WWDC This Year Was All About Software

Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) is, as its name suggests, usually centres around developers and software. Going by that, one shouldn’t expect crisp new iMacs or iPhones -- and 2016 was no different. In fact, the last time a significant hardware refresh was unveiled at the WWDC event was 2010 when Steve Jobs touted Retina display and Facetime running a brand new A4 SoC on the iPhone 4.

Today, WWDC was just that: software. But with that, it was a full event. iOS, OS X, tvOS and WatchOS are jam packed full of new features, some iterative, others ground-up. The biggest news was iOS 10, the tenth major release of iOS for iPhone and iPad -- and it’s because it now has 10 new features not seen before on the mobile platform.

It was a good day for developers, too, and it should be since this is a developers conference. Many of iOS’ hardware and software features will now have SDKs that allow access to previously restricted features on the platform and if you follow Apple, you’ll know this is a big deal.

watchOS 3

Today began with watchOS 3, the newest major iteration of the operating system on the Apple Watch. These updates seem to address a lot of the desired features that were left wanting in the initial releases of watchOS. Features like background updates, instant launch, reminders and Find My Friends. An interesting addition is SOS Emergency Services, which it is assumed still requires pairing with an iPhone, but allows calling through to the local emergency department by holding the Apple Watch’s crown in for a set number of seconds.

Apple has brought in a new fitness app on the Watch called Breathe designed to help users get a ‘breathing workout’ into their everyday exercise. No doubt a part of Apple’s ongoing research into health and fitness, it is designed to help alleviate stress and if used correctly, should give Apple Watch greater insight into your heart rate and overall fitness level during breathing exercises.

This should theoretically provide users with greater accuracy in calories burnt and kilojoules spent during other activities while wearing Apple Watch. In addition, Apple Pay was touched on, including its use now in Australia (via ANZ), background fitness tracking, real-time heart-rate support and in true Apple fashion, the developer beta will be available today with a public release in “Fall”.

tvOS

Eddie Cue was greeted on-stage to present tvOS, beginning with a rundown of how it’s new tvOS has performed since launch. 1300 video providers are now on the platform from a starting point of just 80 only 7 months ago. Apple TV, together with tvOS introduced a passcode system for account-based content streaming. For Crackle, for example, in order to load your personalised content on the Apple TV, you logged into Crackle on your PC, authorised your Apple TV with a unique string and then entered that string into your account for it to then authenticate you on your TV and load your paid content.

Now, with tvOS, that is also being improved on with a single sign-on account passcode for multiple streaming providers and is said to be coming to iOS, too. Apple’s home automation framework in HomeKit is also said to be coming to tvOS and revised Apple TV remote app for your iPhone is also in the works. Once again, developers get a beta preview today and the GM is scheduled for release to the public in “Fall”.

MacOS (nee OS X)

Apple’s OS X moniker has been around since 2002, when “OS 9” was laid to rest. 16 years later, that naming convention is also transformed and is now macOS – To begin, today it is “macOS Sierra” – Craig Federighi playfully poked fun at rumours recently of a name change to Apple’s desktop OS by highlighting that iOS, tvOS and watchOS, when shown next to OS X lead to the inevitable naming convention uniformity that Apple tends to use for both marketing but also to illustrate in mere titles that continuity across their ecosystem is what makes them great. macOS Sierra will host a number of improvements and integrations with devices like the Watch that should both make computing more fun, less playful but also add value to their complementary nature when used together.

To begin, Auto Unlock. Many may consider unlocking your Macbook with a password a “first-world problem” but it got a decent play at the keynote. With the ad-hoc connectivity of Apple Watch, macOS Sierra will have the ability to sense an administrator’s Apple Watch nearby and allow the Mac’s lid to be opened and unlocked without having to enter a password.

Apple played this as opening your Mac, it sensing your Apple Watch and being ready to begin work right away – “beautiful”. An iteration of Apple’s Continuity feature where half-finished iPhone emails can be continued on your Mac now gets Copy & Paste love via Universal Clipboard. This should be particularly useful for daily commutes to and from work and is shown to not only carry text between devices but images with copy (on the iPhone) and paste (on the Mac).

iCloud Drive has a decent refresh, too. Now, when enabled iCloud Drive can be set to mirror contents on a users desktop from one Mac to another in real-time. This should be useful to users who don’t consider themselves “prosumers” and desire simple interfacing with computers between their home and office. Most interesting with iCloud Drive is the intelligent space saving improvements Apple are adding to macOS Sierra to relieve storage space on smaller drive Macbooks. Old documents, trash can contents, unused Safari web cache and other system files, rather than bogging down lightweight Macs, will now be transferred to iCloud and available on-demand.

What this will no doubt do is strain the free 5GB storage limit on users’ iCloud Drives and while adding value to lower storage Macbooks, will almost certainly boost the number of paid iCloud account holders. Apple Pay also is coming macOS Sierra for web payments. A “Pay with Apple Pay” button was shown on a shopping cart that prompted the user’s iPhone with a total sum and a request for Touch ID to verify the transaction using existing payment details and most likely shipping details as well. We assume there will be an instructional for webmasters to incorporate this into their online stores via a JS snippet or similar that will appear on Mac-based browser and be invisible on others.

