Welcome Back to WWDC
It doesn't feel like a whole year since I covered a WWDC keynote, but it really has been that long. Now we're back here again, reviewing what Apple announced at this year's keynote event. Did Apple reveal a Siri-based smart speaker? A new set of Macs? New iPads? What's in the upcoming macOS, iOS, and other software? Well, I'm here to give you all the highlights so you don't have to watch the full video (though you can if you want to.
I'm really pumped about a lot of this year's announcements, and I can't wait to share everything with you.
Apple announced updates to watchOS, macOS, and iOS today. tvOS for the Apple TV 4 got a brief mention, but it was mostly to tell us that Amazon Prime Video will be coming to the platform this fall, at long last. The other software categories were covered in much more detail, so I'll tackle them in their own sections below.
This year's iOS update brings several new features to your device. There are no ground-braking new apps or massive redesigns, but there are several features to make what we have even more helpful. Before we get into what we got, a word on what we didn't get: accessibility mentions. This isn't to say that Apple won't do anything for accessibility, but no mention was made of it by the presenters. However, Blind Bargains has a list of features seen on slides that you may be interested in. This still doesn't offer a lot of detail, as it's just text seen on screen, but it's all we have for now. Anyway, on to the mainstream goodies.
First, Apple is yet again claiming that machine learning will make your life easier. Siri will notice you researching something on Safari, and offer news stories on that topic next time you use the News app. It will pull information about topics you're interested in, and better tailor its predictive typing suggestions based on those interests. It will suggest calendar events to schedule based on conversations you've had via email or text, or from ticket reservations you made. This kind of real-time adjustment to a device's owner has been promised before, but it seems like Apple may have finally gotten it right this time. It also now syncs everything Siri learns to all your devices, so your phone's constant usage will influence your less-often-used iPad. Oh, and Siri can now be integrated with a wider range of apps, from banking to tasks to notes and more.
Speaking of typing in messages, Apple has made it easier to get to iMessage apps, at least for sighted users. They also now sync messages via iCloud. This means that your history is always stored somewhere so you don't lose it, that only recent messages need to take up space on your devices, and that deleting threads now erases them from all your devices, not just one. Apple also added Apple Pay to messages. Yes, you can finally send and receive money with other people, and iOS can even spot an amount in a text your friend sends you, then offer that as the amount to be paid. Money you receive goes onto your Apple Pay cash card, as Apple called it during the presentation, from where you can move it to your bank, pay for something else using Apple Pay, or send funds to someone else. I take this to mean that Apple Pay won't integrate directly with your bank like some peer-to-peer payment platforms can, but we're talking about a service that isn't even out yet. We'll see what happens when the final release lands this fall. While we're speculating, I'd bet money (yes, terrible pun absolutely intended) that this will integrate with Siri. I imagine being able to say, "Hey Siri, send John ten dollars", touching the Touch ID sensor, and being done with it.
As we're talking about messages, you know how bad texting while driving is, right? Well, so does Apple, and they're finally doing something about it. In iOS11, your phone will detect when you're in a vehicle either by the bluetooth in your car or your speed. It will offer to set up Do Not Disturb While Driving, which is just what it sounds like. DND gets turned on for as long as you're driving, and goes away when you're out of the car. If someone texts you while it's on, they get an automatic response telling them you're driving and will talk to them later. You can disable this if you want to, such as if you're in a car but not the driver, and you can allow certain contacts to override this mode and always get through.
Apple Music will get a few additions in iOS 11. There will be new APIs for developers, so apps can do things like add a song you ask Shazam about to your playlist, or suggest new music to listen to. On the user-facing side, you'll have social integration. You can see what your friends are listening to, and allow them to see your musical choices. It's not a social network, just a fun way to discover music your friends are enjoying and let them find your choices. Again, though, it's optional and you don't have to participate.
Two more interesting parts of iOS aren't for the end users at all, but rather the programmers. ARKit will help developers make augmented reality applications easily and well. The demo from the presentation showed the camera taking a picture of the table on stage, then the presenter placed a virtual cup on the table. A lamp and vase were added, with size and lighting all correct and all automatically controlled by the software. Apple itself isn't doing anything in AR just yet, but it will be cool to see what programmers can do with this new technology. Will it benefit the visually impaired at all? Maybe, but right now it seems mostly visual. I can't think of any low vision applications for it, but maybe there are some. Leave a comment if you think of anything AR could do for you. The other API Apple is providing is called CoreML, and it's all about machine learning. Those who are into making machine learning apps and algorithms can now make those same services available within iOS, running locally on the device rather than talking to cloud services. If you don't know what this means, think of those apps that try to interpret what an object is or the color of your shirt. They use machine learning, and may be able to benefit greatly from this API.
