The event was focused on their four core platforms, WatchOS, iOS, tvOS and OS X, their was a lot to cover, so the whole thing felt like a very long array of bullet points, punctuated by occasional show and tell videos, demoing the technology in action. As a long time Apple user, some of this felt like a retreading of old ground, simply refreshing existing software to bring back long lost features.. But there was a lot of progression here, even if in some ways Apple could be accused of looking backwards in some areas. In others, there were obvious refinements of existing tools. Apple can often seem to take a wait and see approach to their products; sitting back and seeing what others do, then eventually releasing their own take on it. Often this can be to their benefit, since Apple do have the advantage of learning from the mistakes of others, in other cases this doesn’t always go well I’m sure we all recall how Apple Maps was on launch.
I’ll talk about each platform individually as Apple did in the Keynote, however its worth bearing in mind that features from one platform may also be available on other platforms. I will try to detail this towards the end of the article.
First up on the keynote was WatchOS 3, the third major iteration of their wearables operating system. This feels like it may be the first OS that makes the device start to truly come into its own. While for the most part there are no earth shattering changes things have been sped up. One of the things that has always bugged me about the Watch (and many wearables for that matter) is that everything takes time to do.. Shifting to apps, replying to messages and so on.. It takes time to open the application, then load the contents and such.. Apps should launch in what looks to be near instant time frames now, with the default data being readily available thanks to background updates, information preloading and favourite apps being stored live in the watches memory. Other features that should speed up usage include fast app switching via multitasking menus, similar to that on iOS.
One of the more popular use cases for the Apple Watch is health based. WatchOS 3 sees new health features such as a new ‘Breath’ app, which guides you through a series of deep breaths to help you relax providing visual or haptic based responses to help time your breathing. A summary is provided showing your heart rate and the length of your breathing session. Other health features include Activity sharing, providing a way of sharing your activity record with friends and family, this should encourage a mix of friendly competition to see how can take the most steps or run the furthest as well as providing encouragement when needed. One of the more interesting additions here is support for three different wheelchair pushing techniques for varying speeds and terrain. Two new wheelchair specific workouts have been added and also a new ‘Time to Roll’ notification.
Some general interface and app refinements have also been added such as new watch faces, including Minnie Mouse, Activity and Numerals. Watch faces can now also simply be swiped left or right to change. An all new Control Centre with toggles for Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, notifications and more. In addition iMessages has also seen a bit of an overhaul, allowing users to ‘scribble’ on the watch face, literally writing messages a character at a time by drawing out the letters in either English or Chinese on the watch face. ApplePay has also seen a minor change, with it now being supported within apps.
The final and for moe, most interesting feature is the addition of a new SOS mode, this is something I’m actually surprised wasn’t included by default on the first release. SOS is activated by simply pressing and holding the button on the side of the watch. SOS will not only call the emergency services for you, but its location aware and knows the different contact number for emergency responders wherever you may be around the world. It also alerts your emergency contacts and includes a medical card with your personal information. This feature will work when connected to Wi-Fi or by using your phone’s cellular connection.
The latest iteration of Apple’s set-top box was the first to see App support, a much longed for feature by many users. Today’s announcement should be fairly welcome news to the owners of this device. Siri has gained a few useful new features such as the ability to search for movies by topic, for example owners can now ask to search for superhero movies, or movies about high school, this can also be partnered with other pieces of contextual information such as locations or time frames. You will also be able to ask Siri to tune-in to live channels within apps, such as CBS news, or ESPN, when asked Siri will open the live feed from within the app, rather than simply going to the apps homescreen, this will also extend to YouTube searches too.
Apple have also streamlined signing onto to multiple third party video services on the fourth-gen Apple TV, tvOS will now instantly sign you into any apps you have that would normally require a convoluted sign in process, such as visiting a browser and inputting a code. When users sign in via this feature all other apps will automatically be authenticated. This feature will also be available to iOS 10 users.
PhotoKit and Homekit have also seen some love via some newly announced APIs. Firstly we have ReplayKit, this is very much like Nvidia’s Shadowplay in so far that it allows users to record replays of games on the device or to live stream gameplay videos. Apple TV apps will now also support notification badges to show users that something may have changed within the app, such as new followed episodes or new high scores to beat. Multiplayer games are also getting a boost thanks to support for up to 4 controllers and the list of supported controllers broadening slightly. Homekit has become integrated tightly into the platform, allowing for the Apple TV to function as a remote server for HomeKit devices and also allowing for Siri control of HomeKit supported devices.
