On Apple Punditry And Why Seemingly Bright People Get Apple So Very Wrong

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

From Matt Richtel and Brian X. Chen in the NYTimes:

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor in the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., said he thought Apple no longer had the juice to create the world-beating product it needs. Professor Cusumano, who is working on a book about innovation, visited Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., last fall and has talked to a half-dozen current and former employees about the company culture. He concluded that Apple without Mr. Jobs lacks a visionary to synthesize disparate ideas into a magical whole.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with the next big thing,” he added. “They’ve lost their heart and soul.”

Some pundits seem to just not get Apple.  Every year when Apple releases a new iPhone I tend to read and hear the same criticism, “Yeah, but they just made it better.”

So Apple took the revolutionary device they created seven years ago that changed the way twenty percent of the planet gets through the day* and merely made it even more useful and necessary but somehow that’s not good enough?

*Yes, Apple did that.  Remember T9?  Remember tapping numeric keys three times to spell out words on your flip phone?  Remember trying to read the NYTimes on your Treo or Blackberry and using your stylus to scroll to the right to finish reading a sentence?  You probably don’t remember that.  That’s because of the iPhone.  And even if you don’t use an iPhone today, the principles of what mobile computing should be in the early twenty first century can all be traced back to this device that Apple created.

And yet for some pundits Apple can only succeed or, worse, only has a heart and soul, if they can produce innovative devices like this every year.  And for every year Apple doesn’t completely upend the world they are one step closer to becoming the next Kodak.  

Let’s reflect for a moment that the iPhone is now the most popular consumer camera in the world.  Or that the text on an iPhone is now nearly as sharp as print or that we can now unlock our iPhones with a tap of a finger.  These are just a few of the innovations Apple has brought to the iPhone since 2007.  No, Apple didn’t invent digital cameras, high resolution displays or finger reading technology.  But remember, they also didn’t invent the smartphone.  

Sometimes innovation is more than just a shiny new object.  Innovation can be seeing the potential in ideas that aren’t yet fully formed and morphing them into products that are so compelling we can’t imagine daily life without them.  

Sometimes innovation is also knowing how to edit, say no or wait until the moment is right.  Samsung introduced the Samsung Gear, their smart watch, last year.  And while pundits are proclaiming the death of Apple until they release their own smart watch, I haven’t seen a single Gear in the wild.  Show of hands, did you even know Samsung was already making a smart watch?

Apple will release magical new devices.  But there are only so many magical new devices the world needs at a time.  To hold Apple to the foolish standard of releasing life altering technology every two years that the world cannot “predict, fathom or yet describe” seems to be a fundamental misread of what Apple does best and just why they are now the world’s most valuable brand.

For a company that prizes secrecy, Apple is surprisingly not afraid to reveal their secret sauce.  Last year, before their 2013 WWDC developer’s conference, Apple released a short video (linked here) that sums up so much about what makes them unique.  You should watch the video but I’ll give you a preview: “there are a thousand no’s for every yes.”

Cusumano is just the latest in a long list of bright people with fancy degrees who spend most of their time misunderstanding Apple’s success as a byproduct of the revolutionary devices they release once or twice a decade.  

But Cusumano is just on my mind because Matt Richtel and Brian X. Chen oddly seem to think he’s the guy to quote in their Sunday Business profile of Tim Cook and the reaction to Apple’s recent developer conference.  Richtel and Chen seem skeptical that Tim Cook can produce innovative products as quickly as Steve Jobs, concluding that, “It’s an impossible comparison.  But it’s the one that Mr. Cook is being held to, at least until he makes enough magic of his own.”

