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Apple's Take on UC

Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the stage at the company's headquarters to announce a bevy of new products and updates and did so in a way that only Apple can pull off. The program was streamed live, and while Mr. Cook lacks the magnetism of a Steve Jobs, the company is still two notches above anyone else in the tech space when it comes to putting on a show. While some have lamented the rather meager upgrades in the iPad line, the real story was Apple's stepping up to the plate on its own brand of UC.

As we have seen with many recent Apple events, many of the key components of the announcement had already leaked to the media. Mr. Cook opened the show with some gushing accolades for the iPhone, even quoting Walter Mossberg of All-Things-D calling it the "best smartphone on the market."

The first big piece of news regarded the company's payment system, Apple Pay, which will go live next Monday with a number of major retailers already on board. Those will include Bloomingdales, Macy's, Duane Reade, McDonald's, Sephora, Petco, Panera Bread, Staples, Nike, Walgreens, Subway, Whole Foods, and more. He also made a number of plugs for the Apple Watch, which is due early next year, and he even showed the cover of Vogue China that featured the new gadget.

Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering, took over for the product announcements and demos. He started with an update of what has happened since the iPhone 6 launch last month. As a testament to customers' loyalty to the product line, he pointed out that iOS 8, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, is now in use on 48% of iPhones, 26 days after its being made available; 46% are on iOS 7 that was launched in September 2013.

He compared that to Android, where 54% of users are on Jelly Bean (released to manufacturing in June 2012) and only 25% were on the latest release, Kit Kat, that came out almost a year ago. Clearly they had to get that story out fast, as Google announced this week that the first devices running Android L or "Lollipop" will be available for pre-order October 17, though the upgrade path from earlier versions remains unclear.

While the big part of the announcement focused on the new iPad Air 2 and Air mini 3, one of the most significant announcements was the new version of the desktop/laptop operating system, Yosemite or OS 10.10 that is available now; my copy is downloading as I write this. Over 1 million users have installed the public beta version, but this, together with iOS 8.1, will push Apple significantly ahead in terms of an integrated vision and product line to match.

Mr. Federighi made a big pitch for the handoff feature or what he called "continuity", essentially the integration of Yosemite and iOS 8.1 (available October 21). I have written about the handoff capability before, where you will be able to start a task on one Apple device and pick it up on another. He demonstrated this by working on a Keynote presentation (Apple's version of PowerPoint) and jumping from a desktop to an iPhone to an iPad and finally showing it on Apple TV. Google is planning a similar capability with Lollipop, but if history is any guide, it won't match the smoothness of Apple's offering.

The tongue-in-cheek presentation dealt with Apple's new security program, fueled by all of the leaks surrounding the day's announcement, and showed how with an iPhone tethered to a Mac running Yosemite, you could now place cellular calls from the Mac--that looks like "UC" to me. You can also send and receive SMS messages the same way, and they would be integrated with the Messenger app on the Mac.

While very UC-like in functionality, Apple's version of UC is making use of the cellular network rather than a wired telephone system, something the UC providers should keep in mind. Finally, in a move that only Apple could pull off, he preceded to call Steven Colbert, who was posing as Apple's new secrecy chief.

Federighi was followed by Philip Schiller, Apple's SVP of Worldwide Marketing, who introduced the new iPad Air 2 (9.7-inch screen) and Air mini 3 (7.9-inch screen). Mr. Schiller pointed out that Apple has sold over 225 million iPads since its introduction, and over the past 12 months, Apple has shipped more iPads (70 million) than Lenovo, HP, Dell or Acer had shipped desktop and laptop PCs. At 6.1 mm thick, the new version will be 18% thinner than the current iPad Air and will feature the same Touch ID fingerprint sensor found on the iPhone 5S, 6S and 6S Plus.

Most of the new capabilities are in the Air 2, including a new A8X processor that is 40% faster than the current version and 12x faster than the A4 processor in the original iPad; the iPad mini 3 uses the A7 processor. Mr. Schiller showed off some beautiful photos taken with the Air 2's 8-megapixel camera that also features burst mode and time-lapse capabilities. The demo for the latter featured a time-lapse shot of the Grand Canal in Venice "coincidentally" catching George Clooney's wedding party passing by--showmanship.

The Air 2 and Air 3 mini come in 3 colors (silver, gold and space gray) with 16-, 64- or 128-Gbytes of memory. The Wi-Fi models price out at $399, $499 and $599 for the mini and $100 more for the larger device; Wi-Fi plus cellular models are an additional $130 extra across the board. Apple will begin accepting pre-orders October 17. There was also a new iMac featuring a 27-inch Retina display, but this event was clearly about Yosemite and the new iPads, while ensuring the Apple Watch stayed in the picture.

As a full-on Apple user (iMac, MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone and even a classic iPod), I'm dying to take a crack at the continuity features; I'll probably be upgrading my iCloud Drive storage capacity to get the most out of it.

What I'm seeing is Apple's product vision progressively merging with what we've been calling UC. Now with the handoff/continuity features, Apple is adding a whole new dimension to the experience, what my pal Galen Gruman at InfoWorld has termed "Liquid Computing", though I prefer "Device Fluidity."

I may get labeled a "fanboy" for this, but Apple has jumped ahead of the pack in delivering the best designed and integrated user experience across its entire product line. The new iPads probably won't result is much of a bump in sales, but when it comes to UX, Apple still has the mojo.

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