The new Apple is here and they’re ready to compete like never before
Earlier this week, Apple hosted the keynote presentation of their Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California. This year’s conference, the 25th since 1990 and attended by 6000 developers plus the media, gives Apple the opportunity to demonstrate the latest developments in their platforms – in this case, OS X and iOS.
Whilst I would characterise recent conferences as ‘Apple playing catch up to the competition’, this year they’ve not only matched the offerings of many of their competitors but are now providing the tools for developers to take Apple to the next level. The value Apple places on developers was demonstrated as the presentation was littered with in-jokes, but more importantly, they opened the keynote with a video all about developers and the power of apps in changing people’s lives. It was your typical emotion-evoking Apple video.
The keynote had three sections: OS X, iOS, and a section on development tools.
OS X and the Mac
After contemplating names such as OS X Oxnard, OS X Rancho Cucamonga, and OS X Weed (they might have been serious about that last one), Apple unveiled OS X Yosemite. This new release is a free upgrade coming later this year to Mavericks users and focuses on three areas: a new user interface, improving apps, and continuity.
Yosemite brings a new design that is in much more in line with iOS. Everything is flatter (but not Microsoft flat), and translucency is the running motif here – all your windows and title bars will have a frosted glass effect to them now. They’ve also introduced something I’ve been clamouring for since OS X Snow Leopard – dark mode, to allow you focus on the content and get the menu bars out of the way. Secondly, they updated the Notification Centre and pulled the Today view straight from iOS (yes, this is a running theme). You can now view your calendar, weather, reminders etc. all from this side bar. Importantly, they’ve added the ability for 3rd-party apps to create widgets for the Today view. Finally, they’ve updated Spotlight to include online searches from Wikipedia, Maps, Bing, the App, iTunes, and iBooks stores, and movie show times.
On apps, OS X Yosemite introduces iCloud Drive. This works exactly like how Dropbox and Google Drive have been operating for years – you can access any and all of your files across all of your devices (though just OS X, iOS, and Windows devices – no Android) and changes are synced instantly. The problem is that the amount of free storage you have is still limited at 5GB – contrast to Google where you get 15GB free with your account. Apple have also updated Mail to allow you to send attachments up to 5GB large, as well as the ability to edit/mark-up images and PDFs right in the compose window. Finally, Safari was updated and, as usual, touted as the fastest browser available. They’ve followed Chrome in adding the omnibox that’s not only for URLs, but allows you to search your bookmarks – and yes, Google is still the default search engine. There is also a new ‘tab view’ that will allow you to see all your opens tabs in a nice graphical interface.
The key features of OS X Yosemite that impressed me are all about continuity and aiming to make the transitions between devices as natural as possible. AirDrop now works between iOS and the Mac. Handoff allows you to work in an app on one device then immediately pick up where you left off on another Apple device – real-time activity syncing essentially. Instant Hotspot allows you to turn tethering on without even touching your phone. SMS NOW SHOWS UP IN THE MESSAGES APP! (One day, I’ll write on the state of messaging). And finally, you can make and receive phone calls on your Mac. (Apple called new employee Dr. Dre to demo this – for the unaware, Apple have agreed to purchase Beats Electronics for US$3 billion).
Apple CEO Tim Cook rattled off the numbers – there are over 800 million iOS devices, including iPod touch at 100 million, iPad at 200 million, and iPhone at 500 million. He noted that in the last year over 130 million of new iOS users were also new Apple customers, and nearly half of their Chinese customers were switching from Android. Furthermore, they stated that iOS 7 has a satisfaction rating of 97% – I must only know the remaining 3%.
So what’s new in iOS? There are quite a few things so I’ll move to bullet points:
- Interactive notifications – reply or take action on notifications as they appear.
- Access to your favourite/recent contacts from the multi-tasking view.
- Glass-translucency design and Spotlight have been updated like their OS X counterparts.
- The keyboard, once the leader in the industry, has been updated to provide context-predictive typing suggestions. For example, if someone messages you, “Do you want to go for dinner or a movie?”, the keyboard will suggest, “A movie”, “Dinner”, or “Not sure”. It’s personalised to each contact and to each app so you have just the right amount of formality.
- Group messaging has been improved to be a direct competitor to Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger – you can name threads, mute them, share locations, and send self-destructing audio and video messages. The problem? Still limited to Apple devices only.
- HealthKit and the Health app were introduced to allow a central place for health apps to collate data towards. If track your sleep, wear a Fitbit whilst you work out, or measure your heart rate all that data can go the Apple Health app and give you an overview of it all.
- Photos are being updated to challenge Google’s offerings. Every photo and the edits you make to them are synced across all your iOS devices. Again, you’re still limited to a free 5GB, with an extra 20GB coming at US$0.99/month. I must mention that 100GB with Google goes for AUD$1.99/month.
- Siri is being updated so you can talk to her/it without touching the phone, and Shazam will be built in.
Those were some of the key consumer improvements to iOS that Apple demonstrated. The rest of the presentation was dedicated to improving the developer experience. As I am no developer myself, I will endeavour to keep the language as simple as possible.
- The App Store, host of 1.2 million apps, will gain new ways to discover new apps through an explore tab, trending searches, and related searches. You can also purchase app bundles, view video previews of apps, and beta test apps.
- Extensibility allows apps to talk to each other just like in Android. Instead of editing a picture in one app, closing that app, checking that it’s in the gallery, then going to Facebook to upload it, you can share it straight from your editing app. Additionally, akin to the OS X update, 3rd-party apps can create widgets for the Today view. And the most unexpected announcement was the introduction of 3rd-party keyboards – iOS users take note: Swype is coming your way.
- TouchID has been extended to 3rd party apps for authentication and logins
- HomeKit is Apple’s attempt to develop a standard for home automation devices to operate with. The idea is that you would be able to control your house door locks, room lights, security cameras, thermostats etc. all from your iPhone and with Siri integration – “Siri, I’m going to bed, lock the house and turn off all the lights.”
- Metal is aimed at allowing developers to create more powerful and graphically-impressive apps. In short, console-level games are coming to mobile.
- Swift is Apple’s new programming language and is touted as fast, modern, safe and interactive. Without knowing too much, this means coding will be more streamlined, which means more efficient and powerful apps.
My Opinion on the Big Announcements?
Apple’s keynote definitely looks towards to the future of the company and the industry. By introducing so many new things to empower developers, Apple wants to ensure that the experience on Apple devices is at the forefront of consumer technology. Apple concluded with Metal and Swift and these will be the foundation for a new breed of apps and games that developers haven’t even dreamt of.
Apple have also tightened up a number of loose ends by taking a huge step in unifying the experience across desktop and mobile devices with the latest updates to OS X and iOS. The user interface designs are modern and consistent, syncing of activities and files through Handoff and iCloud Drive reflects the ‘device agnosticism’ that Director of Android User Experience Matias Duarte has been speaking recently about, and communication through Messages is solving some problems (for iOS users and their iOS-using friends at least).
The most impacting change in my view, at least in the short-term, is the Extensibility additions that have been introduced in iOS 8. For years, the key feature of Android has been the ability for apps to talk to one another and share data/files directly between them – now that functionality is coming to iOS and the experience is going to blow iOS users away.
After three years in the post-Steve Jobs wilderness, Apple has reignited competition in the consumer tech industry. Whilst Google’s developer conference is coming at the end of month, the next few weeks are for the Cupertino company to take the limelight. Apple is certainly back.
For more information, visit the US Apple website at www.apple.com/. All images sourced from www.apple.com/.