If you want to read someone who, I think, truly understands the heart and soul of Apple, you may want to consider John Gruber, who seems to get Apple in a way few other technology writers do.  On Friday, Gruber wrote his own analysis of this year’s developer conference.  Instead of contemplating a grim future for Apple without Jobs, or the lack of products that Apple has released so far this year, he seems genuinely excited about where Apple is now and how their software and products will continue to evolve, writing:

Tim Cook has stated publicly that new products are in the pipeline, and he seems confident regarding them (as do other Apple executives). We can’t judge them yet, but consider this: Recall again that in 2007 Apple was forced to admit publicly that they had to pull engineering, design, and QA resources from the Mac in order to ship the iPhone. This year, new products are coming and but iOS and Mac development not only did not halt or slow, it sped up. In recent years, the company grew from being bad at walking and chewing gum to being OK at it, and most of us thought, “Finally”. But that wasn’t the end of the progression. Apple has proceeded from being OK at walking and chewing gum to being good at it. Thus the collective reaction to last week’s keynote: “Whoa.”

Punditry isn’t a bad thing.  For those of us looking to better understand the world around us well informed sources can provide needed context, history and explanation.  And it’s in the nature of punditry that these sources will disagree with one another.  Bigger government or smaller?  Boots on the ground or diplomacy?  Apple has lost its heart and soul or Apple has never been better positioned to delight and amaze us?

As consumers of punditry, it’s probably not a bad idea to understand where all sides are coming from.  But if I had to bet on Apple’s future I’d look past the guys who think Apple’s heart and soul has gone missing and listen instead to the ones who seem to be really psyched about what’s in store for Apple.  

“Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.” - Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

A Plea to Pause Email

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

Many of us feel overwhelmed and burnt out by email.  We have too much, more keeps coming in and we just don’t know how we’ll ever get on top of it.  

While there have been some noteworthy attempts to fix email (I’m a big fan of an app called Mailbox) none of them have yet tacked the underlying problem: we can’t manage our inboxes fast enough to keep up with the constant flood of new email.  To fix email we have to somehow slow it down.  

So this is my suggestion (more like a plea) to the courageous developers trying to fix email: please add a pause button to your email clients that lets users temporarily stop both incoming and outgoing email.  

Going into pause mode would allow users to do everything they normally do in their email client: read, respond, archive and search emails.  However,  users would be able to work without the distraction of new email coming in or generating replies more quickly than they can handle.

I’m thrilled that companies like Mailbox and MailPilot are trying to make big changes to how we manage email.  But a small change like this could make email a much more pleasant experience for a lot of people.  

Mailbox: The Email App You Should Be Using

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

Email might be the one thing most of us use on our iPhones/iPads more than anything else.  Apple has steadily improved the built in Mail app over the years but it can still be a little clunky.  Mailbox is an alternative to Mail that can make managing your email more enjoyable.  Or at least help make it less of a chore. 

The promise of Mailbox is that it can help clear the clutter out of your Inbox. To do this, the app’s designers have come up with some innovative shortcuts, using swipe gestures, and a process for temporarily hiding mail you’re not ready to deal with that it refers to as snoozing.  

First lets talk about those swipes.  Tapping a message in your Inbox and swiping to the left or the right processes that email in one quick step.  If you see a message that you know can be Archived just quickly swipe it to the right and, poof, it’s gone from your Inbox.  

Using Apple’s built in Mail app requires an extra step to accomplish the same task.  On Mail you can swipe to the right to bring up an Archive button, but then you need to click on that button to complete the action.  While it may seem like a minor difference, it’s the kind of touch that can save you (and your fingers) a lot of time as you go through your Inbox.  Just think for a moment how many “Yup”, “Thanks” or “Great” emails you receive.  Now just imagine flinging those away with a simple swipe, rather than a swipe and a tap.

Above, Mailbox on the left and Apple’s Mail on the right.

But swiping in Mailbox can actually accomplish much more than just Archiving your email.  Swiping to the left on an email allows you to snooze it for a later time.  When you snooze a particular message Mailbox temporarily removes it from your Inbox until a later specified time, presumably when you will be be better able to act on it.  For instance, a friend may send you directions to their home for dinner later in the week.  Why keep that in your Inbox all week? Just snooze it and have it reappear an hour before the dinner.  Or, an email arrives in the morning that requires a discussion with your team later in the day.  Snooze it for later.  

