WWDC 2016

Mon Jun 27, 2016

Unlike Google and the other guys, there was no talk of AI or bots at Apple’s software showcase this year. Instead, Apple was true to form, highlighting aspects like “differential privacy” and “continuity” - features that keep you locked into their ecosystem.

Overall, the event was fairly low key with Apple focused on improving and polishing rather than innovating (I think it was the announcement of universal cut and paste that got the biggest round of applause).

Still, I always enjoy sitting down to watch the two-hour infomercial that is the keynote - if only to see what free stuff I’m going to get. Remember when Apple actually charged for software upgrades? It’s way more fun to watch these things after you’ve sold your kidney for Apple hardware. There is no angst at WWDC - only benefits for those who have already paid the Apple tax.

Since the keynote was divided into four software platforms, I’ll do the same and comment on each one individually.

watchOS 3

I’m not sold on the Apple watch hardware just yet. I still think round smartwatches look far more classic than rectangular ones. Sure, you can read more text on a rectangular display, but I think Jony Ive should have focussed on form, and not function in this case.

After all, Apple is positioning this thing as a fashion accessory - not a Casio calculator watch reboot. Never mind that Tim Cook sees the Apple watch as more of a fitness wearable… Forget trying to please everyone - time to focus guys!

On the software side though, I am happy that they gutted the software and started over on the user interface. I’m happy because it means Apple is still committed to developing this product, and future iterations should be way more enticing than the clunky gadget this watch is now.

tvOS 10

I still have the Apple TV 3, so am not going to get these updates either. But I really don’t need Siri or apps on my Apple TV when I only use it for Netflix and Youtube. Also, the remote app on the iPhone is actually way more useful than the Apple TV 4 physical remote anyway.

I think the Apple TV has more potential for disruption in the US, but the CRTC in Canada is never going to let the Apple TV take down the cable companies.

I am far more interested in the rumours of an Alexa-like Siri box, possibly bundled into the next-gen Apple TV. We’ll see if those rumours pan out later this year.

macOS Sierra

My aging mid-2010 iMac just made the eligibility cutoff this year - iMacs that came out before 2009 are out of luck. I wish I could say that my iMac is aging gracefully, but the HDD hard drive is slowing down and crippling performance to the point of frustration. SSD hard drives were an emerging and expensive technology six years ago, but now it’s a no-brainer to go with solid state.

Anyway, Siri is coming to the Mac, which is good news… I guess? I’ll be able to ask Siri how much hard drive space I have left on my horribly slow hard drive.

I thought it was cool that the desktop and documents folders will be backed up to iCloud… but then again, you only get 5GB of free space, and Apple is pushing hard to put everything in iCloud so you have to buy more storage.

Now that I think of it, there isn’t a whole lot in macOS (formerly OS X) that is worth getting excited about, but hey, it’s free! And - that name change!

iOS 10

Since the iPhone is my newest Apple product, I was most interested in what’s new on the mobile front. Oh, and my iPad! I almost forgot you iPad, along with everybody else (drum roll please).

But seriously, even the minor update we got a few months ago with “Night Shift” was legitimately useful. Night Shift, in case you’re not aware, shifts the colour hue from blue to yellow at sunset everyday. I am now quite used to being bathed in a warm yellow glow every night. I wish my Kindle Paperwhite had this feature - the jarring switch to the bright blue Kindle screen after using my iPad at night feels like being blinded with a couple of photon torpedoes.

Anyway, “APIs for third parties” (or, “it’s an API party!”) was the defining theme of the upcoming improvements - a continuation of Apple’s ongoing efforts to be more open and developer friendly. The idea is that software hooks in Siri, Maps, and iMessage will allow a more seamless user experience. The example Craig Federighi demoed on stage was going to Maps and seeing restaurant reviews, booking a table, calling an Uber to get there, and paying for everything - all without ever leaving Maps.

My feelings on this sort of integration hasn’t changed much - the convenience in this scenario is great if you’re a single Silicon-Valley bro with money to burn. But if you’re a family man who needs to shop around for the best price, and needs to install car seats for the kids, and… well, let’s just say I can think of many ways to kibosh the above scenario.

The parts of iOS 10 that I like the best are the user interface improvements. The lock screen, control centre, notifications screen, and “Siri suggestions” screen (all in heavy day-to-day use) have all been revamped. Rich notifications and widgets on the lock screen with 3D-Touch support are especially great. Design-wise, they look a lot like the “Google Now cards”, which I’ve always thought were fantastic, and I can’t blame Apple for copying them.

Lots of people have said this, and I agree - at this point it doesn’t matter who is copying who. Android and iOS are borrowing the best from each other and are both converging into a user-focused paradigm. The result is a win for everybody.

Closing thoughts

I enjoyed watching the keynote, in the same way I enjoy listening to an old record. The familiarity and rhythm of it is pleasing in a way. But I’m not too happy about Apple trying to supplement flagging iPhone sales (in terms of growth, not revenue) by pushing paid services on us. It feels a bit disingenuous to claim you want a magical user experience on one hand, then push iCloud upgrades and accessories on the other (ooh look - you can unlock your iMac with your Apple watch - well why not with your iPhone?).

September is going to be interesting because it looks like Apple is going to ditch the tick-tock iPhone overhaul pattern. Rumours are pointing to a modest upgrade this year, with a radical design change slated for 2017 - the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.

Are savvy Apple fans going to forgo the upgrade this year and cost Apple billions of dollars in lost revenue? Stranger things have happened, I suppose. But there was nothing strange about WWDC 2016 (well, there was that rap-along) - on the software front, it’s business as usual, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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