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Apple’s Smooth Moves at WWDC: Addressing Theft, Manufacturing and More

by Adriana Lee | June 11, 2013June 11, 2013 5:45 pm PDT

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Apple made some smooth moves at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco yesterday, and it wasn’t just by unveiling more powerful MacBook Airs, slick next-gen Mac Pros, cool OS X “Mavericks” features, or a totally reimagined iOS. That’s the sex appeal, the shine on top that makes people go “ooh” and “aah.” It’s the stuff Steve Jobs used to be known for — putting on a show. But if you look beneath the surface, there were some other very smart tactics made by the company on several different fronts.

Security is one of them. It’s no secret that smartphone theft is a real and growing issue, so much so that law enforcement and government officials are tapping the brain trust at leading mobile tech companies to address this problem. Just days before the Smartphone Summit in New York, Apple is unveiling a new Activation Lock feature, guaranteeing it will have a lot to bring to the conversation on Thursday.

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While not the sexiest new iOS 7 feature, Activation Lock could wind up being the most important for absent-minded users. If you have an iPhone and a penchant for losing it, then you’ll want to pay attention to how this works.

Although unlock PINS can be helpful for keeping most strangers out, a great many people still don’t use it. That means anyone can access the data. Often times, when an iPhone is stolen, the first course of action is to enter the handset and shut off Find My iPhone, to prevent heartsick owners from tracking the device or erasing it. Well, no longer. Even if you didn’t have a PIN code set up, iOS 7 throws in another layer of protection by requiring the associated Apple ID and password to turn off Find My iPhone.

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If you do wind up having to remote wipe the missing handset, the thief (or phone finder) will discover that they can’t reactivate the device without that Apple ID and password. That means the phone is useless without the authentication credentials, and that seriously undercuts any reason to steal them in the first place. Of course, “hackers be hackers,” and eventually someone may figure out how to get around this, but for the vast numbers of crooks, this could be a game-changer.

During a time when people are concerned about privacy, anything that positions Apple as a defender of security is a good thing. Since New York City officials have long zeroed in on the ballooning problem of iPhone thefts, we’re sure Apple will make Activation Lock a talking point when it hits the summit this week. 

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But that’s not all. Phil Schiller’s “sneak peek” presentation of Mac Pro tipped at something that the company has caught a lot of heat for in the past: manufacturing. His run-down of the futuristic-looking desktop computer was fascinating in itself. (It’s a small black, glossy cylinder with beastly specs and light-up IO ports that trigger when the user grabs the integrated handle on top and turns it.) But then, like a cherry on top of a dessert, he got a cheer out of the audience by stating that it will be assembled in the U.S. Way to work that crowd, Phil. 

Of course, there were various digs, which were frequently directed at Android, but they never felt nasty or mean-spirited. That could be due to Tim Cook’s gentle demeanor casting its influence over the event. In fact, Apple even harshed on itself, and its previous taste in leather-bound, green-felt, stitched design details. 

Self-deprecation? That’s kind of new for an Apple keynote, no?

As you ponder that, let’s bring this back to the beginning — the beginning of the event, that is. You could say things got underway when Anki Drive’s co-founder, Boris Sofman, hit the stage. Although his demo was a little glitchy, we think Apple was trying to tell us something here.

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The company’s typical modus operandi for software is to drag out a bevy of developers doing their thing with iOS or OS X. This time, Anki Drive stood alone. And what did they show us? “With the help of iOS, we’re bringing robotics and artificial intelligence out of the labs and into people’s lives.” The assistant set up a demo with a few remote controlled toy cars, which immediately drove themselves around the printed raceway course. They communicated with each other via the iPad, braking, steering and chasing each other on the mat.

Speaking of cars, iOS and Siri is heading to real, full-size automobiles directly in their in-dash systems, which will read iMessages, map out directions and place calls hands-free. At least 12 car makers will be offering this functionality in their 2014 models.

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Apple clearly has its eyes on more than just mobile and desktop computing. If it hopes to spawn a new generation of robotic toys and show up in our cars, what’s next? Our homes? Our person? Why not? Android’s already making a push to network our abodes, and Microsoft has long been experimenting in this space. Plus, Apple already has an eye on our living rooms. (See Apple TV.) And we could see the company push into wearable tech, as the iWatch rumors heat up for fall. There was no whiff of that on Monday, but it remains to be seen whether something is in the works.

I think, if the company is hoping to show up everywhere in our lives, then yesterday revealed some deeply savvy moves. The whole keynote was designed to instill trust and answer the critics, while still surprising and delighting people. That’s a tall order to fill, and what we saw was Apple’s way of tackling it.

Schiller succinctly — and not too demurely — put it this way: “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.” Probably not the way Tim would’ve put it, but it certainly seemed to be the overarching sentiment on view at the keynote.

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Now that the festivities are over, let the dissection commence. Brace yourselves — there’s going to be a lot of analysis in-coming.


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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