Because so many of us just let email accumulate in our Inboxes, leaving thousands of friend requests, shipping notifications and e-cards piling up along with truly important email, it becomes a chore determining how best to handle the triage.  With Mailbox, the goal is to quickly reduce your Inbox to what is immediately actionable.

While swipes and snoozes are the two signature features of Mailbox, the app has other small touches that really make a difference.  For instance, the search functionality seems far more robust on Mailbox than it does on Apple’s Mail app.  Since most of my emails are Archived, I have to first navigate to the Archive or All Mail folder on Mail before performing a search.  On Mailbox, it’s smart enough to know I want to search all of my folders, even if I’m currently looking at my Inbox, and it returns results almost as fast as I can type my query.

I do have a few minor quibbles about the app which I’ll address quickly:

  • Despite the app’s great looks and striking design, I find the compose window to be irritatingly small, leaving the clutter of the Inbox in the background.  Yes, the compose window does expand as you begin to type a message, but it’s a strange design decision.  I’d rather each new compose window fill the screen so that I can fully concentrate on my writing.
  • Notifications can only be turned on for all of your accounts or none at all.  For me that’s nearly a deal breaker as I have a few different email accounts, some more important than others.  I would like to be notified when I receive email at my primary account, but I don’t want to be notified each time an email arrives at the junk account I use to subscribe to newsletters and websites.  I’m hoping Mailbox adds more granular notification settings in a future update.
  • Finally, and this is a big one, Mailbox is only available on iOS devices.  Mailbox is essentially a rethink of  how you manage your email, and therefor requires a full buy-in on the part of its users. But if you work in an office or in front of a computer all day, it’s a bit strange to switch between your desktop email client and your phone just to process your Inbox.  Thankfully, Mailbox has publicly stated that it’s actively working on a desktop version.  Frankly, this can’t come soon enough.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by email piling up in your Inbox, Mailbox is a beautiful and superior alternative to Apple’s Mail app.  But since I primarily respond to email on my desktop, Mailbox will never be a complete solution for me until there’s a desktop version.  And judging by Mailbox’s Twitter feed it seems other users feel the same way.  Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer. 

Or, you know, we could just get rid of the guns.

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

Via the NYTimes, In Mass Attacks, New Advice Lets Medics Rush In:

The guidelines say that such [mass casualty] events, which have led to more than 250 deaths in the past decade, are “a reality in modern American life”…“We’re seeing these events in increasing frequency, and unfortunately we have to change how we approach them to keep death tolls down.”

The solution:

The Obama administration has formally recommended that medical personnel be sent into “warm zones” before they are secured, when gunmen are still on the loose…

But there is another option.  We could just get rid of the guns.

For more on how to reduce gun violence check out New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action & Mayors Against Illegal Guns.  

The Seven Things You're Not Supposed To Talk About

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

As per This American Life and Sarah Koenig’s mother:

  1. your sleep
  2. your period
  3. your health
  4. your dreams
  5. money
  6. your diet
  7. route talk (as in, how you arrived at a particular location, including traffic and subway trouble)

The reason?  They’re boring subjects.  

Before you open your mouth first ask yourself, is this interesting to anybody? 

I have to say, as much as I’m guilty of all seven*, I totally agree.

*in retrospect, I’m only guilty of six.

So, Apple Stuck the A7 Chip in the iPad Mini After All

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

For those of us who follow these sorts of things, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that Apple outfitted the 2013 iPad mini with a retina display.   Other tablets of similar stature have boasted retina like displays for about a year now and the mini would have faced heavy criticism had it not adopted the higher resolution display this year.

No, the biggest surprise about this year’s iPad mini is that Apple built it with the A7 processor, Apple’s newest high end chip that had been reserved for its other top of the line 2013 products: the iPhone 5s and the iPad Air.

Last year, when Apple introduced the mini, it included a processor that was then two years old.  The logic at the time seemed to suggest that Apple viewed the mini as entry level device, the one you purchased if you couldn’t afford the greater horse power and larger screen of its bigger brother.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about this thinking here. At the time, I argued that Apple was forcing high end users to make a tough choice between a large iPad that was too heavy for one handed use, and an exceptionally lissom iPad that was too underpowered for higher end apps.

