It's hard to believe, but it's already WWDC time again. We at Applevis have watched--well, listened to--the keynote presentation, read the articles and tweets, and gathered the information. Now, it's time for me to tell you all about what we know, and suspect, about the next batch of software updates coming to your devices. Oh, and yes, I said "software" intentionally; Apple didn't announce any hardware updates at all this year.
This year's big new iOS update has few big features. It has a lot of smaller improvements, though, and some of the major features it does have are incredibly exciting. Others are a bit less, um, generally applicable, and may not be of much interest to many of you. In fact, let's knock those out first.
iMessages: Camera Effects and Animoji Updates
Apple is introducing camera effects for iMessages. For some time now, you have been able to tap the camera button to send a picture or video clip to the conversation. In iOS 12, you can choose from a range of filters, shapes, text, and other effects before sending the image.
On a related note, the Animoji feature that came out with the iPhone X last year has been expanded. There are four new characters (a koala, tiger, ghost, and t-rex) to play with. More impressively, Apple is letting users create their own characters. You simply choose a base, adjust its skin tone, eye color, and other attributes, then start styling it. You can choose hair styles, jewelry, glasses, and more. Finally, a new bit of face tracking has been added to the modeling of which animoji are capable: the tongue.
Apple announced a new app to showcase their AR efforts, called Measure. You simply drag a line on the screen along the length you want to measure, and you are told how long the line is in reality. It can also auto-detect objects and pop up measurements on its own. This sounds nice, but not especially useful. Its purpose, though, is to illustrate ARKit's major update: ARKit 2.0. This update brings much-improved object detection, including sensing and tracking 3d objects. It also lets developers support shared experiences, where up to four people can be in one augmented reality space. Each person sees the same scene, and any changes anyone else makes, but from their own perspective.
On a related note, Apple has designed a new file format, USDZ, to deal with AR objects and 3d animations. Not only can this format be used to provide rotation and zoom on images, but it lets apps access AR objects. For instance, the presenter designed a guitar, then used the new USDZ format with the finished instrument. iOS took the image and put it in an AR view so he could see how it would look on a wall or against his clothes.
I'm tentatively excited about this one. On the one hand, AR games tend to be entirely visual, since their main purpose is to play with virtual objects seen on the screen as though those objects were actually behind the camera, in reality. At the same time, Apple could use the automatic object detection, coupled with automatic photo descriptions and other machine learning, to do some interesting things for the visually impaired. If they don't, and their Measure app turns out to be useless, I'm still interested to see where third parties can take these new tools. Imagine Seeing AI telling you how far away something is, or where it is in space, for example. Time will tell, and I wouldn't count on anything cool happening in the next few weeks or months, but this could be the framework for a lot of great stuff down the line.
Searching photos will get a lot easier in iOS 12. You can already search by object, location, date/time, or name, but soon, those options will expand and be smarter. Rather than having to remember which restaurant was the location of some great shot, you can just search for "restaurant" and iOS will pick out images taken at restaurants. Similar category grouping is available for a wide, though unspecified, range of locations and activities. iOS will even try to predict what photos you might want, in a new "For You" tab inside Photos. It will show you pictures taken on "this day" in years past, or that feature places you are/were recently, and more.
If you want to share your photos, you can now do it much more easily. When you take pictures at a specific location, iOS groups them together, as usual. In the upcoming release, though, it will offer to share some of them with certain people. For example, if your wife is in some pictures, iOS might offer to send a group of pictures, all with her in them, right to her Apple ID.
Now, on to the fun stuff. First up, Apple says they have made huge increases in performance on all their supported devices, especially when the CPU is working hard. The way they explained it went something like this: computers generally ramp up CPU speed to handle more and more load, which saves power but delays the completion of the work. What iOS 12 will do is push the CPU to full speed right away, but then drop it back to normal just as quickly. This results in certain tasks, such as opening the camera or a share sheet, running much faster without impacting battery life. We will have to wait for the final release to see what improvement this has on everyday usage and whether the claim that battery life won't suffer is true.
In case you missed it, though, I want to highlight a phrase they used: "all supported devices". They are working hard to make iOS 12 run smoothly on older iPhones, with an iPhone 6 Plus being used as the example on stage. Rather than slow down older phones or iPads, Apple is aiming for this release to speed them up in some areas, and not affect them in the rest. Hopefully, this proves true in real-world use.
Siri is, at long last, getting extended. Apple is introducing what it calls Siri Shortcuts, which are phrases that can run actions. App developers can offer these actions in their apps, letting you enable them and assign them your own trigger phrase. You can also make your own, using a new app from Apple. This app seems similar to Workflow, in that you can chain things together and then kick them off with a single Siri command. It's a little like scenes, for all you HomeKit enthusiasts. Shortcuts will even appear on the lock screen when Siri thinks they might be useful. If you run a particular shortcut each morning, for instance, you might find it on your lock screen each morning. You can simply tap it to run it.
