This blog will cover all the cool new stuff Apple just announced during the Keynote presentation of the 2014 WWDC. I will avoid statistics and other "filler" information, and stick only to the things that, I feel, will be of interest and/or benefit to the AppleVis community of iOS and OS X users. If you missed the action and want to see things as they came in, check out our live blog of the event.
Of course, I have not tried either OS. I therefore have no idea about the accessibility, special commands, or other considerations for any of these features. I will use terms like "tap" or "click", because that is what Apple said and I have no way of knowing how VoiceOver will interact with any of the below items.
The next version of OS X will be named OS X 10.10 Yosemite, continuing the tradition of naming releases after inspiring locations in California that was started with OS X 10.9 Mavericks. As usual, it will be a free update, scheduled for release sometime in the fall. Unlike previous OS X versions, though, you can actually test it out now, by running the public beta!
The first thing Apple demonstrated was the new look. While blind users will not care much about this, low-vision users may. Apple has made many parts of the UI (user interface) transparent, including toolbars, title bars, and the Dock. As I was unable to see the demos, I cannot really say more on this new look for now, but I can say that a "dark mode" exists that lets you focus only on the currently open app. I have a feeling that low-vision users will want to use this mode a lot, but I may be wrong.
The Notification Center got an overhaul, with the "Today" view we all know from iOS7. See upcoming appointments, weather, reminders, and more. Best of all, Apple now supports widgets. If an app you download offers a widget, you can add it to your Notification Center for one-stop access to all the information you care about - stocks, Twitter, weather, and so on. (Note: we do not yet know which widgets will be available, those were just examples of apps that may provide widgets.)
Spotlight, Apple's search application, got a lot more powerful in 10.10. Here are the highlights:
- The edit field is now larger, and appears in the middle of the screen. I imagine this will make it easier to see if you are a low-vision user.
- Previews of documents now appear, instead of only names.
- When you search for an app, you see the app name, but also documents you recently opened with that app.
- If you search for a contact name, you see calendar events that person is attending, mail and messages you two have exchanged, and more related to the contact.
- Spotlight searches online, pulling top web search results for what you typed in in addition to searching your hard drive.
- Unit conversions are now automatic; enter "70 miles" and see how many kilometers that is, for instance.
iCloud has been extended with a feature called iCloud Drive. This is a folder on your Mac that can hold files and subfolders, and all of it syncs across all your iCloud-connected devices. It struck me as a very similar feature to Dropbox, except more tightly integrated into OS X and iOS. There is even a version for Windows.
The pricing for iCloud has also been improved: 5gb is free, as always, but since Apple expects you to use your storage more, their paid plans have come down. Pay $0.99 per month for 20gb of space, or $3.99 per month for 200gb. Full pricing was not announced, but you can go up to 1tb (terabyte) if you want to, we just don't know how much that will cost.
Mail has two new features, in addition to under-the-hood changes intended to make it more stable and speedy.
Maildrop integrates with your iCloud Drive to send large files - Mac users see the embedded attachment like normal, while Windows users see a link to the file on iCloud. This approach lets Mail support up to 5gb attachments, and it happens automatically.
Markup is a feature that lets you draw on images and PDFs; circle text, add a signature, draw an arrow, and so on. While I cannot say for sure, my thought is that this feature will prove to be mostly to completely inaccessible. Still, for the sighted users of OS X, it seems like one of the most useful ideas I've heard of in quite a while.
Like other OS X apps, the upcoming version of Safari will have a new look. Aside from the transparencies shared by the rest of the system, Safari will lose the Favorites Bar and give more space for the webpage to be displayed. Your favorites will return if you click the Smart Search box, though I think most VoiceOver users tend to prefer the Bookmarks drop down menu anyway, so this won't really affect things. If you prefer the Favorites Bar, though, you can bring it back easily enough.
A feature that will be nice is RSS subscription; if a page offers RSS feeds, you can subscribe to them in Safari. New content from that feed will then show in your sidebar. Speaking of content, sharing pages is now easier, since Safari will keep track of whom you contact most frequently and offer to share a page with those contacts first.
Tab View is the final major design change; once you click the option, all your tabs are displayed at once, in a sort of birds-eye view. They can even be grouped by website, letting you quickly sort and seek out tabs.
As always, iOS8 will be a free update, scheduled to be released sometime this fall. Unlike OS X Yosemite, though, iOS8 is not a public beta; only registered developers are able to download and test the new operating system.
The Notification Center in Yosemite borrowed the iOS "Today" view, and iOS8 returned the favor, borrowing a feature from Yosemite. This feature: widgets. You can now download apps that offer widgets; if you do, you will see that a new widget is available next time you open the Notification Center, and you can add it.
Also like OS X, notifications are now easier to deal with. You can tap a widget to respond to a notification, or simply pull down on a banner notification to respond. For example, if you are in the Mail app and get a text, you can just pull down the text, type your response, send it, and you're back in Mail.