Instead, I suggested that the iPad mini could, if outfitted with Apple’s best processor, be the high end iPad because of its smaller size, not despite it.  Take for instance Porche or Jaguar, cars that escalate in price as they get smaller.  Small and agile are what makes these cars high end.  So my hope at the time was for Apple to give power users the best of both worlds - a small, nimble iPad with cutting edge performance.  

But despite my hope, I didn’t actually think Apple would, or even could, deliver such a compromise free iPad mini.  I was skeptical mainly because writers like John Gruber, who have solid track records and better instincts for analyzing Apple trends, were fairly certain the company would continue to use older processors in the mini line.

And yet, Apple did do the one thing that many people predicted they wouldn’t, and stuck an A7 chip inside this year’s iPad mini.  So as much I like to go around commenting on what Apple would or would never do, it’s nice to know that even a company that follows predictable patterns can still surprise us.  

So, which processor will Apple use in the refreshed iPad Mini?

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

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John Gruber succinctly compared the newly announced iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c yesterday like this:

Think of the 5C as the Air, and the 5S as the Pro.

And I think that’s spot on.  If you are a high end user and you require a state of the art processor to run complicated games and apps, you’ll gladly invest in the iPhone 5s.  Whereas the iPhone 5c is perfectly fine for those who just want to surf the web, check email and play casual games.

I just hope that Apple won’t apply this same logic to the iPad and iPad Mini refresh, rumored for next month.  Currently, the iPad Mini is running the two year old A5 processor, the slowest processor in Apple’s current lineup for iOS devices.  

The problem is that I am an iPad Mini owner and a high end user, and I don’t think of the iPad Mini as the “scaled down” version of the iPad just because it’s smaller.  Just the opposite.  I think of the iPad Mini as the high end iPad because it’s smaller.  Accordingly, the refreshed iPad Mini shouldn’t be treated like the iPhone 5c to this year’s refreshed iPad.  

If Apple does upgrade the full sized iPad to the A7 processor but keeps the iPad Mini at a slower processor (let’s say the A6X), they risk sending contradictory messages to those of us on the high end of the market.  That is, they want us to upgrade to the A7 chip because our power apps will run faster and more smoothly.  But we should settle for slower performance when we run those same apps on our preferred iPad.

So while it makes sense for Apple to market the iPhone 5c as the MacBook Air of iPhones, and the iPhone 5s as the MacBook Pro, the same thinking doesn’t seem to make sense for those of us who feel the iPad Mini is the pro iPad.

Aurit on Dating

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

I just hate the way so many men treat ‘dating’ as if it’s a frivolous subject. It’s boneheaded.  Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You’re sizing people up to see if they’re worth your time and attention, and they’re doing the same to you.  It’s meritocracy applied to personal life, but there’s no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact — to keep from becoming cold and callous — and we hope that at the end of it we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn’t spend this vast period of their lives, these prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and explicitly anatomized again and again.  But who cares, right?  It’s just girl stuff.

Adelle Waldman, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Page 16

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

When he dared to look up, careful to avoid the part of the room containing Elisa, he saw Hannah silhouetted in the kitchen doorway. She was wearing a blue top and narrow skirt. She really did have a nice, slim figure. She was carrying a stack of dishes and had turned partly back to respond to something someone said. She laughed, a real laugh, hearty and open-mouthed.

As it subsided, Hannah’s eyes met his. She smiled. It was a friendly smile, a sane smile, perhaps the last he’d see tonight. He wondered if she was dating anyone.

Adelle Waldman, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Citi Bike - The Post I Didn't Want to Write

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

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photo credit: Daniel Arthurs

As an early adopter, I’ve been singing Citi Bike’s praises since I received my key.  The city has never felt smaller since I can hop on a bike and whiz across town in less than fifteen minutes, or bop between Union Square and Times Square without standing on a crowded subway platform.  But as the program has grown, it’s become harder and harder to actually use the bikes.  