The Remote will be getting a much needed revamp, which mirrors the functionality of the new Apple TV remote, allowing for Siri control, touch screen, motion sensor control and so on. Much like previous iterations of the app users can also type on their phones keyboard when the need to enter text arises.
OS X, Apples long standing Macintosh operating system is getting a slight name change. This is one of the odd looks back I mentioned earlier – No longer will OS X be OS X. From this release onwards it will simply be known as MacOS. This is quite reminiscent of the earlier days of Apple’s operating systems whose full names were always Mac OS N, where N would be the main version number of the OS… This was only dropped when OS X 10.8 first released, so its a bit of a surprise to see it come back now, though in the grand scheme of things it makes sense in terms of their overall OS naming conventions.
For such a large, complex platform MacOS didn’t get as much as a look in as I’d hoped it would. What we are seeing with Sierra is more of the slow integration of cross platform features and more refinements to the now 16 year old OS. One of the refinements being brought to bear is a few new features for Apple’s Continuity system, their cross device content sharing system, Macs running MacOS will be able to be unlocked by iWatch users who are also running WatchOS 3, rather than having to type in their passwords to unlock the machine. Not a huge change, but nice to see and a sign of where Apple may be taking its authentication systems going forwards. Continuity is also now getting a universal clipboard – anything copied on one device will be available on all others. Its a nice feature which I can see some people finding pretty useful. Another much more substantial upgrade to continuity is the ability for users to access files on their Desktop and Documents folder over all of their devices that are signed into the same iCloud account, including PC’s If a user logs into a second Mac, their Desktop and Documents will also be automatically available as though they were working directly on the Mac they were originally created on.
iCloud is also seeing a bit of an upgrade, with the addition of Optimised Storage, this will store infrequently used items in a user’s iCloud drive which should free up space on the user’s hard drive. Optimised Storage will also allow users to easily remove redundant data, long term log files cached data and so on.. Apple gave an example where 130Gb of hard drive space was able to be recovered using this feature.
ApplePay and Siri are making their debuts on the desktop, with ApplePay being integrated into Safari, when buying goods online merchants that support ApplePay will display this as a payment option, clicking it will create a draw down menu asking you to authenticate the payment on your phones TouchID sensor or via your AppleWatch. Siri’s icon will sit in the top menu bar, next to the Notification Centre toggle Siri on the Mac will be able to perform context sensitive searches for things such as files allowing users to search for recently worked on files, or files sent by a specific co-workers. Siri will also be able to search the web with the search results being able to be pinned to the Notification Centre, much like Siri on iOS Siri for Mac can be used to search for and listen to music, and open applications.
Apple announced that the Picture in Picture feature found on iPads will also be making an appearance on MacOS, making it possible to float a video window entirely separate from its parent over other application windows and full screen apps. The PIP will be draggable, resizable and can be pinned to screen corners. MacOS also see’s an extension of the Tab feature to any and all Apps that support multiple windows, this does not require developers to actually do anything to integrate so should be available to all multi window apps from launch.
The mainstay of this year’s WWDC was seemingly devoted to iOS 10. Due to this there is a much more extensive list of new functions and features that have been made public than for their other three platforms. A refined version of the UI was demo’d which features new lockscreen features, revamps to other long standing apps, like the messaging app or the phone app as well as some new aspects littered throughout.
The Lock screen has seen some overhauls, featuring a new ‘raise to wake’ system, which is as simple as it sounds the act of simply raising the phone should wake the screen. A new ‘rich notifications’ interface has been debuted, which will also feature as part of the Home screen too. This system should allow users to get more information from various apps without unlocking their phone, the update also adds a clear all feature for notification centre notifications as well as a way to access the phone’s Camera or Widgets by sliding left or right on the lock screen. iPhone 6S and 6s Plus owners will also benefit from a deeper integration of 3D touch within the notification platform allowing for easier interaction with apps that provide notifications and widgets. Live Photos will also be editable in iOS10.
Siri has been given developer access finally, meaning Siri can be used for third party messaging tools, ride booking apps, work out controls and many other things that developers can devise to use Siri for. The keyboard is seeing an update, with the quicktype feature being improved, allowing for intelligent context sensitive responses as well as multilingual typing.
