WWDC Diary Day 1: Keynote, Platform SotU, and Design Awards

This is my first WWDC, and I’m impressed by how efficiently the 5000 person event runs. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium comfortably hosted every executive, press person, and developer with room to spare. I got a great seat for the keynote, being right up at the front on the second level, and the sound, lighting, and presentation system made the event a pleasure to watch. Everything from the food to the WiFi to releasing the session and lab schedule to making the betas available appeared to happen effortlessly. I’m sure a lot of work went on behind the scenes to make this happen, which I’m grateful for.

Moving on to the content, this WWDC showcased Tim Cook’s Apple at its absolute best: all four of the category-defining products moved forward in titanic leaps. Before we dive into the software, there was no new hardware. This is a grand shame, but I understand why: WWDC is a software event (and Apple are going to refresh their whole Mac line with a press release very soon, right? Right? RIGHT?). In terms of the software, all of iOS, (the newly renamed) macOS, watchOS, and tvOS have many great new features, APIs, and opportunities for app developers.

Let’s go platform-by-platform.

watchOS 3

Glances are gone, long app start up time is gone, and the “Dock” takes advantage of these two changes. The idea here is that apps are now so fast to start that a multitasking tray with the live first screen of your app. Also, there is now a new input style called Scribbles which lets you “write” letters on the watch and it will translate them into letters. Additionally, there are now dedicated watchOS apps for Reminders and Find My Friends, an emergency feature called “SOS”, and Activity sharing.

The structural changes to the interaction model for watchOS is right on point: previously, if I wanted to check the weather, I could: look at the complication, open the glance, or open the app. Now, if the complication isn’t present or doesn’t have enough information, you tap what was previously the “friends” button to reveal the Dock, and you can immediately see new information, or go into the app if you need to interact with it.

The Scribble input method is a welcome change that I’ll need to use to see if it can be useful. If it’s fast and accurate enough for writing short messages without tiring my arm, I’ll be a fan and use it a lot. I don’t think I’ll use Activity sharing at all, in part because I don’t use the Watch for fitness as much as a notification management tool, so I don’t have much to add there. I’ll use Reminders, probably not Find My Friends, and hopefully not SOS.

tvOS 10

Now it’s possible to sign-in to your cable provider once, and all apps get access to that authentication now. In addition to allowing more streaming of previous shows and revealing all the apps provided by your cable deal, they’ve added more live streams. For those people that find the Apple TV interface too bright at night now have the option to turn the interface dark. There was some controversy when the Apple TV first came out that the Remote app didn’t work, which Apple quickly patched while promising a fuller experience, and have now shipped that full Siri Remote app. Finally, there are some improvements to Siri.

Perhaps Apple was hoping to supplant cable providers and so purposely didn’t ship single-sign-on on day one, but as a heavy user of Apple TV, it was by far the biggest pain point that every new app required getting my computer to get up and running. It wasn’t that big a deal, my roommates and I got pretty good at working together every time an app decided we had to authenticate again, but I certainly look forward to not doing that anymore. I also look forward to finding out what other apps are available through the cable service, it’s difficult to discover apps I can use today.

The new Remote app with accelerometer and Siri support is great. It means that any iPhone owner is now the owner of a fully featured remote for the tvOS games. The tone and style of the games on tvOS reminds me of the Wii – casual party games. I hope this catches on with users and the games become more fun, akin to Mario Party. Less casual games also have reason to be excited too, as you can now require that the player of your game have a standard game controller type too. This sacrifices some fragmentation to allow apps to be more varied and take best advantage of whatever hardware they need, and I think it’s a compromise worth making.

macOS 10.12 Sierra

The features that stood out to me about the newly renamed macOS were:

  • Unlock with an Apple Watch;
  • Apple Pay in Safari;
  • Picture-in-picture for videos;
  • Automatic syncing of desktop to iCloud;
  • Automatic syncing of clipboards across devices;
  • Storing unused files in iCloud to download on-demand;
  • Tabs everywhere;
  • and Siri!

It seems to me like macOS lives in the shadow of iOS: these features are great, but I’d argue more drastic improvements are needed. For instance, it didn’t make the keynote, but Apple are updating the filesystem from HFS+ to their new APFS, which is great news. To be fair, the Siri SDK and functionality is exactly the sort of improvement the Mac needs, but it does feel quite late, especially considering that it’s been on iOS so long, and that Cortana and Google Now have long since shipped. I dislike the automatic syncing and optimizing to iCloud features because I like having more direct control and access to my files, but I’m sure people will love those features (I do recommend keeping a separate hard drive and a backup instead, however). This release is a great start, but there is much more that needs to be done: updating OpenGL, modernizing AppKit (have you ever tried using NSTableView?). and making the hardware and software usable by professionals in virtual reality, video, and other fields.

iOS 10

This is a mammoth release for iOS. The biggest focus was in the Messages app, where you can now:

  • Send handwritten notes;
  • Add animations to your messages;
  • Add “likes” to messages;
  • Annotate images before sending them;
  • Attach stickers to messages or images;
  • Automatically replace words with emoji;
  • Download and create apps that run within iMessage.

Messages, more specifically iMessage, has become a platform that strives to compete directly with Facebook’s Messenger. I look forward to using this version of iMessage, and I’m curious about what is possible in iMessage apps. The one fatal downside today of iMessage as a platform is the single-platform-edness of it (Apple platforms). There were rumors that Apple was going to announce iMessage for Android, and there is precedent for something like that now with Apple Music for Android. However, I don’t think iMessage for Android will ever happen, because it’s not a service Apple makes money on and I think it keeps many people on iOS. However, long-term, I’d argue having a truly competitive messaging platform would be good for Apple. Consider that selling apps and services on a cross-platform iMessage would probably make more money long-term than keeping users captive and not having developer interest. This feature will be great for people who only know people with iPhones, but I can’t blame Apple for not expanding one of their most valuable apps to competitors’ products.

Other improvements include:

  • Creating extensions for selling stuff within the Maps app;
  • Improved traffic handling in Maps;
  • Search for stuff on the way during navigation in Maps;
  • A new Home app for controlling your connected home products;
  • Revamped Apple Music;
  • Raise your phone to wake up the OS;
  • Increased use of 3D Touch throughout the system;
  • Interactive notifications withs views;
  • Better predictions above the keyboard;
  • A redesigned news;
  • AI powered Photos improvements;
  • Apple Pay in Safari;

These are all magnificent improvements that users will love, I think Apple did a great job in all-around improving iOS. The iMessage improvements are topical, fun additions that will convince people to upgrade, and the OS-level improvements and new APIs are a welcome change for power users and developers.