On Friday I told a friend in Brooklyn that I would take a Citi Bike from Manhattan and visit her.  I went to three different stations and found nothing but out-of-service bikes - even though the app indicated that all three stations had available bikes.  I thought about going to a fourth station but I gave up and took the subway.

And therein lies the rub.  What is Citi Bike supposed to be?  The mayor and Janette Sadik-Khan have touted Citi Bike as a brand new mass transportation system for the city.  So, just like the subway, I should be able to use the system during regular working hours and outside of scheduled maintenance without worrying too much about bike availability.  

Before Citi Bike if I had to take the subway to see a friend I could do so without having a back-up plan.  Yes, on occasion a station is closed or a train is delayed.  But Hurricane Sandy withstanding, I can’t recall a time when I planned to take a subway to my destination and couldn’t.  

But the same can’t be said of Citi Bike.  It works sometimes, but not enough that I always know it’s going to work.  And is it really okay to have a transportation system that one can’t fully rely on?  This afternoon I’m supposed to visit another friend in Brooklyn and I plan on taking a Citi Bike.  But I won’t actually know if that will happen until I arrive at a station, or two, or three.

I’ve also noticed problems with inventory management.  The station nearest to my home is almost always empty, but the station a few avenues over is sometimes too full to receive new bikes.  I first noticed this on Monday and I figured someone would analyze the data, see the problem and move some bikes from one station to the other to fix the imbalance.  But as of Friday that didn’t happen.  For a system built on big data, it’s not entirely clear if someone is looking at the data to solve inventory issues.

I’m still willing to cut Citi Bike a lot of slack.  If it truly is a brand new mass transportation system, it’s working remarkably well for something that almost literally sprung up overnight.  And I’m hopeful that over the next few months the problems with broken bikes, availability of bikes, and the accuracy of the app are resolved.  But if they aren’t, how much longer do I want to grab my helmet and head out to the bike station only to wind up on a subway?

Hendrik Hertzberg on NSA

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

The critics have been hard put to point to any tangible harm that has been done to any particular citizen. But that does not mean that no harm has been done. The harm is civic. The harm is collective. The harm is to the architecture of trust and accountability that supports an open society and a democratic polity. The harm is to the reputation and, perhaps, the reality of the United States as such a society, such a polity.

This is the time to ask ourselves what kind of country we want to live in.  Do we want to live in a true democratic society with a government that represents the will of the people or, as is happening, do we gradually and willingly surrender all of our personal freedoms until none are left to give away?

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2013...

Mailbox App vs. Apple's Mail

Added on by Daniel Kuney.

Mail on iOS generally requires a lot of taps to perform even the simplest of tasks.  For instance, if I want to archive an email without opening it first, I have to tap the phone six times (I counted).  As pretty as the Mail app may be, that’s just bad design.  A third party email app called Mailbox was released earlier this year that offers many improvements over the native Mail app.  The main focus of Mailbox is to remove emails from your Inbox that you aren’t ready to respond to and send them back to your Inbox when you are ready to deal with them.  This approach to managing email is called Inbox Zero.

Even if you don’t buy into Mailbox’s philosophy behind Inbox Zero, Mailbox has two killer features that can save users a lot of extra taps and time.   Perhaps one of its most clever and standout features is its swipe to archive gesture which actually performs two tasks in one.  First, it marks an email as read if it isn’t already and, second, it moves the email to the archive folder.  That’s just one swipe compared to the six taps it takes to perform the very same function in iOS Mail.  

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Swiping the above email to the right instantly marks the email as read and moves it to the Archive box.  photo credit: mailboxapp.com

Mailbox also has a unified search box which searches all of your main folders simultaneously including your Inbox, Archive and Sent Mail folders.  While iOS Mail also has a search box, it only searches whichever folder you happen to be in. So if you are looking for a message in your Archive folder you have to perform at least three taps to first navigate to the Archive folder from your Inbox.  That’s three taps compared with no taps in Mailbox.

That being said, Mailbox can currently only search emails that are still stored on your device.   Depending on how many emails you receive, that means Mailbox can probably pull up your emails from the last few weeks when you search.  Apple’s Mail on the other hand will perform a server side search once it has completed a local search, giving you far more comprehensive results.  Mailbox says that server side search is on its roadmap.