As mentioned many of Apple’s existing apps are seeing changes too. Maps has seen a redesigned with easier to access controls, a google now style awareness of activities, locations and times, maps will be able to use your calendar information to assess your routine and provide travel information in a much more proactive manner now, it can also search the route for petrol stations, restaurants and more informing you of how much time a stop could potentially add to your journey. Maps is also open to third parties now, allowing for things like restaurant or ride booking via apps like OpenTable or Uber.
Photos is seeing a significant set of feature additions. Photos is now able to call on facial recognition, as well as object or scene recognition, all carried out on device, rather than requiring a cloud solution. These new features will allow for the new Memories tab to call on specific events or places to dynamically group together family trips, and memories. The app can also now create slideshows with the photos and videos within each album, all without the need for any intensive editing software.
Apple Music is seeing a much needed, long hoped for redesign which will be shared with Apple news. The new design should make it easier for users to find the content they want and have the content ‘become the hero’ in Apples words. The music app will also feature a new search function, making it easier to locate new music. A long missing addition from older versions of iOs also sees a return, with the addition of Lyrics. The News app features an improved ‘For you’ section that is broken into sections including trending news and topics users have specified are of interest to them. The News app now also supports subscriptions for publications like the Wall Street Journal.
Message and the the Phone app are seeing some of the largest sets of improvements, with the phone application now able to transcribe voicemails as well as making suggestions as to them being potential spam messages. Perhaps the largest change though is the introduction of VoIP APIs, allowing third party voice platform to hook into the Phone app. When users are called from apps like Line or Whatsapp, this will now show on the home screen much in the same way as a normal phone call would. These calls will also show in your recents lists and favourites. The Phone app will also try to prioritise your preferred communication method for each contact. iMessage is seeing some much requested changes, with rich links to websites and other shared media, so this content will be accessible directly within the messages app, rather than via other applications, Emjoi have also got some attention, with them being scaled in size as well as being part of the predictive text platform, messages will also highlight words that have corresponding emoji allowing for quick and easy insertion.
The message bubbles will also be seeing some changes, with a new effect feature, which enables different emphasis to be placed on a message or even a message hidden until the recipient swipes over it. iMessage will also supposed handwritten message bubbles allowing users to sketch out responses share their hartbeat, provide thumbs up and more. iMessage will also include support for full screen animated backgrounds such as fireworks or disco lights. Finally, third party message app support is being added, this should allow for anything from simply adding stickers into a chat, to sharing a takeout order, through to sending payments via messages.
Finally, HomeKit is seeing some changes, with the new Home app being added. All HomeKit enabled accessories will now be present in the Home app, for 6S and 6S Plus owners 3D touch is supported to allow fast interactions with HomeKit enabled devices. The App will allow for ‘scenes to be created where multiple devices will work together to to configure themselves to their owners requirements, such as dimming the lights and closing the blinds when watching a movie. Via AppleTV support Geofencing should also be possible, so users can have HomeKit open the garage door as they approach, then turn on the lights and even draw a bath.
Apple wraps up.
As mentioned previously many of the features mentioned are very much available on all platforms, the new Music apps features, Photos, Siri’s functionality, HomeKit and so on… Apple is continuing to tighten how their device integrate into a single multi device ecosystem. Towards the end of the Keynote Apple also went to some lengths to call out how seriously they take end user privacy, mentioning that local systems are used when and where possible, that all communication platforms provided use end to end encryption and that they carry out no user profiling.
All of the above updates are available to developers now, with selected public betas being released for OS X and iOS in July. A general public roll out is planned for this fall.
One more thing
Two years ago, Apple released their own scripting language, Swift. This was opensourced late last year, however it seems that this wasnt enough for Apple and they want to get even more people using Swift. To this end, they also announced Swift Playgrounds, an iPad app that will be released for free. The app is aimed at teaching students core coding concepts, such as issueing commands, creating functions, performing loops and using conditional code and variables. The app will feature custom ‘learn to code’ lessons from APple that will focus on using visual cues to slowly introduce children into coding. The app also features a new coding centric keyboard to allow new code to be added with a minimum amount of effort.
Apple announced this will also be made available to developers today and to public beta users in July, with its final public release expected to be in the fall when iOS 10 Launches.