Slim iPad and new hardware show Apple can still innovate

Is it time to reappraise the idea that Apple is incapable of innovation in the post Jobs era?

This is a guest post on Future Proof by Barry Avery of Kingston University, republished from The Conversation

Is it time to reappraise the idea that Apple is incapable of innovation in the post Jobs era? The company has failed to introduce a game changing consumer device since the iPad but its latest range contains some significant breakthroughs.

In a world where bloggers can offer to pay Apple factory line workers hundreds of dollars to leak a photograph of a shell or an internal component, the days of the surprise keynote reveal seem over, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the new operating systems, 64 bit chip designs and software updates that have just been announced are significant innovations in hardware and software.

In the latest keynote Apple completes its Christmas lineup. We get a slimmer, thinner iPad, a refreshed iPad mini, upgraded laptops and a new version of its desktop operating system OS X Mavericks. In a major departure for Apple, this will be available for free and immediate download.

iPad goes slimline

Conspiracy theorists are already suggesting that the timing of this keynote was specifically set to derail Microsoft and Nokia, who are also launching tablets. It is indeed the case that the tablet market has heated up significantly over the past year, so the pressure was on to produce something the would stand out.

Last year the iPad put on a little weight to accommodate the battery and technology needed to offer a retina display. This year’s renamed iPad Air has lost weight, narrowed, improved its capacity and speed and now comes with free iWorks and iLife software.

Weighing 1lb, Apple claims it to be the lightest full size tablet available. Just as iPhone 5 users are likely not to upgrade to the newer version immediately, the features on the iPad Air may not be enough to get users with last year’s iPad to switch up, but anyone with a pre-retina device will see significant performance increases. The iPad mini gets a retina display and the same A7 chip as the iPad Air, without losing its precious ten hours battery life.

Most users will be unaware of the technical complexities required in porting an operating system to a new 64bit chip design, but accomplishing this whilst simultaneously designing a new interface in iOS is a remarkable achievement. From a user perspective, the switch to a 64bit processor inside both devices will offer immediate speed advantages and an increase in the sophistication of the apps available.

Attempting all this in a year has meant that parts of the iOS transformation weren’t finished for the iPhone launch - iLife and iWorks have been updated on both the Mac and mobile platforms, abandoning leather stitching and wood panels, unifying the interface and ironing out some of the incompatibilities between versions.

Hardware back in fashion

Completing the announcements are hardware upgrades to the Mac computer line. Many have speculated that Apple would embrace the post-PC era by terminating its computer line, but such analysis fails to take account of Steve Jobs' vision of a “virtuous circle”, where features developed on one platform migrate to another. They also fail to explain how developers would create mobile device applications if not with Mac platform development tools.

iOS and Mac OS X share a significant amount of under-the-bonnet code, so increases in functionality flow both ways. Techniques used to improve battery life in Apple laptops make their way into tablets and phones. This ability to advance hardware and software features in parallel offers Apple a significant advantage, which is why you now see companies like Microsoft manufacturing its own tablets, or purchasing Nokia to make its own phones.

The canister-shaped Mac Pro, to be released on the market in December, signals the return of Apple’s attention to its professional range after several years of neglect. Having failed to offer an upgrade for a long time, the company is gambling that most professional users would prefer easily switchable external storage connected through a super fast thunderbolt connector, rather than having a big case with internal components.

Apple famously decries market research, as it suggests that results can only ever be framed in terms of what people have experienced rather than what they could like. The jury is out on this one, but don’t be surprised to discover similar barrel style computers appearing from hardware manufacturers next year.

Barry Avery does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds the new iPad Air. Photo: Getty Images
Barry Avery is a Principal Lecturer in Informatics and Operations at Kingston University.
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
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Why aren’t there more scientists in the National Portrait Gallery?

If the National Portrait Gallery celebrates the best of British achievements, there’s a vast area that is being overlooked.

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London is my favourite place to visit in the city, even though I’m a mere scientist, or uncultured philistine as the gallery’s curators might consider me. Much of my research involves “omics”. We have “genomics” and “transcriptomics" to describe the science of sequencing genomes. “Proteomics” characterises our proteins and “metabolomics” measures refers to the small chemical “metabolites” from which we’re composed. The “ome” suffix has come to represent the supposed depiction of systems in their totality. We once studied genes, but now we can sequence whole genomes. The totality of scientific literature is the “bibliome”. The NPG purports to hang portraits of everyone who is anyone; a sort of “National Portraitome”.

