Apple Teases Consumers, Doubles Down With Devs
Apple managed to pull off a mean feat on Monday at its WorldWide Developers Conference. Without announcing a single hardware device, it teased consumers with dozens of updated features in iOS 8 and the next version of Mac OS X -- dubbed "Yosemite" -- then doubled-down with app developers by offering tons of new APIs, along with elements of deep integration between apps and devices. The company capped it all off with the announcement of Swift, a brand new Xcode programming language for developers.
Everybody got a taste of something tantalizing.
That was important. Even though Apple's WWDC has turned into a limited venue affair -- only about 6,000 developers can buy tickets -- it's an important opportunity to showcase new Apple products and services. Apple lets its fans view the keynote stream live from its website, as well as replay it later. Consequently, Apple not only has to address the concerns of hardcore developers who are building apps for iPhones and Macs, but also satisfy the consumer-oriented interests of loyal fans and industry watchers.
So, how did Apple manage to walk these lines? As I saw it, astoundingly well. To deliver two hours worth of fast-paced presentation, Apple broke up the keynote into three sections: one on Mac OS X Yosemite; one on iOS 8; and one for devs.
However, this key takeaway is worth keeping in mind: Apple is not trying to converge iOS with Mac OS X, and it is not trying to converge a touch interface with a traditional keyboard/Mac/PC interface.
Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro, a MacBook is still a laptop and an iPad is still a tablet -- and there is no hint that Apple will try to jam them together to create a new single product. Instead, Apple is carefully integrating and connecting the different environments and devices so that they feel seamless while retaining their distinct capabilities. Read on for specific examples.
Inside Mac OS X Yosemite
The install base for Max OS X is more than 80 million, and according to Apple CEO Tim Cook -- who delivered most of the bragging news -- the year-over-year Mac vs. PC industry growth rate pegs the PC in a 5 percent decline while the Mac grew 12 percent. Plus, just over half the install base now is running Mac OS X Mavericks, the latest release. Cook took the time to call out the adoption rate of Windows 8, which shipped a year before Mavericks, at just 14 percent.
Meanwhile, the next big version of Mac OS X gets the California-themed moniker of "Yosemite." Cool. Moving on.
As expected, the overall look and feel of Yosemite -- which will be available for consumers, free, this fall -- is much like iOS 7. The Finder windows take on a translucent feel, which gives the screens a sense of color and the vague shape of the desktop underneath the layers.
Notification Center is more like iOS 7, and the Today view can be extended with widgets you can download from the App Store. Apple's integrated search, Spotlight, is now much more powerful, searching across the Mac and Internet, offering up access to individual documents, and launching apps based on one or two typed letters.
Apple is beefing up its iCloud service, adding iCloud Drive, which gives you iCloud storage that's bigger and more usable for a wide variety of documents and syncing.
At the same time, Apple is helping out with a common problem -- the mailing of large attachments, which many email servers reject. Apple's new Mail will let you seamlessly send the "attachment" as a linkable file on iCloud to the recipient. Why is this cool? Because users are still notorious for just trying to send images and video and large file sizes without uploading them to services like DropBox to accomplish basically the same thing as Apple's new service, which is called "Mail Drop."
Apple also is introducing markup into Mail, which will let you draw over the top of attachments to highlight something you want to draw attention to -- for collaboration or just to make fun of one of your friends. On a .pdf document, though, it also means you can use the trackpad to sign your name. Nice. One less third-party app to find or learn.
Safari gets a leaner and cleaner look at the toolbar level, but also lets you access favorites by typing into the smart search field. The coolest potential new feature for power users is a new tab view that will show stacks of tabs for all the sites you've got loaded up. For mobile warriors, Safari is faster and more energy-efficient, and it can eke out nearly two hours of additional battery life when streaming 1080p video from Netflix.
Continuity in Action
At WWDC, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, delivered most of the content, including the introduction of Continuity, a concept that lets various Apple devices and services work seamless together.
