Retinas, Mountain Lions, and iOS 6

By Jason Griffey |

Once a year, Apple holds its World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, the highlight of which for non-developers is the Monday keynote. In prior years, the keynote was the Steve Jobs show, where Steve got to be his most Steve-ish, taking digs at competitors and talking about how awesome things are and will be for Apple over the coming year. This year there is no Jobs, but there was an absolutely deluge of news from the keynote, hosted by CEO Tim Cook and starring the main players in Apple’s current corporate structure.

Practically every news outlet in the world will have a summary of the news coming out of WWDC, so I’m going to focus on the things that I think are important to libraries. Apple had three main announcements: updates to their laptop line, which is their most popular type of computer sold; and what to expect in the two new operating systems launching this year, OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6.

The most straightforward of the announcements, but also the most exciting for Apple geeks, was probably the hardware. People love Apple hardware, and this time around we got not only the updates we always expect (faster processors, better graphics cards, more memory) but the introduction of a completely new laptop from Apple, the Macbook Pro with Retina Display. This is a new top-of-the-line laptop from Apple whose crowning feature is a 2880 x 1800 resolution 15.4 inch screen...a ridiculous screen density of 220 pixels per inch. That’s more than double the average screen density for computers, and within the level that Apple considers a “Retina” display, its term for a display whose density exceeds the ability of the human eye to see individual pixels.

The newest big cat from Apple, OS X Mountain Lion, is coming with a ton of new toys. This release continues the drive towards further integration with iOS, including Messages on the Mac (completely cross-compatible with the iOS Messages...send, recieve, etc). Also new is Notification Center, a copy of the same from iOS, a collection of the things that need your attention on your computer. There’s Facebook integration, a new universal Sharing button, and a brand new version of Safari. But the two most important features for libraries are Airplay and Dictation.

Dictation is exactly what the name suggests, the ability to speak text to your computer, anywhere in the system where there is a text input. Want to dictate a letter? No need for additional software, Dictation will take care of that for you. Expect to see people talking to their computers a bit more, and expect to have to deal with the effects of this if you offer Macs to the public.

Airplay is the secret weapon of Mountain Lion. Built-in at the OS level, Airplay will let you fully mirror your screen to an AppleTV device. It seems simple enough, but with AppleTV’s costing $99, you suddenly have the ability to connect one to the projector in your classroom and be totally wireless, but still in control of your presentation. Students with laptops or iOS devices could share their screen with the class. The freedom this lends to classroom setups is huge, and I think a lot of interesting uses will draw from this capability.

Finally, there was the announcement of iOS 6. This wasn’t a surprise, in that Apple has released a new version every year, tied to the release of new iPhone hardware. During the past couple of years, that hardware has been released in the fall, and indeed, that’s when the new operating system is coming as well. But they previewed a ton of new features, a few of which are directly relevant to using the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad in library settings.

The two new features that I think will potentially have the most impact on libraries are completely new to iOS: Passbook and Guided Access.

Passbook is an app that consolidates and tracks tickets, passes, gift cards, and other formerly-paper-based identifiers. It’s a sort of meta-app, in that it tracks your cards and such, while leaving other apps to do the purchasing and related transactions. For example, you could purchase a plane ticket through the United Airlines app, and then it would magically appear in Passbook as one of your “Passes.” The app is location aware, and the Passes are live pieces of information; so if your gate changes, it will be reflected in your Pass. The location awareness gives the app the ability to know that you are at the airport and helpfully put your ticket front and center on your lock screen.

How is this useful for libraries? Imagine a library that used this for their patron cards. It could be auto-aware of when they were in the library, the card coming to life when they walk in the door, and it could provide live programming information, hours, or other information directly to their Library Pass. Tons of potential, and I look forward to seeing the first library that really tries to use it.

Guided Access is a new Accessibility feature that allows you to do two things: limit the “touchable” area of the screen, and suppress the home button on iOS devices. Both of these features could be huge for kiosk use of iPads in the library or for controlled library instruction. Anytime you want to limit the iPad to only what's in front of the user, this is going to be the answer.

The iOS 6 announcement featured dozens of excellent parts, including a new Maps app, improved Siri integration, built-in Facebook, updates to the Phone and Mail apps, and more. If your library currently circulates iOS devices, the iOS 6 upgrade will be available for the iPod Touch 4, the iPhone 3GS and later, and the iPad 2 as well as the New iPad. The only real surprise is the lack of support for the original iPad, which everyone assumed still had one more OS update left in its lifecycle.

More bits of information about these updates will leak slowly over the next few months, as more people get their hands on them. As always, if you have any questions, let me know!