On the iPad, Safari now displays the same sidebar and tab view that Yosemite introduces. No other changes were mentioned for Safari.
Have you ever been writing an email and needed to check another email for a detail? You could cancel your message, save it as a draft, check your information, go back to the drafts mailbox, find your draft, and keep writing. With iOS8, you simply pull down while typing your email and it slides out of the way, returning you to your mailbox/message list. When you are ready, tap the button in the lower right and your draft returns, ready for you to continue typing it.
Mail also makes extensive use of gestures to flag, delete, and mark messages. I cannot be sure, but I imagine VoiceOver's "actions" rotor item will be how this happens. In fact, right now, VO users have access to all these features from the rotor, so I doubt much will change on the Mail front as far as Voiceover is concerned.
The App Switcher has been used for years to show you recently used apps. Now, it also shows you recently contacted people, and you can text, call, or FaceTime them right from the new and improved App Switcher.
Similar to Yosemite, the iOS8 Spotlight search pulls web search results, contacts, iCloud Drive documents, news, and more when you search. It can even find apps, movies, and music you do not have yet and suggest them, a feature for which i currently have rather mixed feelings.
The stock iOS keyboard now has context-sensitive predictive typing. If you get a message asking how the meeting went yesterday, and you type "the m", it might suggest "meeting". If the message instead asked how the movie was, the auto-complete suggestion would be "movie".
Much more exciting, though, is the news that, after years of waiting, third-party keyboards AND BRAILLE are coming to iOS! One day soon, you will be able to use braille, or Fleksy, or any other keyboard you like, to type anywhere in iOS. Imagine using braille to write a text directly in the Messages app, or Fleksy to type out an email or iTunes search. It is coming - Apple's WWDC slides said that six-key braille entry would come with iOS8 as a keyboard option, and the developers of Fleksy plan to be among the first to offer their app as a default keyboard after iOS8 is released. Of all the features in iOS8, I have to say that this is the one to which I am looking forward the most.
Messages just got a whole lot more powerful. You can name threads, add/remove people (including removing yourself) from threads, temporarily share your location with others in a thread, and more. You can even send audio or video clips, or still images, right from the messages app itself. If you have an iPhone, sending an audio clip is as easy as raising the phone to your ear, speaking, and lowering it. Other devices can send audio, you just have to tap and hold on the dictation button in the keyboard. You can even set Do Not Disturb for single threads, letting you mute a busy thread you don't care about but still receive all other notifications.
iOS8 offers several new enterprise features, including passcode locks for apps and files, third-party file servers that integrate into iCloud, VIP message threads, and much more.
The very aptly named "health" app will be the central location for all health data you authorize it to know about. It will get this data through the Healthkit framework, which other apps can hook into. For instance, your pedometer app might tell it how far you've walked in the last week, your food app will tell it how many calories you've eaten, your bluetooth scale will tell it how much you've weighed each day, and your bluetooth blood pressure cuff will give it blood pressure information. Health will collate all this into a single set of metrics you can use to keep track of your health. Apple is also working with medical care providers for things like medical alerts - if you lose too much weight, or your blood pressure is too high, the app can send the necessary data along with an alert right to your doctor, who can follow up as necessary.
Apple Accounts and Your Family
With iOS8, you will be able to define the people in your family and, so long as you all use the same credit card, you can use each others' purchases. If one person downloads a movie, any of the others can watch it, for instance, Children cannot make purchases without being prompted to seek a parent's permission, and said parents are notified when a transaction is about to take place. Sharing is also auto-configured for things like a common calendar, reminders list, photo stream, and Find My Friends. The main problem I see is the "same credit card" requirement, but aside from that it sounds like a nice feature. Note that a maximum of six people are allowed to be set as belonging to the same "family".
Instead of dealing with photo streams, all your pictures and videos now get uploaded to iCloud, just like data in any other app (see why they lowered iCloud storage prices?) New and smarter filtering and editing options will also come with iOS8, and it will be easier to search for pictures by album, location, and time. As you search for a location, for instance, suggestions will pop up like "within the last month" or "a year ago today".
Siri gets some new features, including real-time transcription, so you can see what Siri thinks you are saying. No word on how, or if, that will work with VoiceOver. Siri can also recognize a song playing nearby, and offer to let you buy it on iTunes. One feature that was not discussed extensively is a new way of invoking Siri: Apple said that, when your phone is plugged into a car, you can say "OK Siri" to bring up the digital assistant. Again, no more details for now; I'd like to know if that is only when connected to a car, or when on any form of AC power.
The App Store will, once again, get a new configuration. There will be an "explore" tab, letting you more easily search through apps by category and sub-category. Apps will now be in what Apple called a "continuously scrolling list", and you will be able to see trending and editorial app picks.
