A post-Jobs Apple opens a new chapter

After a week of assimilating Apple’s tour-de-force at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference last week, a long list of market watchers are saying that the event — and the design and development work behind it — indicate the reemergence of Apple as the most innovative platform company on Earth.

Joshua Topolsky of Verge wrote, in Meet the new Apple,

The big story — and the big picture — is that Apple seems to have come out of deep freeze. It feels light, like it’s moving forward. Like the cobwebs have brushed aside, and things are going to get fun again. Everything we saw at WWDC’s keynote points to a very interesting next few months for Apple — a period that will undoubtedly come into deep focus around the fall, when the company tends to roll out its major hardware updates. But unlike previous events, which have felt painfully predictable and iterative in the past couple of years, the next move Apple makes should be surprising. If the software and platform work that we saw at the keynote on Monday is any indication, the kind of apps and hardware that follow it aren’t just going to be business as usual.

But it’s not just that Apple execs are showing a new, post-Jobs attitude. They have a new vision of the world and Apple’s place in it. They are waking up to new possibilities and removing some of the barriers to innovation that were baked into the core of iOS and OS X.

Matt Honan wrote a great article about the advances in notifications, making a case for Apple’s notifications center becoming the center of our interactions with iOS devices. He wrote,

When iOS 8 hits, the notification center is going to be the most important screen in your iPhone. Think about it: Notifications already are the way you know about everything that happens without having to fire up an app. A notification lets you know you have a new email, a new text message, a new Snapchat. (Hi, Tony. Looking good.) But with iOS 8 they become interactive. They’re not just simple announcements—or even calls to action—anymore. They are actions in and of themselves. Entirely new windows onto our data. It’s nearly impossible to overstate how much this will change the way you use your phone.

Interactive notifications will spur all sorts of new behaviors. (And yes, Android already has interactive notifications, but the ones in iOS 8 look to go beyond what KitKat can do.) Some of these will be simple, like the ability to reply to an email or text message. But they’re powerful in that you can do this without quitting whatever you’re already doing.

I agree that the new notifications capabilities are a critical point in a rethinking of iOS user experience (in fact I am working on a research note about in-context communications becoming the central design metaphor for work technology), but regular readers will anticipate that it is other aspects of Apple’s announcements that are likely to wind up as the biggest breakthrough in these announcements.

The enhancements around Extensibility are going to make app-to-app communication basic and not a hacked workaround, no longer relying on API holes or URL schemes.

But most importantly, the announcements about iCloud Drive, Finder Sync, and Storage Provider show that Apple has finally embraced the web. These capabilities open the door to a distributed virtual file system that spans multiple devices. As I wrote on the Sunday before the event, anticipating that Apple would unveil a new file system approach:

A real distributed virtual file system built into iOS and Mac OS X — iCloud is kludge, and so are Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. They are patches to the missing web-smart file system. Sooner or later these services will be built into the operating systems on our devices, and Apple may be the first to unveil that.

Storage Provider and Finder Sync were the least discussed of the major enhancements to iOS 8, so we’ll have to see what developers and Apple build on top of them, but they will allow the creation of a very different suite of apps with much enlarged capabilities. Federico Viticci offers these observations,

Storage Provider and Finder Sync extensions should put an end to headaches and annoyances caused by managing files with cloud services on iOS and OS X, respectively — although Apple hasn’t shared as many details and examples about these extensions as they did for others. Storage Providers should offer a way for apps to work in unison with documents stored in a cloud-based file storage app through the native Document Picker, while Finder Sync will allow apps that sync a local folder with the web to modify the Finder interface with badge icons and custom menus. The latter seems primarily aimed at services like Dropbox, which had to reverse-engineer the Finder to put sync icons and logos on top of folders.

And, of course, iCloud Drive can be the service that is putting icons and logos on top of folders to indicate their sync status, not just Dropbox.

So, from the lowest level protocols of the new iOS and OS X, to the motivation at the highest levels of Apple’s executive suite, everything is different, the shadows of Job’s suffering and death have been dispelled, and now the company is pushing the ecosystem with a breakout set of functionality.

So, an additional prediction for the enterprise marketplace: iOS was already the platform of choice for mobile in the enterprise, and we are hurtling into a mobile future at an accelerating rate. My bet is that the pull through from iOS will be so strong that we will see the turning point in the battle between Windows and Mac OS X in the PC/laptop market. The enterprise has fewer reasons to stay on Windows than ever before, and now I anticipate capabilities rolling out on the Apple platform — iOS and OS X combined — that will end the reign on Windows in the enterprise. We have passed peak Windows.

Obviously Google is pushing hard from a different angle, and Android is a serious market force. But even with the efforts the company is making in the enterprise side (see Google buys Divide as a recent example), Google cannot match the platform and ecosystem that Apple has built. It’s Apple’s space to lose, because at present, they can’t be beat. (No Beats pun intended!)