Apple takes soft line

While attention remains focused on its forthcoming iPhone, Apple used last week's developer conference to highlight changes to its software lineup.

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By  Peter Branton Published  June 16, 2007

Jobs claimed that Safari's performance would make it the "fastest browser for Windows" users as well as for Mac, loading and drawing pages up to twice as fast as Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 and up to 1.6 times as fast as Firefox. Such a performance advantage - if Apple can deliver it in the real world - could encourage Windows users to look more favourably at other Apple products, not just its media players.

By allowing Safari to run on the iPhone - and hence to make it possible to run third-party applications on the phone - Apple could also help ensure that product's success. While the firm has traditionally taken more of a hands-off approach to its own software products, it is keen to encourage developers to support the iPhone.

Instead of writing applications directly for it - which could have security risks - instead, the iPhone will run a full version of the Safari 3 browser; developers will be able to write web applications, using Web 2.0 standards such as Ajax, that can then run on the iPhone.

"Developers and users alike are going to be very surprised and pleased at how great these applications look and work on iPhone," Jobs said. "Our innovative approach, using Web 2.0-based standards, lets developers create amazing new applications while keeping the iPhone secure and reliable."

Already, Salesforce.com has said that it will create an iPhone version of its lead management software, the sort of heavyweight application that might just encourage businesses to fork out the high asking price for the iPhone (it will initially retail at about US$500 to US$600).

While the announcements around Safari and the iPhone attracted more headlines, the bulk of Jobs' keynote was actually devoted to the next release of Apple OS X, Leopard. With over 300 new features to talk about, this was perhaps not surprising.

"Leopard is the best release of Mac OS X to date, surpassing even Tiger, and will further extend Mac OS X's leadership as the most advanced and innovative operating system in the world," Jobs said. "We think current and prospective customers are going to love Leopard, and that it will help make the Mac even more popular."

Some of the features that Jobs highlighted - such as the Boot Camp, which makes it possible to run Windows natively on a Mac - had been previously announced. Others, such as Stacks, were completely new. Stacks allows Mac OS X users to manage their desktop better, by making it easier to see the files inside a folder in the dock, the row of application icons you see at the bottom of your desktop. This means users don't need to open different application windows, saving time and clutter.

Other features in Leopard that make it easier to find files include the addition of Apple's Cover Flow technology to its Finder feature, making it easier to quickly browse and search files and applications. Users can even use this feature to search other computers - Windows or Mac - on a local area network. A Quick Look feature allows users to instantly preview files, and even play media files, without opening an application.

Previously announced, the Time Machine feature will allow users to keep their Mac automatically backed-up to an external hard drive, making it easier to retrieve lost files.

Leopard also takes advantage of 64-bit technology, as it allows developers to write native 64-bit Mac OS applications; this will benefit Apple in the future as graphics professionals and multimedia developers look at increasingly memory-intensive applications.

Will all of this be enough to convince PC users to switch to the Mac? That remains to be seen, but Jobs did have one final coup up his sleeve in his keynote: game maker Electronic Arts said it would make more of its titles available for the Mac, and speed up delivery time of Mac versions of popular games in future.

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