic API, which allows developers to bypass macOS window restrictions and directly render the image to a VR headset. Apple allowed macOS to support some of the popular VR platforms such as HTC Vive and SteamVR. The introduction of VR to the Mac platform represented a major shift in Apple’s roadmap. It shows that Apple is seeking a foothold in immersive computing and the gaming industry, both of which are currently dominated by Microsoft Windows.

Alongside Virtual Reality came a massive refresh of the Mac product line. Apple refreshed their iMacs and MacBooks (excluding the MacBook Air) with 7th-generation Intel processors, a standard in 2017 computers. For the iMac line up, Apple added USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and VR-Ready graphic card from AMD. The company also lowered the price on certain iMacs and made it more appealing to education users. This is a long-overdue refresh to the iMac lineup as the last product refresh was in Fall 2015.

iMac Pro and HTC Hive

However, the spotlight of the Mac refresh is undoubtedly the iMac Pro, a server grade computer inside the body of an iMac. Apple cranked up an 18-cores Intel Xeon CPU and an AMD Vega GPU inside the super-slim space-grey All-In-One. To cope with the advanced specification, Apple redesigned the thermal architecture of the iMac Pro and made it easier for air to flow through the machine. The announcement of the iMac Pro came in as a surprise for many professional users as many were hoping for a Mac Pro refresh. Apple has promised its Pro users that a module Mac Pro is coming in 2018 and the product line will continue despite the announcement of iMac Pro.

(2). iOS/ iPad / Augmented Reality

Apple announced iOS 11 during the WWDC keynote. While there weren’t major changes to iOS on the iPhone, most of the UI changes went to its bigger brother, the iPad. The iPad received an enormous UI updates that delivered desktop functionalities with iOS 11. Apple made iPad more productive by allowing users to drag and drop applications for multi-windows task. Users can also drag files across applications and this greatly increased the usability of content creators and product designers. The new iOS release also came equipped with support for Augmented Reality through the camera on iPhone and iPad. Developers can now use the ARKit to develop applications that provide three-dimensional experiences in areas such as model design.

Augmented Reality on iOS 11

The tablet industry has experienced a bumpy ride in the recent years due to the surge in large-screen smartphones. It is widely acknowledged that the tablet industry, with the exception of the iPad, is pretty much dead after years of competition. As the sole survivor of the tablet war, Apple tried to convince its customers that iPads are capable of replacing a laptop in daily task.

The negativity of the tablet industry did not prevent Apple from making new iPads. The company refreshed their existing iPad Pro lineup and specifically upgraded the 9.7-inch iPad with a 10.5-inch screen. The upgraded device contains a brighter display with less bezels. Both iPad Pros (10.5-inch and 12-inch) received the A10X Fusion, a custom designed hexa-core chipset that showed a similar benchmark as a MacBook Pro. Another major addition to display would be the 120Hz refreshing rate. This is currently the highest refreshing rate in any mobile devices and it dramatically reduced the latency of Apple Pencil. Apple named this new display as “ProMotion” and promised a “buttery smooth” experience on the new iPad Pro.

(3). HomePod, the Smart Speaker

HomePod Smart Speaker

The market for smart speakers is currently dominated by Google Home and Amazon Echo. Apart from playing music through Spotify or Google Play, both speakers can provide audio feedbacks to questions such as “how’s the weather” and “check my calendar”. The speaker also acts as a home hub for smart home gadgets such as thermostats and lightbulbs. As a response to the growing market of smart speakers, Apple announced the HomePod, a smart speaker powered by Siri and HomeKit (Apple’s smart home framework). Although priced higher price than Google and Amazon, Tim Cook stated in an interview that the sound quality will “blow people away” because the device is intended to be a speaker.

What’s ahead for Apple?

Through the keynote of WWDC2017, Apple has patched up many of its drawbacks. Although the changes are far from perfect, it shows that Apple is aware of its disadvantage in the tech industry. In an era of fast-changing technology, Tim Cook explained that his company doesn’t need to be the first to try out new concept. Apple will instead, evaluates the new concept for a while and develops a solution that symbolizes perfection. 2017 is the year that marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. As Apple prepare itself for the upcoming iPhone release in September, consumers are eager to see if the famous garage-startup can “wow” them again.

Information on Apple Worldwide Developer Conference

The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an annual technology conference held in California. It is an event that gives Cupertino the opportunity to showcase their latest software and hardware technology. This week-long event also gives developers the chance to communicate directly with the Apple engineering teams. The WWDC has overseen the unveiling of many milestone event in Apple’s history, notably with the adaption of Mac OS X (2002), the transition to Intel processor (2005), the release of iPhone 4 (2010) and the announcement of current Mac Pro (2013).

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