WWDC 2017: Thoughts
Another year, another WWDC from Apple. Each of these events presents a unique opportunity for Apple to show us the most exciting projects it is investing in for the next twelve months, and this year was exceptionally insightful. Below, I’ll present my take on six of Apple’s announcements: a commentary of sorts on the nearly three-hour episode.
Apple kept content on tvOS short and simple this year, and my words on this subject are similarly concise. While the introduction of Amazon on the platform is a great move for consumers that use that service (not of particular excitement to me), the biggest feature discovered in the beta is TV’s ability to automatically shift Light and Dark modes based on time and location information. This feature is something I have wanted for quite a while, so much so that I outlined it in my concept for the future of iOS; I currently manually switch between these modes while watching TV, so this new feature is a great simplifier.
The Light Mode is wonderful during the day time, as it really provides a great backdrop to the TV’s content; Dark Mode is similarly great in the evening to give that movie theater effect and not burn my irises out in the dark. Interesting note: Apple isn’t labelling this feature as part of the “Night Shift” moniker, leading me to wonder whether they don’t want users to confuse the theme-changing with the blue-light elimination of other products OR if they have plans for Night Shift on tvOS down the line. I hope that the latter isn’t the case because the last thing I would want is for the color grading to be skewed during evening viewing.
watchOS is the first of two operating systems that I think Apple is focusing the most on this year, a natural move as the industry heads to a more mobile-first approach. Last year’s theme with watchOS 3 was speed, and watchOS 4 adds some refinements and redesign to 2016's faster coat of paint. The addition that I am really excited about is the Siri face: Apple’s use of Siri involves her more as a truly proactive assistant than in years past, and her presence directly on the watch face as a secretary of sorts is fantastic.
While Apple could have just had her list time-related calendar and reminder points, the Siri face will actually also remind you of photos and life events that occured on the same day a year ago; this small caveat is very cool and also emphasizes the more personal touches that Apple is trying imbue within the software.
If the Siri face represents all that is potentially useful and smart about Apple’s new approach to faces, than the Kaleidoscope face is the polar opposite, in my eyes.
The on-stage demons made the face nearly illegible, and the visuals seem to serve no purpose oter than being graphically-intense without bringing the joy that the whimsical Disney/Pixar faces bring. Of course, I could change my mind after actually using this face, but first impressions are no bueno.
Smaller pieces that I really enjoyed: the new Workout capabilities and other UI tweaks. The ability to add a nested workout and also control media playback directly from the Workout app during a session is great because both of these actions really throw me out of the exercise rhythm I build when done on watchOS 3. Also, NFC capable workout equipment is super cool for the more cardio-inclined, and positions Watch as a hub for fitness rather than another accessory. The new cards interface is interesting because the tiles directly above and below the card in focus are shorter in width. Now I may be reaching, but this type of layout may indicate that a circular Watch is being tested somewhere in the pipeline, because this type of formatting is more conducive to displaying content on a round screen that is widest at its diameter. Or, more likely: Apple found that the smaller adjacent tap tiles make the larger card in focus an easier tap target, and tweaked the UI to reflect that.
Also something minor I noticed with this year’s Watch keynote slides: usually the “hero” device is a stainless steel Watch. This year, all the demos and images were done using aluminum variants. Interesting.
I’m a fan of weed jokes as much as the next teenager (or even adult), but I initially wasn’t too impressed with what macOS High Sierra had to offer from a features standpoint. However, after days of thinking, I realized that High Sierra was an update with a lot of potential to be great because it focused on improving the experience, the little things that sometimes add even more benefits than flashy new features do. And because of this, I believe High Sierra will be remembered as fondly as maintenance updates like Snow Leopard and El Capitan are.
Consumers will immediately notice the nifty new anti-AutoPlay feature that has been incorporated, which is a blessing for all the students that have at one point had their daily routine of being off-task made public because of an annoying video that started playing on its own accord. A more powerful addition than less consumers will be exposed to, yet is still amazing, is the new support for eGPUs and VR. I haven’t hopped onto the VR train just yet because I think AR is a much more important endeavor, but John Knoll’s Star Wars demo on stage really caught my interest.
Apple’s support for VR in this example seems both more capable and more productive than current cases; I can imagine directors and actors using this technology to “storyboard” various scenes in big-budget movies and fine-tune the angles and reactions before shooting, leading to a more streamlined filming process with less time and money wasted on set resets. This feature is also really smart from a business standpoint because it prompts people into considering more powerful machines and peripherals to experience this take on VR, machines that such people wouldn’t have previously even considered purchasing for any reason.
Finally, Space Gray iMac Pro. Yes, it’s a beast.
