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Digested WWDC 2016 thoughts. Time to let some others in, Apple

It’s now nearly a week since Apple’s annual mega announcement for all things software and I’ve had time to digest what was demoed, promised and unveiled.

Here are my fully-digested thoughts on WWDC 2016.

iOS 10

Apple’s mobile operating system received serious attention this year, not least in one area that was conspicuous by its absence in the presenters’ notes. There appears to be a brand new design language in iOS 10 that focuses on plentiful white space and humongous typography.

I’m yet to see the beta (and, to be honest, I’ll probably steer clear of it this time), but it looks like it’ll take a bit of getting used to. The titles in Apple Music and News, for example, looked a little bit too in your face, as if speaking to a user base that needs reminding of where it has landed, constantly (“YOU’RE IN YOUR MUSIC LIBRARY, IDIOT!”).

A redesigned lock screen was also on show and it looks rather nice. Ever since the iPhone 6s was introduced, the ability to use the lock screen has greatly diminished due to the new, lightening-fast Touch ID sensor. ‘Raise to wake’, therefore, will be a rather nice addition, as will the interactive notifications.

The area of iOS that received the most attention was arguably Messages. This is a huge update for what was once the app we all used solely to send SMS texts. Taking cues from platforms such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, Apple has introduced all manner of new features which, if I’m honest, I’ll probably use once and immediately bore of.

Because I’m not 19.

But that’s the point – Apple has to keep up with the younger crowd, most of whom have deserted iMessages in search of richer communication on the aforementioned third party messaging services.

Apple Music deserves special mention, because, bar the visual overhaul, it looks like the entire UI has been completely redesigned. This is, undoubtedly, after a colossal degree of backlash from users and the tech press. In truth, I’ve found the current Apple Music to be a relatively coherent experience, but there are one or two UI black holes into which you can fall. Whether or not a complete redesign was required, I remain to be convinced, but we shall see come fall…

Lastly, Photos. Apple have promised that iOS 10 will feature an intelligent photo library that is clever enough to create beautiful, engaging slideshows all by itself called ‘Memories’. This is another feature I’m unlikely to use personally, and I think it remains to be seen how widely adopted it will be by ‘normal’ people. I’m yet to be convinced that those outside of the tech bubble see something like this as anything other than a nice, albeit brief, surprise when they peek at their photos occasionally.

OS X… Sorry, macOS

As widely predicted, Apple’s desktop operating system has shed the name it has carried for decades. And quite rightly – it was looking increasingly tired next to its younger brethren.

‘macOS’ it is. And, as tradition dictates, the version we’ll see later this year has been given its own moniker, in this case ‘Sierra’ (which I believe is a mountain ranger somewhere in California).

Now, if you’re a UK resident, you’ll have thought exactly what I did when this name was revealed. “Sierra? A 1980s Ford rep mobile?”. Sierra, as far as we are concerned in Blighty, only conjures up images of a rather shit car. Not a glorious mountain range.

Still, that can’t be helped, and if I’m honest, when it comes to new features, there’s only two biggies that demand immediate attention, in my opinion.

If you have an Apple Watch and a MacBook, come autumn, you’ll be able to open up your laptop and be granted access immediately. No passcode, nothing. This is Apple at its very best when it comes to simplifying technology and hiding all of the gubbins that makes such stuff possible.

Secondly, Siri is heading to the Mac. Again, my personal opinion of Siri to one side, this has long been yearned for and is a welcome – if overdue – addition.

There was plenty more macOS stuff announced, but none of it particularly exciting. The universal clipboard (copy something on your iPhone and paste to your Mac seamlessly) will be very useful, but isn’t exactly headline material.

I get the impression macOS will be granted a far bigger update in 2017. iOS and watchOS were clearly the focus this time around.

watchOS 

I like my Apple Watch. If I ever forget to wear it (a rare thing indeed), I miss it. I still have trouble explaining what it does whenever anyone asks, but it has worked its way into my life seamlessly.

I use it in such a paired-down fashion, though. Apps are next to pointless on such a small device, but notifications, activity tracking and the ability to skip music tracks while walking are all genuinely useful features.

The WWDC 2016 keynote started with Watch OS, proving that the public and trade press’ reaction to the device has likely been weighing rather heavily on Apple’s mind. Reports of chronic slowness and a deeply confusing user interface have clearly lead the Apple Watch team to revisit the OS from the ground up.

In watchOS 3, apps will launch almost instantaneously, or so we’re told. Certainly, the demo was impressive. Likewise, the UI changes, that included a new Control Centre and the ability to swipe left and right to change watch faces, appear to be a step in the right direction, but only time will tell.

Activity sharing looks like it’ll be fun, although I do wonder if, like the ability to send your mates heartbeats and drawings of penises, this feature will be a fly-by-night affair for many. Again, it depends on the implementation (heartbeats and doodle messages are incredibly poorly thought out, hence the reason most people forget they exist).

There’s also an app that helps you breathe. No, really. It’s called ‘Breathe’ and offers reminders about taking time out to perform some deep breathing. And I’m really not sure what else I can say about that.

Summary

tvOS received some love, although I confess I still do not own a new Apple TV, and therefore have few rounded thoughts on that particular platform. The only thought I do have – and the principal reason I haven’t invested in one – is that the UK market is still chronically underserved. Our networks (BBC, Sky, etc), haven’t jumped on the Apple TV bandwagon and, until they do, no OS update is going to make it a hit on these shores. iTunes content is simply too expensive for anyone but millionaires to build extensive movie libraries and our version of Netflix is only good for the odd box set. This was an update for the US market.

There was no MacBook Pro announcement, as many had predicted might be the case. That’s a shame, but this is a software event, and any hardware sightings should be considered rarities.

On the whole, I thought WWDC 2016 was positive. There was enough forward momentum displayed for each OS, and the introduction of Swift programming for kids and the curious amongst us on iPad was fantastic. As was the seating area adorned by young developers.

Differential privacy, machine learning, a forthcoming new file system and what is clearly a more focused push on home automation were all running themes, bubbling underneath the surface of each presenter’s stint on stage. And that’s fab, but I couldn’t help wondering where the next ‘big’ thing was. By that, I’m not talking the next iPhone (and argument which is getting all the more tiresome), no, I mean the next big technological advancement from Apple. What is going to draw non-Apple people into the ecosystem?

WWDC 2016 was an event for the Apple aficionados, the converted. It served to deliver on stuff those people have been calling for. It felt a very hemmed-in, cliquey affair, in that respect. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with such an approach, but 2017 needs to look beyond the four walls of the Apple universe and introduce something that makes those with their heads buried in Windows notebooks or Andoird smartphones sit up and take notice. Because all they will have done last week was occasionally look up and say “Huh? Oh, yeah. Got that already.”

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