Apple’s annual keynote to kick off the Worldwide Developer Conference is usually chock full of tidbits of information and demonstrations, some of which are fascinating to hear about or watch, but don’t necessarily move the operating system platforms ahead. After repeated viewings of yesterday’s WWDC keynote — yes, I can just about repeat it verbatim at this point — I’ve narrowed down the announcements to a relative handful that I think are really important to the future of Apple.
Most of yesterday’s event focused on iOS 10, and you can read about all of the key points in this post. But stashed away in between cute emoji demonstrations and the ability to pull up hip-hop lyrics in the newly redesigned Music app, there were some features that are very critical to Apple’s future.
What? Messages is a critical app for Apple? Absolutely!
The Messages app is the most-used app in the Apple ecosphere. I like to refer to it as the glue that causes people to stick to their iPhones, as it is phenomenally popular. Well, the announcements that were made yesterday are going to help that glue turn into Super Glue®.
There were some early rumors that Apple might announce a Messages client for Android at the event. That would have been counterproductive to Apple, as it would have given potential iPhone buyers a reason to switch platforms and go with one of the thousands of Android phones being manufactured. Instead, Apple retained the iOS exclusivity of Messages and then added a host of features that will likely pull Android users over to the iPhone fold.
Sure, such things as bubble effects and invisible ink are nice eye candy, but the real “meat” of the Message demos focused on what can happen when iMessage is opened to developers. iMessage apps will work in the Messages app and let developers create fluffy fun things like animated sticker sets. But the most powerful demo showed a group message being sent out that let recipients select a lunch from a menu, then add it to a “group cart” that was then paid for by the sender with just a tap. Integration of Messages with Apple Pay and group messaging? Amazing.
Of course, the big revenue for developers and Apple alike will come from the sale of silly — but fun — apps like JibJab once it is integrated into Messages:
The News app got a new logo and layout, but publishers really got the nod in yesterday’s announcement. Apple is going to provide Apple News publishers (there are 2,000 of them so far) with ways to charge a subscription fee for their content. That’s huge, since it means that news and entertainment publishers no longer need to rely on intrusive advertising to make money. Adding breaking news notifications to Apple News notifications also means that more of those publishers will be vying for your attention through Notification Center, so hopefully there are going to be user settings to help moderate the flow of breaking news alerts.
As the co-author of a popular book on Siri, I always wondered when Apple would start adding more capabilities to the virtual assistant. It appears that iOS 10 will finally give Siri users a reason to cheer. Developers can now use Siri in their own apps, which opens up the world to a lot more questions that you’ll be able to ask. Imagine being able to ask Siri if there’s a storm coming and being able to get a response from it via the Dark Sky app.
Siri’s intelligence is being used in some other fascinating ways. For those of us with 48,000 photos in our photo libraries, it can be impossible to find certain photos. Now we’ll be able to ask Siri to show photos that were “taken last week” or “show Amy and Rob”, and get a curated view of those images.
While nothing was specifically stated at the keynote, it appears that Siri is going to gain context. In other words, asking Siri to display emails from a certain time period and person can be followed up by another request for just those emails that have attachments — and Siri will know that you’re asking for a further subset of the original request.
While Siri’s newly-gained powers will aid in finding photos in a large library, Apple announced that the new Photos app (both iOS and macOS) will use advanced computer vision tied together with object and scene recognition to automatically create “Memories”. Some moments seem to lose importance over time; the ability for Photos to create new Memories that cluster together and relate photos based on location, faces, or trips should be impressive as it will bring those old trips or memories of people back to you.
But one of the most interesting tidbits from Apple regarding this advanced computer vision capability is that it is all done on your iOS or macOS device. Nothing is sent to Apple, so there’s no Google-like harvesting of your images. Apple definitely has your back in terms of privacy.
macOS 12 “Sierra”
Even though I was a thousand miles away from the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco during the keynote, I cheered when I heard about the change from “OS X” to macOS. It’s been tough for those of us who do podcasts to actually stumble through pronouncing some of the desktop operating system versions, saying things like “Mac Oh-Ess-Ten Ten-Point-Ten-Point-Five Beta Three Yosemite”. It’s a silly thing, but just being able to say “Mac Oh-Ess Twelve Sierra” is a relief. Naming conventions aside, what else was important in Sierra?
Over the past few years I’ve tried a number of iOS/Mac apps that promised that I’d be able to unlock and log into my Mac with just a tap on my iPhone. No offense to the developers, but none of those solutions have worked that well. Apple’s bringing auto-unlock — a form of Continuity that takes advantage of communications between the Mac and other devices like the iPhone and Apple Watch — to the Mac, and I’m certain that it will work better than the third-party solutions have.