But I’m not sure if true pros would want to buy a very expensive and very high-specced machine if it’s not user-upgradable. Isn’t that what the elusive Mac Pro is for? I think the largest appeal about this machine, besides that “badass” space gray finish, is that this amount of power will be available in a shorter timeframe than the Mac Pro. It remains to be seen whether this will be a big enough draw to sell a decent amount of units or if iMac Pro will require Apple to take another course correct with their computer line-up.
I absolutely love Do Not Disturb While Driving. Texting while driving is one of those obvious things that we know not to do but is still done anyways and it puts everyone at risk. The advent of autonomous vehicles is a great first step to solving this, but Apple’s solution puts a bit more control in the hands of the user. Whether DNDWD actually does have an impact remains to be seen, but from my experience the people who do text and drive (surprisingly less so teenagers and more so middle-aged tech users) will not really know how to disable this feature and start texting again anyways. The people in this age bracket that do know how to disable this are probably also aware of the absolute stupidity present in texting and driving; between both of these situations maybe Apple does have a viable plan to cutting down on texting/driving accidents with this new feature.
Finally, AR Kit and the AR demonstrated on stage looks smooth. The real-time lighting and interactive object shading looked seamless, as did the environmental depth. One neat touch that I’m not sure was intentional: during one of the demos, an AR character jumped off of the edge of the physical table when the town came under fire. It that kind of detail that made Apple’s spin on AR really cool to watch and even more tempting to try.
I’ll have a lot more to say once I try Public Beta 1, but until then, not too shabby of an update.
5. iOS for iPad
An all new UI. ProMotion. Dock. Files. iOS 11 for iPad is such a massive overhaul that it feels like a completely different OS. Little things like the Apple Pencil interacting with the lock screen to immediately take the user to Notes is great, as is the new handwriting recognition that must have taken an immense amount of deep learning tech to pull-off. The way that this version of iOS utilizes gestures in a more meaningful way, with Drag and Drop and a version of Spaces, coupled with the higher refresh rate on new iPads gives a bit more credibility to Apple’s corner with their new push regarding iPads replacing laptops.
It’s hard to make a truly educated call on how well iOS for iPad works without using it, but what I do know is that this is the first version of iPad that I’ve been really excited about using in my daily life and would feel comfortable pulling out on an airplane or bus and getting a decent amount of work done without having to deal with the bulk and less intimate nature of a MacBook. And that itself is one of the biggest reasons for why I’m excited to see the full version of iOS 11 ship in the fall.
“It looks like a giant marshmallow” was the common consensus on my Twitter timeline during the event. Yeah, I can definitely see that. Of course I want to try this device in my home, but there are a couple of things that have me equally excited and skeptical. Here’s the breakdown: the biggest pro here is the audio quality, at least from what Apple is telling us. With seven tweeters and one pretty neat woofer, this is going to be a very noisy piñata. Plus, with the software magic that allows the HomePod to analyze a room and tailor the sound distribution for optimal audio flavor, the simplicity with which a person can install one of these and just start listening to music in a better way is great — if this system works well. On the other hand, the current version of Siri has me a bit worried about the “smart” part of this high fidelity assistant product. In a discussion with some friends months prior to the reveal of HomePod, I said that my vision for such a product is able to snatch up any screen it recognizes being associated to you (your watch, phone, tablet, TV), and tell you it has pushed info to a screen it deems best based on proximity (where you are in relation to these different screens) and content (what you want to view on said screen). Sometimes, the assistant may not even need a screen unless you ask for further details. Here’s how such an interaction could go:
“Hey, Siri, what’s the weather in Malibu?”
Homepod: “It’s 91º and sunny in Malibu today, Karthik.”
“Okay, how about for the rest of the week?”
Homepod: “Hmm, looks pretty sunny for the next few days. I’ve sent the details to your Apple Watch, check it out.”
Because the Watch is the screen closest to me that has a suitable enough form factor to display multi-day weather data, the HomePod pushes this info to my wrist, which I raise and get info from. Seamless interaction and connectivity between your devices, all managed by a smarter digital assistant*.
But Siri can’t do this yet, and HomePod doesn’t even have a proper display (the glowing section at the top hasn’t really been categorized yet, and its full functions are up for grabs at this point). This, coupled with Phil Schiller’s recent comments on smart speakers and screens, gives me some hesitation to this version of HomePod and its capabilities. Sure, it will sound nice, but is that enough? We will find out in December.
*One neat thing that I discovered while writing this: while playing audio via Bluetooth from my iPhone to a speaker, I called up Siri on my Mac. Funnily enough, the iPhone recognized Siri was being called up on a nearby device and paused audio so that the Mac could hear me clearly, then resumed once I was done speaking and Siri started thinking. No clue this feature existed, which speaks to how little Apple advertises such little additions and also speaks to how magical it feels when something like this happens.