Some examples will show you why I'm so excited about this feature. The first example was the Tile service, which can make a physical plastic tile beep so you can locate a lost object. Rather than unlock your phone, open the Tile app, choose the tile, and start it beeping, you can assign a Siri shortcut to a particular tile. Then, if you lose the tile on your keychain, you can just say, "Hey Siri, where are my keys?" Siri recognizes the phrase as a shortcut, tells Tile to ping the tracker on your keys, and you're done.
Another example given on stage was "heading home". This sent a message to the presenter's housemate with an ETA, turned on the fan at home, presented a public transit route, and started a playlist, all with a single command. Plus, Siri provided speech feedback about each action it had taken.
Finally, according to Apple, this has accessibility implications. You could use a command, such as "help" or "get me", to send your location to one or more contacts with a pre-set message requesting that someone pick you up. Once it's supported, you might also be able to ask Siri, "what is this?" and it could open Seeing AI to the correct mode.
Some of Apple's first-party apps have gotten new designs. We didn't get a lot of detail, so I'll just run through them quickly here.
- Voice Memos has a new look, iCloud syncing, and a version for macOS
- Stocks has a new look, better graphs, new stories about the companies you're looking at, and apps for iPad and Mac
- News has a new look, and is available on macOS
- iBooks is now called Apple Books and has a completely new design, both in the app and in its accompanying store
- CarPlay supports third-party navigation apps
Next up we have some features for what I've heard called "digital health". The idea is that some people have a hard time not using their phones or iPads too often for their overall wellbeing. To help with this, Apple is doing a few things.
First, they have added two features to Do Not Disturb. You can now disable notifications, even from showing on your lock screen, after you go to bed. This way, checking the time won't tempt you to dive back into that game or respond to that email. You can also enable DND from Control Center, but 3d press to set when you want it to disable itself. If you want to enjoy a movie, for instance, you might set DND to turn off after 90 minutes.
Second, you can now see detailed usage reports. You can know how many times per hour you used your phone, how long you spent in each app, and plenty more information. To help you curb your usage, you can set app limits, such as limiting yourself to an hour of Facebook per day. As you near that limit, you get a notification. Reaching the limit will hide the app from you, though you can add an extension to your allowed time if you need to. If you have Family Sharing set up, you can get these reports on your children, and set app usage limits for them.
Third, you can 3d press notifications to get more options. You can change whether an app's notifications go to your lock screen, or appear at all, right from the notification itself.
Fourth and finally, Siri will suggest notifications you might want to hide. If you haven't used an app in a long time, you might get asked if you still want to be notified by that app. Saying you don't will do exactly what you'd expect.
Speaking of notifications, Apple has updated the Notification Center. Rather than being individual, they are now grouped together. For instance, you might see a message conversation as a single item you can expand, rather than ten individual notifications. This has the benefit of being less cluttered, but it also lets you dismiss, hide, or otherwise deal with things all at once. Apple didn't give us a great deal on this, so I don't have much else to add just now.
Let's end things with another great feature: you can now make group calls with FaceTime! Sighted users will be happy to know that group video conversations, with up to 32 total participants, can be handled with no problem. Those who don't need video will be equally happy to hear that this works with audio calls as well. No mention was made of mixing the two in a single call.
You can do this in the FaceTime app, by simply adding multiple people. You can also take advantage of iMessages, which might be easier. For instance, say you have a group chat between you, Alice, and Bob. You can open that thread in Messages and call both Alice and Bob right from there. You can also see if Alice and Bob are already in a call, and add yourself to it, just like you can see and interact with their messages. Oh, and yes, this works on watchOS and macOS as well.
Apple next announced watchOS 5, which sounds like an update I'll enjoy a lot. In recent years, watchOS has moved more and more into the communications and fitness spaces, and that's mostly--but not entirely--what this update focuses on.
New Fitness Fun
There are some new workout types to try: hiking, yoga, and a modified run. The first two are tuned to give better information, such as using elevation during hikes or paying closer attention to your heart rate during yoga. The new running workout is more about metrics: it now offers a rolling mile pace, steps per minute, and other details runners will find helpful. It is also better able to help if you are training, though I'm not sure how it does that.
What if you start a workout, but forget to tell your Watch about it? Right now, you're kind of stuck, with your only recourse being to get partial credit. In watchOS 5, Apple Watch can detect when you might be working out and ask you to start one by choosing the type. Plus, you'll get credit for what you did even before starting it on the Watch. Ending is similar, with watchOS detecting when you might be stopping and prompting you to end the workout. As someone who sometimes forgets to tell my Watch I'm going for an outdoor walk, I'm very excited about this.
