WWDC Keynote Highlights

Apple help it’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote on Monday, announcing both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. Although neither was a surprise, both contained some interesting new features. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but more a focus on some of the key ones.

OS X Yosemite

OS X got a much-needed, and after iOS 7, expected, facelift. It features new icons, a new system font, more translucency and some beefed up features. For those people who have Macs and iPhones but still communicate with some people on non-iPhones, the addition of SMS is a godsend. No longer will Android users SMS messages go unnoticed because the iPhone is on the other side of the room on silent. This seems like such an obvious feature that it seemed inevitable at some point. It appears that SMS is basically integrated into the Messages app on OS X and can be used from the Mac through the phone as long as they are on the same WiFI network. This is a gigantic convenience. Of course Apple didn’t stop there. They also added a way for phone calls to be routed to the Mac from an iPhone as well. Instead of just notifications that a call is coming in, the call can actually be answered from the Mac. It’s unclear if headsets will work or if it’s only the internal mic and speaker, but this is still a nice touch that will save some missed phone calls.

One the other annoyances between OS X and iOS was the lack of Airdrop support. Airdrop currently can be used between iOS devices on the same WiFi network, or between Macs on the same WiFi network, but not between Macs and iOS devices. This meant that if someone was not using Photostream, and wanted to get a photo from their iPhone to their Mac they either had to plug it in and use iPhoto, or email/iMessage it. Finally photos can be shared much more easily. It’s yet to be determined whether this will be a good batch file transmitter or if it will just be useful for one file at a time. But either way, it’s a nice addition.

Some other more minor changes:

  • Messages has gotten a re-design of sorts and looks like it will be more of a clone of Messages on iOS. This app badly needed a new look.
  • Notification Center got a couple of changes. First it got the “Today” view that iOS Notification Center has. It also got widgets (iOS did too) that allow for some dashboard like apps to be inserted. The usefulness of this depend exclusively on what kind of widgets are available.

iOS 8

iOS got a massive redesign last year so as expected the changes here were more incremental. Since Apple is releasing a new version every year it makes sense to see more incremental updates each year.

Potentially the biggest addition is what Apple is called Extensibility. The idea being that apps will be able to better communicate with each other. Currently apps like Drafts and Launch Center Pro use the x-callback-url to communicate with other applications. Apple baking in more hooks means that these things might feel less “hacky”. The problem for now seems to be that no one knows what the limitations will be, and how much an app will have to do to make it work. Will it be as simple as an app like Due creating a way for other apps to add reminders, or will every app have to work behind the scenes with Due to arrange that? More information should come out in the next week as to whether or not this is truly a game changer.

Lots of other features seemed to center around convenience. The empty space at the top of the screen in the task switcher can now be used to access recent and favorite contacts. This accomplishes something that many people who use Launch Center Pro for currently, which is quickly calling/texting someone without needing 10 taps. Most novice users will love this feature. Similarly, push notification banners can now be responded to directly. In other words, a text message can be replied to from the notification banner at the top of the screen instead of having to load the Messages app first. It looks like this will work with all kind of functions. It’s unclear at the moment whether third-party apps can take advantage of this though. This is probably really great for people who spend a lot of time working on their iPads and don’t always want to bounce between apps.

Another convenience feature that Apple copied from Android is a modified way of predicting text. Apple’s Quicktype shows several suggestions above the keyboard rather than just one in a hard to tap bubble. The unique part of Apple’s implementation seems to be the “smart” aspect of it. The image below shows an example when a simple “or” question is asked. This has a lot of potential.

More keyboard news comes with the news that Apple will finally allow third party software keyboards. Things like Swype will now be available system wide, which according to some Android users, is life changing.

And last but not least, iCloud doesn’t suck anymore! Apple finally bit the bullet and turned iCloud into a more Dropbox like storage area instead of an app-specific sandbox. This means that iCloud can be used to access the same files from multiple applications. This could mean that Dropbox is in trouble if most developers focus on this solution which now appeals to a much larger audience. But suddenly apps that only used iCloud before just became much more useful.

Some minor things:

  • Battery usage by app, much like the addition of data usage by app last year, is huge for finding out what is causing the most problems. Battery life is a major issue for some people and this could possibly be the key to helping that.

What Was Missing?

Siri got but a brief change, the addition of Hey, Siri which allows Siri to be activated without touching the phone. This is huge for all the hands free states out there since activating Siri while driving is not always the easiest thing. But that was all. For a feature that was heralded as a flagship feature the last two years it was interesting not to see it get more love. It certainly seems like this is falling into niche feature territory.

The much rumored “side-by-side” app view on the iPad didn’t happen. Not shocking.

Also not shocking was the lack of hardware announcements. No new iPhone or iPad was least shocking. No new/upgraded Macs was at least a little bit of a surprise.

Wrap-Up

Overall it was a very good day for users and developers. Apple continues to make improvements to their software, and seems to be listening to a lot of complaints people have. Android users can say what they want about “all of these features being on Android already”, but the truth is that so many Android phones don’t even have the latest OS it’s hard to claim they all have these features. As as Apple closes the gap on these smaller things, it just pushes them farther ahead in the big picture.