Apple announced a redesign of the App Store. As with a few of their other demos, I didn't follow this one too well. I know that games will have their own tab, as will featured apps, but beyond that I didn't really see what the new design was going for. The only other feature I got was phased releases, where developers can choose to roll out their apps more slowly to gauge impact and reduce the load on their servers.
One demo I did follow was Maps. When following a route, you now get lane guidance, and a readout of what the area's speed limit is. Of much greater interest to me, though, was the announcement that Maps is getting floor plans for major airports and malls. Right now, it looks like this its just a display of store information and static maps, but I'm very hopeful that indoor navigation could soon augment this system and finally make it possible for visually impaired users to independently navigate new buildings. Not every building is in the system yet, but Apple said that hundreds will be added soon, and it will add more all the time.
One feature that isn't specific to iOS is AirPlay 2, the new version of Apple's AirPlay wireless speaker technology. Like its predecessor, AirPlay 2 allows users to send audio to any supported speaker. But this version integrates with HomeKit. Now, for instance, you could tell Siri to play music in the living room or the bedroom, and it will do so. You need only to have placed supported speakers in your house and added them to HomeKit for this to work. The Apple TV will, as of tvOS 11, support this new standard, meaning that any Apple TV 4 owner gets an AirPlay 2 speaker for free this fall. Manufacturers will be releasing stand-alone speakers soon as well, though we have no idea what pricing will be like.
Other tweaks include more editing options for Live Photos and other image improvements, a new photo format to take up less space, a redesigned Control Center that puts what is three pages in iOS 10 into a single page, lock screen notifications in your Notification Center, a new Siri voice and interface screen, and other small changes. Honestly, I didn't follow the Siri or Control/Notification Center updates very well due to how visual they were, so I can't explain them in much detail yet. I know that 3D Touch is involved in accessing controls, but I don't know just how the new screens are set up or how they differ from what we have currently. As to those new Siri voices, Apple says they used machine learning to make the speech more natural, but they only showed off a very brief demo. We'll have to see what happens in practice before we can know how good the voices really are now. Siri did learn one new trick, speaking of speech: it can now translate into other languages if you ask it how to say something.
macOS 10.13: High Sierra
The next version of macOS is, by Apple's own admission, not packed with new shinies or huge features. Instead, it takes Sierra and adds behind-the-scenes improvements to make what's there better. Given that goal, the name makes sense: it's not different enough from Sierra to warrant a whole new name, but it's still a new release that improves what we already have. Thus, High Sierra.
Two main examples of this are Metal 2 and APFS. Don't worry, I'll explain what that means. APFS is Apple's new file system, which is how macOS stores and accesses what's on your Mac's hard drive. The new file system is faster, better able to handle crashes and other interruptions, and is meant to support encryption at the lowest level. For you, files should move faster and things should be generally better when you work with files or folders. The only demo Apple provided was duplicating a large video file. Sierra took several seconds to do the job, while High Sierra took almost no time at all. It remains to be seen how this translates to everyday use, but things look promising so far.
Metal 2 is the new version of Apple's Metal programming interface. Metal is meant for videos, animations, object rendering, and more. This new version is faster and better, so much so that Apple has moved many system animations and photo processing tasks to Metal. Macs running High Sierra should be more responsive and look better, which we've come to expect with every new macOS release. Here's hoping this better animation helps older Macs running Zoom, or even VoiceOver, if the system doesn't have quite as much to manage at once. Metal 2 is so good, in fact, that Apple is bringing virtual reality programming to the Mac for the first time. Between Metal 2 and its new Macs, the hope is that VR can finally be edited and developed on the Mac. Several major VR companies are partnering with Apple to make this happen.