Also part of Continuity is the new Universal Clipboard that allows copying from one device and pasting on another. Once again, there have been third-party attempts at performing this same task, but all of them have (in my opinion) failed miserably. This will be quite useful to those who do their work on more than one Apple device.
I found one Continuity/iCloud announcement to be disturbing — the availability of a “Universal Desktop” that can be viewed on any device. That’s fine if one wishes to place the occasional important file out onto the Mac desktop, then access it from iCloud on an iPad or iPhone, but there are some people that store most of their files on the desktop instead of in the Documents folder or in iCloud. I shudder to think of my wife’s Mac desktop showing up on her iPhone…
Yet another important announcement was the discussion of how Apple Pay will work with websites in Safari on the Mac (see image below). Bring up a website that supports Apple Pay for payment, and you’ll be able to use iPhone Touch ID or an Apple Watch to authenticate that purchase. It’s important to remember that Apple takes a small percentage of each Apple Pay purchase; by opening the web to Apple Pay payment is a huge potential revenue stream.
Siri on the Mac
As noted in the iOS section a few paragraphs ago, Siri is about to gain new capabilities. Fortunately, that’s going to happen on the Mac platform as well. The importance of Siri on the Mac cannot be overstated; it’s the first time that there will be some actual intelligence behind the ability to issue voice commands to a Mac.
Almost any Siri search result can be dragged and dropped into another app, meaning that while working on a document, you can ask Siri for a picture or piece of information, then drop that information right into your document without needing to open a browser to perform a search. Slowly but surely, Apple’s getting closer to the 1990’s dream of the Knowledge Navigator.
Probably the biggest pieces of information that I can take out of yesterday’s announcement of watchOS 3 is that Apple realizes that people won’t be buying a new Apple Watch every year, so the company is going to do its best to get rid of the biggest issue for many potential Apple Watch buyers — the slow response of apps on the device.
watchOS 3 looks like it will give existing Apple Watch owners a reason to cheer, since most apps will respond immediately instead of forcing a wearer to stare at his or her wrist for ten seconds… Many apps will be able to perform updates in the background so that results are immediately visible, and overall speed is dramatically improved. There are some other critical improvements:
Apple Pay in Apps
Apple is really making some great progress in terms of making it possible to pay for goods and services anywhere at any time with just a touch of your wrist. Opening Apple Pay on the Apple Watch to any app? Amazingly powerful. One example quickly touted in the keynote was being able to send one of your contacts money with just a few taps – that should make those lunchtime squabbles over paying for your meal a thing of the past.
Not much was said about this, but support for SpriteKit and SceneKit will open the door for developers to create fun and fast watchOS games. The few watchOS games I’ve played so far have turned me off of wrist gaming, but I look forward to seeing what creative developers can do with this new capability.
New User Experience
I was happy to see that Apple has done a lot of work into improving the user experience on the Watch. At the present time, finding a Watch app in the “circle of apps” can be a real problem; now it will be possible to place important Watch apps into a Mac-like Dock for easy launching. It’s like Apple looked at the best of the iOS and macOS user experiences, and then moved those features over to the Watch. An iOS-like Control Center (see image above) will be instantly available with a swipe from the bottom of the Watch display, and an edge-to-edge swipe will bring up a different Watch face. Nice!
Finally, we come to the big screen and Apple’s operating system for television. Despite the announcements of new channels, an improved Remote app for iPhone, and huge Siri search improvements, the really big news is that once again, Apple is adding new application programming interfaces that developers can take advantage of in their apps.
I found the PhotoKit API for tvOS to be the most intriguing, because it gives developers access to iCloud-based photo libraries to do some pretty amazing things in terms of viewing and searching your photos on the big screen.
Apple left the announcement of Swift Playgrounds until the end of the keynote, but it’s critically important for building the community of Apple developers. This iPad app will be available in the fall (probably coincident with the release of iOS 10), and takes beginning programmers through the concepts they need to learn how to code. Apple noted that they’ll be continually developing and publishing “challenges” for Swift Playgrounds that will expand what the would-be developers can learn.
While Swift Playgrounds is aimed at school-aged developers, it will be available for anyone to try out so don’t be surprised if some future Apple Design Award-winning app comes from a senior citizen! Swift Playgrounds code can be exported right into Apple’s Xcode integrated development environment, so we’ll probably see a quick migration from learning to selling apps for many budding developers.