Macworld has done an admittedly unscientific survey which nevertheless indicates that most of the newest Mountain Lion features are not used all that much. This type of information merits more attention because it suggests what features should be a priority because they are what people really use. It also suggests improvements needed in new features so they are used more often or with more satisfaction. iMessage is an example of one that many people use but are not happy with the reliability and desire a better implementation of the capability. Apple has a tendency to introduce new innovative features but not follow through with updates for them to work as well as they should. iCloud is probably one of the most often cited examples of this. Given how important Apple itself has stated iCloud is, the next versions of OSX and IOS need to address iCloud issues to show progress. This is also accentuated by Apple’s perceived weakness in Cloud services especially when compared against Google. An often repeated meme in tech journalism is that Google is improving faster in product design than Apple is in online services. One benchmark for Apple competitiveness will be how new operating system releases improve Apple’s online services when compared against Google’s IO conference announcements.
In my opinion refinement of existing features so “It just works” rings true is the critical success factor for Apple. It will be interesting to see to what extent Jony Ive’s design impact will go beyond just cosmetic changes. The June WWDC announcements will be a big milestone for Apple to show whether they have been focussing on what really matters. Apple’s true success may lie in ignoring the critics thirst for new features and applying innovation in progressing the many innovative features they have previously announced and that users actually could use every day. Perhaps a primary example, given Apple’s recent advertising emphasizing the impact of Apple products for taking photographs, is some vastly improved cloud capabilities for managing photos. Photostream was clearly just an interim step and is just not enough to support easy to use photo management that automates the details that users shouldn’t need to be concerned with. Apple should be able to introduce an integrated, synced, and shareable cloud photo service that expands upon the photo features currently in iPhoto. I can’t help but think that Apple could use operating system enhancements to overcome the limitations of the recent third party Everpix Internet service which consolidates photos from various sources but presently has poor photo organizing and sharing capabilities. If Apple is spread too thin to develop these services internally and can’t support both mainstream and power users it needs to include in the operating system APIs to support third party developers to fill the void. Perhaps deeper integration with a service like Flickr could also be an option. One can always hope. We don’t have to wait long (10 days) for announcements to see what direction Apple will take.
Update: Clark’s tech blog has some good analysis on what Apple should do and what they might do that shows the challenge of updating the breadth of technologies Apple is managing. In addition to iCloud and Siri, InterApplication Communication (IAC) and Developer tools are obviously important too. In the spirit of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” allowing third party apps with better tools and (IAC) to replace Apple’s default apps would take some of the pressure off Apple having to enhance core apps for power users while keeping ease of use for mainstream users.