Developers can now do a couple new things with their apps. They can offer bundles, letting users pay a single price for multiple apps (so long, of course, as all those apps are from the same developer). Imagine buying several games from the same company, and having them all download at once, or taking advantage of a "buy this app, get this one free" deal.
Developers can also upload app previews. Sadly, previews are not "try before you buy" options for users, but rather videos used to showcase an app. while useful, I think everyone of us thought that Apple was letting people test out apps when the presenter said "app previews".
Put Them Together…
Continuity is the other major focus in the upcoming iOS and OS X releases. The idea is to make the transition from one device to another as seamless as possible thanks to a feature Apple is calling "Handoff". Here are some examples from today's presentation:
- Say you are writing an email on your phone, and decide to finish it on your Mac, Simply walk up to your Mac, and you are asked if you want to keep writing the message. Say yes, and Mail (on the Mac) brings up a new message window with the text you'd already written, awaiting the rest of your input.
- This goes the other way: write an email on your Mac, then grab your iPad, and you are asked if you want to keep working on the email. If you say yes, the iPad opens the message so you can continue typing.
- Get a phone call on your iPhone: your Mac, so long as it is within range, displays who is calling and lets you answer the call. The mac turns into a big bluetooth speakerphone, letting you talk while at your computer, even if your iPhone is actually across the room charging, or still in your bag, or otherwise not within reach.
- SMS messages now sync to your Mac through this new system, so that you can continue conversations on the Mac, even with people who are not using iMessages.
- Airdrop now works between iOS and OS X devices, though between Hand-off and iCloud syncing, I see less of a need for it than there used to be.
- If your Mac has no wifi signal, but your iPhone is nearby, the Mac can ask if you want to use the phone as a hotspot. If you say yes, that's it; with no passwords, and no other work on your part, the iPhone's personal hotspot feature turns on and it sets itself up to work as a wifi router for your Mac.
- Highlight a phone number on the mac, and with one click, you can call it on your iPhone. Again, the mac will act like a speakerphone for the call.
A big part of the presentation today was focused on developers. The release of the iOS8 beta and associated developer tools marks the largest SDK update since the App Store launched, with over four thousand new APIs now available to coders.
An app can now offer a service to iOS. For example, the Bing app can offer a translator to Safari, letting users translate foreign webpages. Apps can offer extensions for tons of things in iOS, such as sharing options, photo filters, and more.
On devices that offer it, Touch ID can now be used by developers. You may soon see apps that hold sensitive data prompting you for a fingerprint instead of a passcode to open, or sign-ins to banking or other account-based apps done via fingerprint. Some apps will likely have you put your password in once, since the fingerprint only gives the app access to keychain data, but after that a print is all that is required.
The camera got more customizable by apps in iOS8, with developers able to control the white balance, focus, and exposure, or let the end user control those parameters. Photo read and write operations are now faster, and non-destructive edits are supported.
Homekit lets home automation devices (locks, lights, garage doors, thermostats, and so on) all talk securely to your iOS device and to each other via bluetooth low energy. No one knows when, but eventually you'll be able to simply tell Siri to unlock the door, or open the garage, or enable the security system, or turn the lights on…
Instead of making your own backend for server-based apps, Cloudkit lets you write your app, while it does the server stuff. User authentication, data storage, search, and more, all handled by Apple's cloud. It is a paid service, but the fees are very modest and may well be worth it since you then don't need to write the server code and pay to rent a server or host your own.
Metal: Next-Generation Graphics Engine
Simply put, Metal is a way of getting better, smoother, more responsive, and richer graphics. to run on iOS devices. As an example, Apple showed off two companies who had managed to take graphics engines designed to run on gaming consoles, and instead run them perfectly on iOS. That is a remarkable feat, as consoles are dedicated solely to running games, and iPhones are, well, phones. Enabling such rich graphical environments is quite the achievement.
For twenty years, Apple has used Objective-C as its main development language. Today, Swift made its debut: a programming language that is even faster than Objective-C, yet can be run in real-time to show you how your code will work and what output it will have. It is sort of a scripting language, yet is faster than pure Objective-C. Developers can use both languages together in the same project, as Swift still uses the same compiler, so nothing will suddenly become incompatible and developers' skills will not be rendered useless.
Apple challenged its competitors on several fronts today.
- Android by introducing widgets, extensions, and third-party keyboards
- Dropbox and other cloud storage services with iCloud Drive
- Google Now and Cortana with real-time translation and other new Siri features
- and all major device manufacturers, by tying iOS and OS X together far more tightly than ever before, effectively making it much less convenient to leave the Apple ecosystem.
Personally, the OS X feature that I am most excited to try is Handoff, and my favorite iOS8 feature is third-party/braille keyboard integration. What did you like most? What did you hope Apple would do that they did not, or not do that they did? Will these features make you consider trying out a Mac and/or iOS device for the first time? Let us know in the comments!