As you're doing your workouts, why not challenge someone to a workout-off? If you are already sharing activity progress with someone, you can challenge them to a seven-day contest: The person to burn the most calories during the course of the week will win the contest, earning a special badge. You can check on each other's progress during the course of the competition, and even send messages to each other from within the Activity app, similar to what you can do now if a friend fills their rings.
It's not all exercise, though. watchOS 5 will give you a new way to communicate in the form of a walkie-talkie. With this, you ask a contact for permission to chat with them via this new method. You only have to ask once. After that, you just hold an on-screen button on your Watch, talk, and release. The other person will get a beep and a vibration, then your audio will play. They can respond in the same way. This works on bluetooth, wifi, and cellular, Apple says, and might be better than dictation for many users. I can certainly think of times I would find this helpful, especially as it can work without a network connection provided the Apple Watches are within bluetooth range. That said, I hope there's a way to disable automatic playback when I don't want my Watch randomly playing audio clips from people.
Siri will be better in this release, in two ways.
First, the Siri Watch Face will gain heart rate, sports, commute times, and a lot of other options. This is because Apple has opened the face up to third-party developers, who can add their own information. The Siri face also gains Siri Shortcuts, letting you trigger actions from your wrist. These actions change as the day goes along, as this face is designed for. If all goes well, this should put your common triggers right on your Watch when you need them, replacing them with new ones as necessary. You set up these shortcuts on your iPhone, and they sync automatically.
Second, Siri will be listening when you raise your wrist to check your Watch. Rather than having to preface all your commands with "hey Siri", you can now raise your wrist and start speaking to Siri immediately. I'm a bit unsure of this one, as I can see plenty of times Siri would mistake my conversation with others for commands. Still, there are more times it would be very convenient, so I'm looking forward to testing it out.
More Notifications News
As it did in iOS, Apple is revamping notifications on Apple Watch. Not only are they grouped now, but they are "rich". That means you can take actions from them without opening the associated app. You can check in with Yelp, adjust a reservation with Open Table, or do other things based on what the app's developers allow. This should save time, as you don't need to wait for the full app to load just to do some small task. Again, though, this is an app-by-app system, as far as I can tell. That means it will be up to developers to make this happen.
Podcasts and Background Audio
The other feature that has me extremely excited is audio playback. Apple is putting its official Podcasts app on watchOS, letting you listen to podcasts from the Watch. Playback positions are synced via iCloud, meaning that listening to half of a podcast on your walk with your Watch won't matter; your iPhone will pick up where your Watch left off.
Perhaps more exciting is background playback. Apps can play audio in the background, meaning that the app doesn't have to stay open or the Watch activated. My mind went to Audible, who could--in theory--offer a Watch app that would let you play your audio books from your Watch. Other podcast apps, music apps, even navigation apps that offer spoken prompts could all work natively on Apple Watch.
Other small changes we know of so far include:
- WebKit for watchOS, which can show webpages. This is useful for links in messages or emails, for instance.
- Some universities are supporting Apple Watch as a student ID, using its NFC to authorize what an ID card normally does. I hope this extends to emulating other NFC cards in the future.
- A new Gay Pride face is available for all Apple Watches, starting today, in the Gallery tab of your iPhone's Watch app. This accompanies the new Gay Pride band that was announced today.
Not as much detail was given to us about the upcoming tvOS 12, but we did get some great news for those in certain countries. Let's start with what will be more widely usable, though.
Dolby Atmos support is coming to Apple TV, making it the only streaming set-top box to support Atmos. So Apple said, at least. To support this, iTunes will start getting Atmos content, with upgrades to titles you own being provided freely and automatically, just like with 4K content.
Other notable features include video news coming to Apple TV, and to the TV app on iOS. Apple TV is also getting a new aerial, this one not a flyover of a city but of parts of the Earth as shown from space. Apple mentioned that they are in talks to allow third-party TV remote companies to control Apple TV, though no details were given on that front.
The rest of the updates are region- and provider-specific. From what I understood, Spectrum customers in the United States are getting the Spectrum app later this year. This will provide live channels on the Apple TV, similar to what is available on the same app for iOS. A provider each in France and Switzerland are also going to offer the same thing in their regions.
Spectrum is also supporting what Apple calls "zero sign-on", where simply having Apple TV on a Spectrum local network will be enough to have tvOS silently sign into any app that needs Spectrum credentials to work. Other TV providers are in the works, though no names or timeframes were given.
macOS 10.14 Mojave
The next version of macOS is named Mojave, after the desert. It has a few features, though nothing earth-shaking. Still, some of these are going to be extremely useful.