At the tail end of macOS Sierra features is Tabs, adding tabbed browsing to all Apple apps as well as natively into 3rd party apps. A picture-in-picture feature was also demonstrated for viewing online or offline videos pinned onscreen, even while using other apps in full-screen. A big win for those who love voice control: Siri is coming to the Mac, finally. Microphones have almost always been on Macs and yet Siri has so far only been available on iOS devices. As of the macOS, Siri will be native on Macs with intelligent context-aware discovery and responses, assuming with an “Always-On” feature built-in.

macOS Sierra is available today for developers today, there will be a public beta available to anyone who wants to try it in July with a GM expected, once again, in “Fall”.

iOS 10

Instead of new hardware, today we were shown what’s likely to be the shipping software of the iPhone 7 later this year. This latest releases sees some commonality with watchOS and is likely the biggest news out of WWDC today. First, Raise to Wake: using its gyroscopic sensors, the iPhone will illuminate its screen giving full view of outstanding notification without the need to press the sleep or home buttom, something that’s caused users to accidentally unlock their phones with the speed with which Touch ID authenticates on iPhone, this is something we’re used to on the Apple Watch.

Within the woken lock screen, users will have rich notifications that can be interacted with as it sits and provide the ability to reply to messages, view sports scores and even watch in-line video without unlocking the iPhone. Control Centre, the menu that appears when swiping up from the bottom of the iPhone screen gets a redesign. From Control Centre, wiping left reveals full music controls while wiping right from Control Centre or the bare lock screen reveals the full Camera app. By the looks of this, it should make opening and using the iPhone’s core apps easier and more enjoyable.

3D Touch has been made into a richer experience as well. It’s not just a flat menu but app data, interactions and real use can be made of 3D Touch on apps like Uber, ESPN and others. Siri has also been opened to developers via Siri SDK. A major gripe for developers has been the restricted nature of Apple hardware and auxiliary services and it appears that strangehold is being relaxed from iOS 10. Siri has also been given a “deep learning” backbone which means it will be more context-aware and personalised to each user, learning as it goes from users’ habits.

iOS Photos gets new cinematic collections and trailers. Maps also gets a significant do-over with third party extensions which allow things like table bookings at restaurants, hailing rides via Uber and payments to be made via OpenTable all within the Maps app itself. Directions also becomes smarter with deeper awareness of upcoming traffic conditions and proactive re-routing to help you avoid jams and get to where you’re going faster.

Apple Music was introduced with a statistic that some may have been expecting and that is that it’s got more paying subscribers today than Spotify does at 15 Million. The music app is said to have received a ground-up rebuild with lots of black and white menus, a clean look that doesn’t actually look very different to the current iteration, at least to this observer.

Bozoma Saint John, Head of Global Marketing SVP tried to enthuse attendees, a horde of developers, with her sassy, hip-hop loving nature mostly to the effect of awkward glances.

Apple News will be bringing subscriptions to participating publishers and has 2000 publications and 60 million active monthly readers. HomeKit will be a standalone app, featured on the Home screen and will now be referred to simply as “Home”. In an effort to be the hub of your smart devices, scenes like “good night” and voice commands like “good morning, Siri” can be programmed to set off a chain of events in the home that users will undoubtedly be able to tailor to their needs. Home will be built into Control Centre and have the capacity to work with garage doors, blinds, lights, door locks, thermostats and other internet-connected devices.

In-line streaming of the front door camera will allow users to talk with guests and Apple TV remote access and automation will be a key player in the at-home ecosystem of your Apple devices and connected products. Home will be coming to iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, too.

The phone itself on iPhone will see some great improvements also. A voicemail-to-text feature called voicemail transcription will be native, allowing a text message feel to voicemails. Apple have adopted Tencent in detecting potential spam voicemails, something that’s said to be a problem in countries like China. Further to phone, and potentially the biggest feature will the the VOIP API that Apple have adopted with help from Cisco. Now, when connected up with Cisco’s Spark app, iPhone users can receive personal calls on the phone but also business calls re-routed to their iPhones via the app. This is effectively a landline and mobile experience in one, or effectively the same as a dual-SIM mobile phone.

Messages got plenty of stage time. Rich links in Messages (similar to Facebook scrape) will now be native allowing previews and meta descriptions to populate within Messages when sharing weblinks with others users. In-line streaming of Youtube and Apple music links will

also be enabled. Sharing photos in Messages gets live camera window next to your photo library and 3x bigger emojis. On the topic of emojis, Messages will have a “suggested emoji” feature by highlighting words you’ve typed and allow you to transform them into emoji with a single tap. Bubble effects, invisible ink are nifty, quirky features for a richer, emotive experiences between Message clients. Animated backgrounds also for big messages that deserve fireworks or blooming flowers or rivers of molten sulphur, depending on your mood.

Messages with its animations and effects are also open to developers to add their own interactions and integrations such as money transfers, stickers and filters. Other examples are group carts for lunch orders and faces superimposed on pre-set animation backgrounds. Side notes were Notes collaboration, live notes editing, conversation view in Mail and split view in Safari on iPad.

Given the recent Apple vs. FBI events surrounding the San Bernadino shooter case, a word on encryption took place. End-to-end was touted as being a cornerstone of iOS. On-device intelligence and “Differential privacy” were also raised with Professor Aaron Roth, father of the differential privacy topic praising Apple for the work they’re doing protecting users’ data.

Of interest was the repeated mention of ride-sharing apps, in particular Lyft, Didi Chuxing and Uber. Apple recently invested $1 Billion into Didi Chuxing, China’s domestic ride-sharing app, which was a surprise move for many. It seems ride-sharing services are here to stay if we consider their native inclusion in core apps like Maps and Apple’s investment dollars flowing into them. This observer would’ve expected perhaps only Didi Chuxing to be demonstrated but instead all three competitors got a fairly even share of keynote time today.

We had a fair share of software today, and some will always hold their breath for hardware refreshes during WWDC, but at this stage it looks like that will be something we’ll see at the Apple Special Event in September this year.

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