It's not just obscure programming things you'll never see, though. Apple has also improves Safari in three key ways, and I'm really excited about all of them. First, it sped up Safari to the point where, if you believe the presentations at lest, Apple's browser is faster than any other in the world. Even if that's not true, I'll take a faster browser, be it the fastest ever or not. Second, machine learning is being used to selectively block tracking. Some sites that actually do need to track will be able to do so, but others will not. It's not clear how the system determines what to block and what to allow, but anything that lessens tracking is good. Still, I'd like to know more details. Third, auto-playing videos are no more! Safari will detect and pause such videos, letting you play them if you want to. Honestly, I think this is my favorite High Sierra feature so far.
Other improvements: Mail takes 35% less space to store messages, and should offer more relevant results when you search your mail; Photos will be faster and more accurate at tagging images with faces and categories; face and category data you add on any device is synced across all devices (I think this includes iOS as well); Photos offers even more editing and sorting tools; there is deep support for the newest video format, which is high quality but well-compressed, called H.265.
This year's watchOS update will bring several exciting features. Honestly, this is the software to which I'm most looking forward based on today's announcements.
The big draw here is the Siri watch face. The complications on this face will change themselves based on upcoming events, time of day, location, and what the software learns you do at different times and places. For example, I go swimming on certain evenings. I can imagine my Watch offering the Workout app, or a shortcut to a pool swim, as I arrive at the location of the pool around the right time. Earlier in the day, though, I might have my calendar or activity rings in that same slot. If you're heading to a flight, your boarding pass might appear as you pull up to the airport, or Uber as the end of the day approaches and you'll soon need a ride. Apple says that the system will get better over time, and what isn't offered right on the main face can be gotten to by turning the Digital Crown. There's even a Siri button on this face, so you don't need to hope that "Hey Siri" will work or hold the crown in long enough.
Apple did a lot with the Workout app in watchOS4. First, it revamped the goal system, with personalized goals based on your history, and different goal achievement notifications depending on how impressive the goal was. Your Watch will also give you an alert and tips if you've almost filled a ring but need to do just a little more, such as telling you to walk twelve minutes to finish your move goal. During workouts, you have easy access to music playback controls, if you're the type that uses music to keep you going. You can also switch to a new kind of workout without stopping your current one, making it much easier to move from, say, a walk to a bike ride. There's also a new kind of workout: high-intensity interval training. Finally, the pool swim workout has been updated to give you more details and support automatic sets, letting you simply pause at the end of the pool to indicate you finished a set.
On the subject of working out, later this year, several gym equipment companies will start releasing new hardware compatible with Apple Watch. On a treadmill, for instance, you will be able to hold the Watch near the machine to let the two pair via NFC. Then, the treadmill takes over, starting and pausing your workout, feeding pace and other data, and generally controlling the workout. This allows for more accurate information on the Watch, and lets you use just the treadmill's controls instead of dealing with that and your Watch.
Other software changes are coming. Instead of syncing one music playlist, you can sync multiple ones. Apple also tries to be proactive about music, automatically syncing songs you favorite or listen to a lot. The dock will be easier to get to, though I'm still not too clear on what the difference is there. There will be a couple other new faces: Toy Story and kaleidoscope. You can use your screen as a flashlight, or a blinking safety light if you're out at night. Apps will load faster, bluetooth devices (such as external medical sensors) should stay connected better, and things should be a little smoother overall. Oh, and there's now a News app right on your Watch, letting you browse headlines and save interesting ones to your phone to read later.
Apple didn't just spend time in software today, it released some new devices as well. Nearly every Mac it offers got updated in some way, as did the iPad Pro. There's even a new product coming at the end of the year that we got to see today.
iPad Pro Updates
All iPad Pros have been updated with a newer, faster CPU and graphics chip, better screen, better cameras, and faster Lightning port. That's not all, though. The two sizes of Pro used to be 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch, but the smaller of those has been replaced by a new 10.5-inch model. Apple says they shaved off 40% of the bezel, and so could fit 20% more screen into a device that's almost the same size as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro the new one replaces. Yes, there's a new Smart Keyboard to accompany the newest iPad Pro family member. No, the 9.7-inch model is no longer being sold, by all appearances.