Apple’s Mail also a few other features that I prefer to Mailbox.   First, Mail gives me finer control of my notifications.  I have three email accounts that I use regularly (work, personal and websites).  On Mail I can opt to receive notifications for my work and personal email accounts, but not for my websites account, which is what I use to sign up for sites like Amazon or Kayak.  But on Mailbox I must either turn notifications on for all of my email accounts or for none - a choice I really don’t want to make since neither option is ideal.

Also, Mailbox has a frustratingly small compose window for new emails.  While it looks cool, Mailbox overlays the compose window over the inbox instead of taking over the screen as is the case on Mail.  To display the same amount of content that Mail can display Mailbox uses a smaller font to squeeze everything in.  The net result is a cool design that just feels claustrophobic on Mailbox.  

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The Mailbox app compose window above.  Photo credit: appslooking.com

Last week Apple showed off a preview of their upcoming iOS 7 which includes a redesigned Mail program.  It’s gorgeous no doubt, but I’ll be looking to see how it performs.  If Apple can simplify the number of taps needed to perform basic functions I may just switch back to Mail.  But right now, even with the few inconveniences I mentioned above, Mailbox is my primary email app on the iPhone and iPad.  

iWork for iCloud: The Battle of Local vs. Cloud

Added on by Daniel Kuney.
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photo credit: lifehacker.com

When it comes to creating documents and spreadsheets my go to choice is Apple’s iWork collection of applications.   Compared to Microsoft’s Office, it’s just easier to use and to create great looking documents.  I often write long contracts in Pages and it’s a breeze to manage my numbered bullet points (something that always seems to get messed up in Word).  And I love the blank canvas format of Numbers, which allows me to place tables onto my page as needed, giving me much more flexibility than Excel.  

But in the age of Google Docs, where I can share documents with co-workers and edit them simultaneously, iWork has begun to creak with age.  We want our documents everywhere, and, in office settings, we want to work on them in tandem with our co-workers.  

For years, both Office and iWork have relied on local software (eg. Excel, Numbers, Word running on our own computers) to interact with documents also stored locally on our hard drives. Google Docs took the entirely opposite approach by giving us cloud software that interfaced with documents also stored on the cloud. Both philosophies (local + local and server + server) have their pluses and minuses.

iWork for iCloud, Apple’s new web based iWork offering, seems to be taking the Google Docs approach by giving us cloud based software to interface with iWork documents also stored in the cloud. But I think this is a really big missed opportunity from Apple.  Apple has long maintained that software stored locally is better than software stored in the cloud. And they’re right. It’s why we all love apps on our iPhones. Take the NYTimes app on the iPhone for instance.  The app, stored locally on our iPhones, pulls in data from the NYTimes website and delivers an optimized experience that is preferable to actually going to the NYTimes website. It’s local software working in tandem with cloud data in a way that utilizes the best of both mediums.

I think Apple could have taken the same approach with iWork. While cloud based software is getting better, it still can’t match the power and responsiveness of desktop software. Instead of devoting resources to developing cloud versions of their iWork programs, they should have enhanced the desktop versions to work with documents stored in the cloud and to enable simultaneous multi-user collaboration.  

I also think Apple’s current approach to offer both iWork for iCloud through the browser, and maintain desktop and mobile applications of iWork, is bound to cause confusion about where any given document actually lives. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you edited a particular document last on the cloud or locally and then open up the corresponding version of iWork. A local iWork talking to cloud files would eliminate this confusion since there wouldn’t be different versions, just one master file living in the cloud.

Perhaps iWork for iCloud will be more of a breakthrough than I’m giving Apple credit for. But it just seems like they are introducing more problems than they are solving by taking this approach.  

At Monday’s WWDC, Apple showed off preview versions of it’s new Mac operating system, codenamed OS X Mavericks, and it’s new phone operating system, iOS 7.  The above article is the first in a series of short posts on some of the new features included in Mavericks and iOS 7.