However, I am increasingly struck by the subjective view of who is on display. Some areas of British life get better coverage than others. Kings and queens are there; Prime ministers, authors, actors, artists and playwrights too. But where are the scientists? Those individuals who have underpinned so much of all we do in the modern world. Their lack of representation is disappointing, to say the least. A small room on the ground floor purports to represent contemporary science. An imposing portrait of Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate and current president of the world’s most prestigious science academy (the Royal Society (RS)) dominates the room. Opposite him is a smaller picture of Nurse’s predecessor at the RS, astronomer Martin Rees. James Dyson (the vacuum cleaner chap), James Lovelock (an environmental scientist) and Susan Greenfield all have some scientific credentials. A couple of businessmen are included in the room (like scientists, these people aren’t artists, actors, playwrights or authors). There is also one of artist Mark Quinn’s grotesque blood-filled heads. Some scientists do study blood of course.

Where are our other recent Nobel winners? Where are the directors of the great research institutes, funding bodies, universities and beyond? Does the nation really revere its artists, playwrights and politicians so much more than its scientists? I couldn’t find a picture of Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the key role played by DNA in genetics. Blur, however, are there. “Parklife” is certainly a jaunty little song, but surely knowing about DNA has contributed at least as much to British life.

Returning to my “omics” analogy, the gallery itself is actually more like what’s called the “transcriptome”. Genes in DNA are transcribed into RNA copies when they are turned on, or “expressed”. Every cell in our body has the same DNA, but each differs because different genes are expressed in different cell types. Only a fraction of the NPG’s collection ends up “expressed” on its walls at any one time. The entire collection is, however, available online. This allows better insight into the relative value placed upon the arts and sciences. The good news is that Francis Crick has 10 portraits in the collection – considerably more than Blur. Better still, Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish discoverer of antibiotics has 20 likenesses, two more than Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. I had suspected the latter might do better. After all, antibiotics have only saved hundreds of millions of lives, while Bond saved us all when he took out Dr No.

To get a broader view, I looked at British winners of a Nobel Prize since 1990, of which there have been 27. Three of these were for literature, another three each for economics and physics, a couple for peace, five for chemistry and 11 for physiology or medicine. The writers Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter and V S Naipaul respectively have 16, 19 and five portraits in the collection. A majority of the scientist winners have no portrait at all. In fact there are just 16 likenesses for the 24 non-literature winners, compared to 40 for the three writers. Albeit of dubious statistical power, this small survey suggests a brilliant writer is around 20 times more likely to be recognised in the NPG than a brilliant scientist. William Golding (1983) was the last British winner of a Nobel for literature prior to the 90s. His eight likenesses compare to just two for Cesar Milstein who won the prize for physiology or medicine a year later in 1984. Milstein invented a process to create monoclonal antibodies, which today serve as a significant proportion of all new medicines and generate over £50bn in revenue each year. Surely Milstein deserves more than a quarter of the recognition (in terms of portraits held in the gallery) bestowed upon Golding for his oeuvre, marvellous as it was.

C P Snow famously crystallised the dichotomy between science and the humanities in his 1959 Rede lecture on “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (which was based on an article first published in the New Statesman in 1956). He attacked the British establishment for entrenching a cultural preference for the humanities above science, a schism he saw growing from the roots of Victorian scientific expansion. The gallery supports Snow’s view. Room 18, my favourite, “Art, Invention and Thought: the Romantics” covers that turbulent period covering the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Here we find the groundbreaking astronomer (and harpsichordist) William Herschel, the inventor of vaccination Dr Edward Jenner, the pioneering chemist Humphrey Davy and the physicist who came up with the first credible depiction of an atom, John Dalton. Opposite Jenner (who also composed poetry) is the portrait of another medically trained sitter, John Keats, who actually swapped medicine for poetry. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burns, Blake, Clare, Shelley and Byron, all adorn the walls here. The great Mary Shelly has a space too. She wrote Frankenstein after listening to Davy’s famous lectures on electricity. The early nineteenth century saw the arts and science united in trying to explain the universe.

Room 27, the richest collection of scientists in the building, then brings us the Victorians. The scientists sit alone. Darwin takes pride of place, flanked by his “bull dog” Thomas Huxley. Other giants of Victorian science and invention are present, such as Charles Lyell, Richard Owen, Brunel, Stephenson, Lister and Glasgow’s Lord Kelvin. Inevitably the expansion of science and understanding of the world at this time drove a cultural divide. It’s less clear, however, why the British establishment grasped the humanities to the bosom of its cultural life, whilst shunning science. But as the gallery portrays today, it is a tradition that has stuck. However, surely the NPG however has an opportunity to influence change. All it needs to do is put some more scientists on its walls.