With iOS 8 and Yosemite, the quick and easy file transfer feature, AirDrop, will let you move files from your iOS device to your Mac, and vice versa. Plus, if you're not on your home WiFi network, your iPhone and Mac can connect to each other with their own little network.
A new feature for this is Handoff, which lets your devices become aware of what they are doing, which in turn lets you work on a document on your Mac, then pickup your iPad, and with a nifty lower-left screen notification, swipe up into using whatever it was you were working on. Like a document -- or even a half-finished Mail message.
Handoff goes back the other way too, of course. For instance, you can start a mail message on your little iPhone, get frustrated by the little keyboard, and just finish it on your Mac. Just saying. I can totally see using Handoff this way.
With Hotspot, your Mac will be able to connect to your iPhone (and iCloud) and let you do some really cool messaging and phone calling types of communication.
For instance, your Android-using friends will be able to message you to your iPhone, which you can receive on your Mac and chat back and forth on your Mac -- while your iPhone is in your bag or in some other room on a charger. You also can answer a call that's coming into your iPhone on your Mac, use your Mac as a speakerphone, and dial new calls, too.
This integration goes deeper. If you're looking up a business online in Safari on your Mac, Safari will recognize a phone number on the Web page and give you the ability to call that number through your Mac -- routed through your iPhone, of course. The demo made all of this look not only handy, but super easy.
Inside iOS 8
At the start of the iOS 8 intro, Cook took the opportunity to brag about the success of iOS, noting that Apple sold more than 100 million iPod touch units, 200 million iPads and 500 million iPhones. Better still, iOS devices brought 130 million new customers to Apple last year.
Cook joked that many of these new customers were switchers who bought an Android device "by mistake" and were coming over to Apple for a better experience and "a better life." Customer satisfaction with iOS 7 was at 97 percent, which was insanely great, of course, but the real point was this: 89 percent of iOS installs were running iOS 7. How did Android's KitKat compare? Just 9 percent of devices were running KitKat. Ouch.
That meant the vast majority of Android users were nowhere near getting the latest and greatest features of Android's operating system. The underlying message was that, for app developers, the iOS target audience was not only very large, it was astoundingly up-to-date and consistent. An iOS app developer who wanted to use a new feature of iCloud, for instance, could count on iOS customers being able to use it.
As for new iOS 8 features for consumers, come fall you'll be able to use interactive notifications, which will let you do things like reply to text messages from the notification without needing to leave the app you were using. Mail will get a few ease-of-use updates while Spotlight on iOS becomes more powerful -- like the Mac version.
For typing, the software keyboard in iOS will get a welcome refresh, offering a new feature called "QuickType," which uses a whole mess of new predictive typing to offer you context-specific full-word options.
How does this work? Say you're typing a message about a meeting to your boss. Above the keyboard a few word options will show up as buttons you can tap to rapidly insert into your message. The word choices reflect your past activity, because a message to your boss might tend to use different language than you would use with your peers or friends. The boss options? The meeting could be canceled, rescheduled or moved. The peer message options might offer words like "snoozer" to describe the meeting and "epic" or "awesome" to describe its cancellation.
Depending on the brains that run QuickType, the feature could turn out to be epic -- or a snoozer.
Messages, which is far and away the most used app on iOS, will see a major update this fall in iOS 8. Photo and video attachments to message conversations will get a new at-a-glance view that will place them all in one handy grid. This is cool when families and groups are all chatting away at the same time via text messaging.
Of course, being in the middle of such a conversation can make your iPhone vibrate to no end, so Apple created a feature that will let you exit a conversation -- or just enter do-not-disturb for that particular conversation, which will let you continue to receive other text messages. The conversations? You can name them now, too, making it much easier to keep track of your messaging activity.