I'll talk about the new internals of both Pros from here on out, because both machines are identical now, save for overall size. The new A10X chip is a six-core beast that can run 30% faster in general tasks, and 40% faster in graphics tasks, than the chip it replaces. There's more ram to go along with this new CPU, too, and twice the storage space. Apple now starts all iPad Pro models at 64GB, which you can bump up to 256GB or, for the first time ever in an iOS device, 512GB. Optical image stabilization is standard for the 12MP back-facing camera, and True Tone flash using the screen is available for the 7MP front-facing camera. The back shooter can even capture 4K video if you want it to. The Lightning port supports fast charging and much better data transfer speeds, meaning that using Apple's camera adapter just got a lot more efficient.
I know that many of you don't care much about the screen, but let's talk about it for a moment anyway, because it's just plain cool. Not only is it 50% brighter and more vivid, while being less reflective, but it adapts to ambient lighting and to what's on display. True Tone uses sensors to analyze lighting and adjust the color output of the Pro's screen, showing the color most true to life even under colored casts from artificial light. The iPad also has an increased refresh rate, meaning that it redraws the screen more frequently. Older iPads do this sixty times a second; the new ones do it up to a hundred and twenty. I said "up to" because the device is smart enough to dial down the rate when it knows the user won't care. If you're watching a move, the refresh rate will be maxed out. If you're just looking at pictures one at a time, or you're reading an article with no videos, the rate will drop. This helps to save battery life by only making the graphics processor work as hard as it needs too, instead of leaving it pegged all the time.
On the software side, the new iPads bring a lot of long-awaited features. Drag and drop, better file management, deep integration with Apple Pencil, a better dock, and more.
The Files app (supposedly available for iPhone as well) is a way to bring together all your cloud-based files. Apple's own iCloud is there, of course, but so are any other services that want in on the action. Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, One Drive, and others all have the chance to join in. As far as we know, though, this still won't let you manage files stored locally on your device. It looks a lot like Finder on a Mac, but it's still backed by the cloud. Still, the app offers full folder support, tags like on macOS, favorites, sharing, searching, shorting, displaying grids or lists, and other features. This will sync, too, so tags made on your Mac will appear on iOS, and vice versa. I'll be interested to see how deep this syncing goes, and whether this makes Apple increase iCloud storage tier sizes this fall.
The dock has been redesigned. It still holds apps, but I got the impression you can now put more than four on it at a time and swipe between them. Plus, the right edge will offer Siri suggestions, showing apps the system thinks you might want to open.Almost more helpful, though, is the new way the dock can be used: it can appear anywhere. You don't need to return to the Home Screen to find it, you can just swipe up from the bottom of the screen, and the dock appears over whatever you're doing. This is perfect for quickly moving between several apps, or opening a second app in split view.
Next up is drag and drop, something I'm very excited to try out with VoiceOver. Obviously, we don't yet know how this works with VO, as all the demos were aimed at sighted users. What we saw, though, was very cool. Once you have two apps open side by side, you can drag from one to the other. Pull an image from a webpage to an email, a file from the new Files app to a chat, some text from an email to Pages, a picture from Photos to Keynote, and so on. No more copy and paste, no more exporting with a share sheet. Just drag and drop. This can even be done with multiple fingers manipulating multiple objects, and you can start a drag, open a new app with your other hand, then drop. It can even work within apps. One demo showed a file being favorited simply by dropping it on the "favorites" icon, or tagged by dropping it on the desired tag name. The system seemed very flexible and powerful, while being intuitive and simple. Quintessential Apple.
Finally, Apple Pencil has been more deeply integrated into iOS on iPad Pro. Marking up images is much easier and more pervasive, and tapping the Pencil on the lock screen will immediately open the most recent note you were writing. You can mix Pencil writing with typing in Notes, search for written text thanks to background OCR on what you write with the Pencil, pull up screenshots you take and mark them up, and more. Plus, the Pencil now has a delay of just twenty milliseconds thanks to the better refresh rate of the new screen. As an aside, Notes will now also let you import pictures of documents using a built-in document scanner. It takes a picture of the printed page, corrects the angle, and saves it so you can mark it up (think capturing a printed form, signing it, and emailing it back while you save a copy). No mention was made of OCR, or whether this feature is exclusive to iPad Pro.
There are some other additions in iOS 11 as well. The 10.5-inch iPad now shows a full on-screen keyboard, possible thanks to the wider screen. What "full" means I'm not sure, but I'm guessing there are numbers above the keys. Either way, there's a neat new trick for these keys: you can flick them to reveal punctuation and other symbols you might want to use, instead of having to switch keyboards entirely. The App Switcher now shows split apps, meaning that if you had Mail and Pages open side by side, you can now return to that configuration instead of having to re-open one and then put the other beside it all over again.