Desktop and Finder
The desktop has a new trick: it can stack items. If you find your desktop cluttered with in-use files, let macOS stack them. You can choose to stack by kind, date, size, and others. Simply click a stack to see its contents, and quickly scrub through those contents. Honestly, this was a very visual demo, and I didn't quite follow what the presenter was up to. I also didn't understand what was meant by the desktop wallpaper "changing" throughout the day, but apparently it does.
A new view in Finder, called Gallery, is going to make video/photo people happy. It places a sidebar at the edge of the screen, showing as much metadata about the selected file as possible. This is, according to the presentation, great for photos. The new view includes a large window on the top of the screen, showing the content of the file you select. Below that are thumbnails of the other files in the current folder, any one of which can be clicked to have its contents displayed in the window. This window, along with your standard Quick Look, have Markup and other photo editing options, as well as actions, available. Best of all, you can customize those actions, and even make new ones with Automator.
Dark Mode and Screenshots
I'm grouping these two because they both deal with the screen. First up is Dark Mode, which darkens backgrounds, text, and so on to make your content stand out. The presenter said that using this mode for photo/video work is great, as the content being edited is easier to see and there are less distractions. I'll take his word for it.
The second thing here is the new screenshot tool. You can take a shot of the full screen, or part of it, which is nothing new. But now you can easily edit the screenshots you take, mark them up, record only part of your screen, and more. If you use screenshots and/or screen recording a lot, you will probably love this new tool.
The term "Continuity" refers to Apple's effort to integrate all its iOS, watchOS, and macOS devices as tightly as possible. Handoff, Mac unlocking with Apple Watch, iCloud syncing, and other features are all under the Continuity umbrella.
Today, Apple introduced a new addition to this set of features, called Continuity Camera. Wherever you can insert an image in macOS (the presenter used a Keynote slide as an example), you can choose to take a picture from your iPhone. This isn't simply choosing an image, though. Instead, your iPhone automatically opens its camera, ready to capture an image. Once taken, that image appears on your Mac, right where you wanted it inserted. This will work with video clips as well.
Apple has taken more steps to secure your privacy and security in Mojave. First, they block social sharing buttons that are trying to track you, replacing them with a prompt that lets you choose to show the buttons if you want to. Second, they display a scaled-back version of your data to websites, making it harder for trackers to connect your specific machine to a profile of you. This reduces your so-called "fingerprint" on the internet. These two items are also coming in iOS 12. Third, they are requiring you to okay apps' access to your camera, microphone, sensitive parts of your file system, and other areas, similar to what iOS does.
A Whole New App Store
Apple has redesigned the Mac App Store, just as they did on iOS last year. Video previews, reviews and ratings, new tabs to find content, featured apps, app stories, and more all form a fully overhauled App Store. Apple is hoping this will get people interested in the service again, and to that end, they've secured deals with some big names, such as Microsoft adding Office 365 and Adobe offering Lightroom CC later this year.
HomeKit and Other Apps... and the Future?
Finally, Apple is bringing HomeKit to the Mac. As a heavy HomeKit user, I am very excited about this. The Home app itself will be available, as will Siri control and checking for all HomeKit devices.
Apple is also porting a few other apps to macOS. These include News, Stocks, and Voice Memos. Voice Memos, by the way, gains iCloud syncing, letting you record and manage your memos on any device.
Notice that I said "porting". Apple is undertaking a long-term project to let iOS apps run on macOS, sort of. More specifically, they are making some of their core frameworks work on either operating system, which allows developers to make an iOS app into a Mac app with little effort. It was unclear to me if Apple wants the same binary to run on either platform, or if they just want to ease the transition. Either way, they clearly want to make app creation for the Mac easier, which is great news for users. They hope to release this project to developers next year.
There are a few other changes in 10.14. I'm sure there are a lot more than what I have here, but this is what we got from the keynote.
- APFS (the new file system introduced in 10.13) now supports Fusion and standard hard drives
- machine learning training is now far easier and faster
- group FaceTime calls are coming to the Mac in 10.14
Until Next Year
That was it for WWDC 2018. Personally, I'm most looking forward to Siri Shortcuts, audio playback on watchOS, HomeKit and News on the Mac, and seeing what small--but impactful--changes sneak in that weren't mentioned on stage today. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I know today's keynote wasn't as flashy and exciting as some, and a few of the features are only useful if you can see them. Still, I think Apple gave us a lot to look forward to, particularly if you have an Apple Watch as well as an iOS device, and/or if you're into HomeKit.