Also built-in is the ability to "Tap to Talk," letting you voice record an audio snippet to send as a message. You can send a video message as well. It looks to be super easy and super seamless. Furthermore, as you're messaging, you can choose to show your personal location for an hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely -- which is cool because it lets you fine-tune the details you share with others.
One of the potentially big new features is HealthKit, which is a set of APIs that will let developers build applications that can handle and manage health-related data, and let users make sense of all that data through a single iOS app called "Health."
The Health app in iOS 8 will let various medical devices and measurements pour into a unified portal -- the Health app -- giving iOS users new insight into their health. Apple didn't mention it, of course, but if and when the company releases a health-oriented iWatch, data from the iWatch can be collected into the Health app.
Because the developer-focused HealthKit and Health app are so extensible, they can be used to communicate with caregivers -- like the Mayo Clinic -- which can tap into them to gain access to personalized health information and then react accordingly during healthcare situations.
In addition to encouraging fitness, the Health app will be able to monitor almost any medical condition that can be measured with a device that can communicate with iOS. If this is easy and secure for consumers to use, it could create a way that Apple can play nice with other innovators in the market while retaining a easy-to-use hub on iOS.
Apple also introduced a bunch of smaller improvements, including a Family Share plan that lets up to six family members who use the same credit card number for iTunes or the App Store share their purchases across their devices. When kids try to buy something, their devices will send a permission note to their parents asking for approval.
iPhoto brings easy-to-use new editing features, as well as massively increased iCloud synchronization and storage options. You'll be able to edit photos on your iPhone easily, sync and store them in iCloud, and access them via a new method on Mac OS X -- coming this fall. The first 5 GB are free, 20 GB will cost US$1 a month, and 200 GB will cost $4 per month.
New Dev Goodness
In addition all the new features coming to iOS and Yosemite, Apple's TestFlight app is now baked right into iOS 8, which will make beta testing easier for developers. Plus, developers will be able to write applications, widgets, and extensions that will be able to communicate securely with other apps.
For example, a developer who created a killer photo-editing feature could enable the feature to be used from within other apps. One of the examples from Apple included using a Bing translation extension for Safari to translate Japanese to English with the Web page itself. That also means -- mostly for power users -- that you can install third-party keyboards that might have better functionality than Apple's default keyboard.
HomeKit, it turns out, isn't as large as the home automation rumors suggested last week. However, it has the potential to grow quickly. Apple's play here is to create a seamless one-spot app that will let users control a variety of home automation devices and solutions.
It's a system that lets others work with Apple, and for the consumer, it could result in the ability to tell Siri that it's "bedtime," which could tell your home to turn down the thermostat, turn off the inside lights, turn on the outside lights, shut the garage door, and lock all the doors. Or create your own environmental parameters, like "Disco Time" or "Game of Thrones."
Again, like the HealthKit, Apple is seeking to control the home automation experience -- or finally let regular consumers control a bunch of disparate home automation devices through their Apple devices.
If third-party players get on board -- Apple claimed to be working with some leaders in the home automation world -- HomeKit could provide a jolt to the industry.
Tired yet? There's still a heckuva lot more to cover. Apple introduced CloudKit, which opens up Apple's iCloud servers to let developers access and tap into them more easily than before, at presumably no cost (or some reasonable cost for high-performing, super popular apps).
A new graphic-rendering technology called "Metal" will let developers vastly increase their ability to build graphically intensive environments for iOS. Plus, Apple made some nice updates to SpriteKit and SceneKit to help developers build rich casual games easily.
The most important new announcement for developers, though, has to be the new programming environment Apple named "Swift." It's supposed to be super fast, which Apple characterized as Objective-C without the "C."
The whole new coding environment will let developers get more accomplished through fewer lines of code, plus view the output side-by-side with the code as they program their applications. Swift works with Metal to create graphically intense games. It also can be used to create simple games or social media apps.
All-in-all, the 2014 WWDC keynote introduced the next face of iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite while offering up some big gains for developers. As for new hardware, though, keep waiting.