In the shadow of the iPhone

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Eighteen days. The number hung over the auditorium like fog on a gray San Francisco day. Although Steve Jobs spent most of his keynote address at June’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) discussing the next version of Mac OS X (Leopard), the impending release of the iPhone, which is set for June 29, colored every aspect of the presentation.

It didn’t help that Jobs introduced Leopard at last year’s WWDC, making large parts of this year’s presentation feel like an old-fashioned summer TV rerun. Originally, the idea was that Leopard would be released by this year’s conference. But Apple’s mad rush to ready the iPhone for its date with destiny meant that Leopard would have to wait until October.

Hints of Leopard

Yes, Jobs did unveil some new features in Leopard, features that could make this the biggest overhaul of the Mac OS X interface since that operating system was first launched.

Cover Flow, a clever iTunes add-on that Apple purchased from programmer Jonathan del Strother, is now built into iTunes. It’s also going to be one of four standard view options in the new Leopard edition of the Finder.

Apple appears to have settled on a single window style—the one you’ll find now in iTunes 7—and that choice alone will provide some delightful consistency to the Mac interface. The addition of Stacks to the Dock could make the Dock a pivotal part of the Mac interface, rather than a minor tool for launching and switching applications. Throw in a few of the previously announced features, especially Spaces, the multiworkspace utility, and Leopard could indeed enable a major improvement in Mac OS X productivity—albeit after a bit of a learning curve.

Jobs spent some time discussing Boot Camp, mostly to emphasize what it wasn’t: a Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion killer. Those two programs let you run Windows and Mac OS side-by-side (instead of rebooting into a Windows session). There had been some talk that the next version of Boot Camp would offer the same feature. But Jobs gave Parallels and VMWare a big verbal hug, calling Boot Camp “a great complement” to those programs. (For more details on Jobs’s Leopard preview, see More of Leopard Revealed.)

Counting down

As nice as it was to get those few tidbits about Leopard, what people were really talking about in the halls after Jobs’s address was the device that will be released exactly 18 days after the keynote: the iPhone.

Ever since the iPhone was announced at last January’s Macworld Expo, the people who write software for the Mac have wondered: Will we be able to write software that runs on the iPhone, too?

Apple’s answer has evolved over time. In January, it appeared to be no. By early May, the company was “wrestling” with the matter. By the end of May, Steve Jobs was suggesting that Apple would find a way to let developers write software for the iPhone.

At WWDC, Jobs said that would-be iPhone developers could write snazzy Web applications that would work on the phone’s built-in Safari Web browser. That’s not a bad idea—in fact, it’s one that many developers would have suggested themselves if they had gotten the chance.

These days, Web-based software can be pretty sophisticated. We’ve even devoted a story in this issue to the remarkable new office suite offered by Google (see page 60). But as advanced as Web software has become, it’s still not good enough for many tasks or for people who work without access to the Internet.

Apple’s clearly been sprinting for six months just to get the iPhone ready for the world to see. And I have little doubt that, in a few months, the company will be ready to talk to developers about other ways of writing “real” software (not just Web applications) to run on its new baby. That’s good news for potential iPhone users. Because as skilled as Apple’s in-house programmers are, they won’t ever be able to fulfill the needs of every iPhone user. That’s where independent programmers could play a key role—just as they do on the Mac.

By the time you read this, the hype about the iPhone will have reached a crescendo. We plan on providing in-depth coverage of the iPhone in our next issue, but in the meantime I encourage you to visit iphone for the latest iPhone coverage from Macworld’ s expert writers.

[ What do you think about the iPhone? Join the discussion in the Macworld Forums, or drop me a note. ]

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