One major press event going on means we need to get our game faces on. Two happening simultaneously? Hoo boy, that raises the stakes. This year we had full teams on the ground in both San Francisco and Los Angeles for the dueling media extravaganzas that were E3 and WWDC. In one, we learned a lot about two incredible new gaming systems and saw dozens of fantastic new games. In the other? Two new important operating systems, one new laptop and a new desktop that even Mac haters will have to admit is quite a thing.
We'll start with WWDC, since I was actually there for that one, and the biggest news of the day was the long-awaited unveiling of iOS 7. Apple reps were merciless in their ire toward the former versions' skeuomorphic tendencies, poking fun at the green velvet, the mock stitching and the faux surfaces that previously played such a big part of the iPhone and iPad experience. Now things are rather simpler -- and a bit more abstract.
iOS 7 is typified by a somewhat more muted color palette and a cunning use of frosted, semi-transparent overlays for things like the keyboard and the new Control Center, which slides up from the bottom of the display with a flick of the thumb and lets you quickly toggle things like WiFi and display brightness. Multitasking is far more comprehensive; a double-tap of the Home button showing you webOS card-like views of all the running applications.
I think it looks beautiful, personally, but I can't help being disappointed by the lack of new functionality. Siri got a few new commands, sure, and overall it'll be a nicer OS to live with, but I was really hoping for a new keyboard, a handful of new gestures and, most importantly, a lot more extensibility for developers. There are a zillion new APIs for them to learn, but Apple still didn't announce in-app integration for Siri, for example, or support for third-party keyboards. Maybe there's still time to shoehorn something in before it all launches this fall.
I confess to thinking that "Mavericks" is an odd moniker for a pretty predictable set of new features ... but the promise of significantly improved battery life from better CPU management is certainly promising.
OS X Mavericks was the other big unveiling, a rather less spectacular, but solid update to Apple's venerable PC operating system -- and the beginning of a new naming scheme that will highlight favorite locales around California. I confess to thinking that "Mavericks" is an odd moniker for a pretty predictable set of new features, including tabbed Finder windows and better multi-monitor support, but the promise of significantly improved battery life from better CPU management is certainly promising.
Paving the way for that is the new Intel Haswell CPU-equipped MacBook Air, which was surprisingly the only laptop unveiled at the event. (We'd expected the Retina MacBook Pros would also see a refresh.) The new Air is virtually identical to the old, having only faster SSD storage and the new class of CPU. The result? Far better I/O performance and hugely improved battery life. The 13-inch Air logged an amazing 12 hours and 51 minutes on our battery rundown test.
Finally, there's the new Mac Pro, a cylinder of polished black aluminum containing a 12-core Intel Xeon E5 processor with DDR3 RAM and PCIe storage. As the machine is rather svelte, expandability will be mostly external, enabled by a whopping six Thunderbolt 2.0 ports. Perhaps best of all? It'll be assembled here in the US. No pricing or availability was announced, but it won't be cheap, you can bet on that.
Not so fast: the PS4 doesn't include the $59 Eye camera, while the Xbox One includes Kinect.
Moving on to E3, we finally got all the details on this fall's gaming powerhouses: the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. Well, almost all the details. The Xbox One will launch in November for $499, while the PlayStation 4 will launch "this holiday season" for $399. Instant victory for Sony? Not so fast: the PS4 doesn't include the $59 Eye camera, while the Xbox One includes Kinect. Not only does that reduce the price delta between them, but it also means that Sony's camera likely won't see much support in games, while Microsoft's should.
That said, Microsoft's handling of rights-management issues is definitely drawing a lot of ire. The Xbox One will need to phone home over an active internet connection once a day for any downloaded or locally copied games to keep working. This has, unsurprisingly, resulted in a lot of hate online, to which Microsoft's Xbox chief Don Mattrick had this to say: "We have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity; it's called Xbox 360." Cute. The PS4, meanwhile, has no such restrictions built in, but Sony did leave room for game publishers to add their own restrictions if they like.
And that's all I have time to cover this week, dear readers, but there's plenty more to be found in this week's issue of Distro. We have Sean Buckley's feature on the evolution of E3, Ben Gilbert's look at the sad state of the Wii U and Joseph Volpe sits down with Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma to find out what's in store for Nintendo's future. We've also got a review of the new MacBook Air refresh and plenty of news and impressions from the E3 show floor. Ross Rubin looks at the policies of the PlayStation 4 in Switched On while Joshua Fruhlinger weighs in on which horse he's putting his money on for the console fight in Modem World. And, if that weren't enough, Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson does Q&A. Enjoy -- but watch out for the creepers.
This piece originally appeared in Distro #95.