The 10.5-inch Pro starts at $649, the 12.9-inch at $799. Color options are the same, though the smaller model now offers a rose gold finish. For more information, here's a nice FAQ on the new Pros.
HomePod (Yes, Really, HomePod)
HomePod is the name of Apple's upcoming Siri-powered home speaker. It won't be here until December, but we saw it today and got a lot of details.
Not surprisingly, the HomePod is Apple's response to Google Home, Amazon Echo, and similar products, so it has Siri built in. However, Apple went in an interesting direction at the demo. Rather than position this as a smart device that can take voice commands while playing music, the push was more a great-sounding speaker to play music, that can also do voice commands. HomePod ties into Apple Music and Siri, taking requests for tracks, artists, similar-sounding songs, and other music-specific queries to deliver what Apple hopes will be the next big thing in home music listening. Just as the company revolutionized personal music with the iPod, so it hopes to do to music in your house with HomePod--hence the name. The speaker can do most everything else Siri can do, too: reminders, calendars, HomeKit control (including acting as a hub for remote access), providing facts, handling timers, and more. No word yet on separate user accounts, voice recognition for individual users, or other features. Again, this won't arrive until December, so there's plenty of time for the software to mature and change.
As to hardware, this is a high-end speaker with a high-end brain inside. It has seven tweeters and a four-inch sub, and is covered in a special acoustic mesh to enhance sound quality. I don't know what that means either, but that's what Apple said. It also has six microphones to pick up sound from anywhere in the room, since it's always listening for the trigger phrase, "Hey Siri". At its heart is an A8 chip, the same as in the iPhone 6, and trust me, it needs all that CPU power. It doesn't just play music, you see, it "rocks the house". When you set it up, it takes a sense of the room, presumably through some kind of sonar or ultrasonic system, and then adjusts itself when it plays music. It aims to fill any room with good-sounding tunes by "shaping" the sound. It aims sound using its seven tweeters, it cancels echoes, and it has a special system to negate distortion at high volume. How well any of this works in practice, no one knows, but it sounds impressive.
How much is this thing? Brace yourself, and cover your wallet's ears: $349. That's a lot of money, to be sure, but two things stand out to me. Even if the sound-shaping magic is just market speak, I have no doubt that this is a truly high quality speaker, and those aren't cheap. But it's also Apple, and even at the presentation, they reminded me why I like them so much: privacy. They made a point of mentioning that HomePod doesn't listen to and record everything all the time. Rather, it listens for the wake-up phrase, recording nothing, and only starts processing sound when it hears the phrase. No data is sold or collected for ads, everything is encrypted to Apple's standards, and things are as safe as they can be, Apple implies. No one is perfect, but if I'm going to trust any company to keep me safe and private, it's not Google or Amazon, it's Apple. Is that peace of mind worth the premium price? I don't know yet, but it's worth considering.
New Macs... Kinda
Most of Apple's Macs were updated today, in one way or another. The Retina MacBook and Mac Pro saw no updates, but they are the only ones. The MacBook Pro without Touch Bar got a price drop, as did the entry-level iMac, both now starting at $1,299. All the MacBook Pros now run Cabylake processors, Intel's latest generation, and the Air got some megahertz added, as Apple put it. No word yet on exactly what that means. The entire iMac line got better graphics and processors, brighter and more realistic screens, Fusion drives were made standard on most of them, and USBC ports were added to some. The upgrades across the entire iMac line are good, but I won't subject you to all the technical details.
The big reveal in this area was the iMac Pro, coming later this year. This is a true powerhouse, offering from eight to eighteen cores for a CPU, insane graphics abilities, a maximum of 128GB (yes, one hundred and twenty-eight gigabytes) of ram, and up to 4TB of flash storage. This machine is so powerful that it can drive two 5K external displays in addition to powering its own 5K screen. It's not for the average user, of course, but those doing modeling, VR programming, intensive machine learning, and other high-end applications should have a lot of fun with it. All this, and Apple didn't increase its size or cooling noise at all.
That's everything in a very large nutshell. Did anything grab your attention? What has you most excited for the fall? Are you getting a new iPad or Mac now that they're out? Share your thoughts in the comments!