WWDC 2015: Watch Some Music While Apple Goes Bug-Hunting
Today was Apples annual World Wide Developer's Conference keynote. This time each year, the world gets to preview the hardware and software coming out of Cupertino. We traditionally see the next iterations of iOS and OS X, and maybe a new service or cloud-based offering. This year was no exception: iOS9, OS X 10.11, watchOS 2.0, an updated Apple Pay, and the all-new Apple Music were all shown off with Apples usual flare. If you'd like, you can watch the keynote presentation here, or get the highlights with this three-minute video clip from Cult Of Mac. Once you've seen the presentation, be sure to check out this musical summary of the announcements!
iOS/OS X: Bugs, Brains, and Battery
Most of you will recall that last year's release of iOS8 wasn't exactly smooth. There were a lot of bugs throughout the OS, from VoiceOver, to wifi, and beyond. Patches came out, but failed to fix many of the issues. There was even that one time Apple accidentally disabled cellular calling on many iPhones with a bad update! The whole iOS8 experience left a sour taste in peoples' mouths. OS X didn't fair much better, with users experiencing several bugs that affected wifi, bluetooth, Notification Center, mail, and more.
Well, Apple seems to have learned from its mistakes. Instead of adding a bunch of cool new features to this year's upgrades, Tim Cook assured us that the company would be focusing on major quality, stability, and security improvements. If things go according to plan, you can expect far fewer problems this fall when you upgrade your Apple products.
That isn't to say that Apple will be doing away with adding new shinies entirely. There are some nice features coming to Apple's operating systems, but they feel more like much-needed refinements, rather than major new add-ons. Of course, refinement is a wonderful thing--I'm not knocking this upgrade plan in the slightest!
The next Mac OS update will be incremental, refining and polishing the foundation laid down by last year's 10.10 Yosemite. At the keynote today, Apple claimed that Yosemite has the "fastest adoption rate of any operating system". This fact was used to bring out what amounts to the old saying: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Yosemite works well, and is widely used across Apple's install base; they therefore want to make it better, not change it completely. Further evidence that 10.11 is a refinement upgrade to 10.10 is the name. El Capitan is the name of a mountain in Yosemite, suggesting that 10.11 is closely related to 10.10 and not different enough to get the name of a completely separate location. The feature set points to this as well, as it is mostly made up of performance improvements and enhancements rather than new features.
One major change is something most users will never notice directly: the Metal video programming layer is coming to the Mac. While that may sound like no news--or complete gibberish--to most of you, it is an important step. Metal allows for dramatic increases in all things video, from rendering games, to animations as apps open, to moving windows around, to bouncing icons. Moving all these system-wide animations, and those of apps that use Apple's interfaces to run, over to Metal offers a huge performance boost across your entire Mac. No, you may not be able to see the pretty visuals, but they will run no matter what. The faster they can do so, and the less power they need, the better your experience will be. Apple tossed out some impressive numbers to demonstrate this point: apps will launch 1.4 times faster and the time the Mac takes to switch between them is cut in half; Mail will take half as long to start downloading messages; PDFs will open in a quarter the time they do in Yosemite; and, in general, you should notice your Mac is much snappier.
Another new feature is one that many people reading this won't care about: window management. I'll not spend much time on this, mostly because it was hard to follow with audio alone, so I don't fully understand the details myself yet. The basic idea is that you'll be able to move windows around more easily; for instance, drag a window to the top of the screen to move it to another desktop, or move one window on top of another to make the two share the screen. This second feature is handy for dragging Safari links into Notes, or looking at Mail and Calendar side by side, for instance. Full-screen-capable apps will get a nice new feature: tabbed windows. If you have multiple windows open in a full screen app, you'll be able to click between them easily, giving you faster access to what you're doing.
Gesture control is also getting some attention. Users can swipe to delete emails, similar to iOS, or perform a "shake" gesture with one finger to make your pointer larger and thus easier to locate. The latter will not affect VoiceOver users at all, but the former is interesting. I can't help but wonder if some form of the actions rotor might be coming to the Mac, to be used as part of the Trackpad Commander. If so, this could provide a new opportunity for efficiency: on a link in Safari, you could swipe a finger up or down to access "open", "preview", and other options; in Mail, swipe to "delete", "reply", or "flag". This model could easily extend to every native app, and offer VoiceOver users a quick way to access common tasks. With gestures taking a larger role in OS X, I wouldn't be surprised to see big changes to the Trackpad Commander in the next couple years.
Speaking of links in Safari, Apple's web browser gained a few handy new tricks. First, you can now 'pin' websites, and they will remain open and available no matter what else you do. My impression was of permanently opened tabs, but visually distinct from regular tabs. This will be good for keeping sites like ESPN, Facebook, or Twitter open all the time even as you do other things. Safari also got the ability to play or pause audio/video playing in any tab, and to identify for you which tab is playing. If you have problems with auto-playing videos, for instance, you might be in for a pleasant surprise in El Capitan.
The Notes app received a major overhaul, and now supports embedding links, images, and map locations. You can drop these types of things into a note just like you would a Pages document, and not only will they stay there, but the changes will sync over iCloud. Combine this with Notes' new ability to turn text into checklists--with real checkmarks you can tick off--and this could be a very powerful text editor and productivity app.
Searching is now much more natural. You can ask Spotlight for something like "unread mail from Pete" or "spreadsheets I worked on yesterday", and it will find just that. It appears that the age of exact syntax and careful use of the colon is over, finally. Add the Mac's existing dictation, and with two keystrokes (cmd-space and a double tap of the Function key) you can speak a natural question. It's not Siri on the Mac, but it's close. The intelligence goes the other way, too: the Mac can see a contact or event in an email, and "with one click" you can add it to your contacts or calendar. I'm not clear on how this will differ from the existing Data Detectors OS X already includes, but somehow, this will be faster and better.
As expected, El Capitan is out now, as a developer-only beta. There will be a public beta in July, and the upgrade will be released to everyone, for free, this fall. No word yet on compatibility, but if Apple sticks with the iOS9 model, 10.11 will run on any system that can handle 10.10.
I'll be honest: iOS9 has me far more excited than does OS X 10.11. There is some really wonderful stuff coming this fall, and it will be great to see how all of our lives are improved. Better Siri, context-aware searching, better battery life and performance, split screen apps on iPad, and more… and all of it on every device capable of running iOS8! That's right, iOS9 isn't dropping any devices from the support list, meaning you'll get it all the way back to the iPhone 4S and iPod Touch 5! Just like OS X, this update is in developer beta testing as of today, will be released as a public beta in July, and will be free for anyone to download in the fall. Best of all, it needs less than 1.5GB of space to install, compared to the more than 4.5GB iOS8 required.
The feature that touches the largest area is Proactive, a contextually-aware system that tries to offer what you need, when you need it. It starts with Spotlight Search. Open that, and you see not just a search field and keyboard, but a pre-populated list of items you might need. If it's noon, and you always check Twitter at noon, the Twitter app might be at the top of the list. If you recently texted your wife several times, her name might be in the list, in case you want to call or text her some more. If it's morning and you usually check your email when you get up, the Mail app could be waiting for you. iOS will use your location, the time, and other information to determine what you might need at any given moment, and have that ready in Spotlight. Try to think of Spotlight as more of an intelligent information hub, rather than just a search field.
Of course, you can still perform a search, and the same natural language features coming to OS X this fall will be present here as well. There's even an API, letting app developers offer up search results from within their apps, such as recipes in Yumly or Paprika. Video sites will be supported, letting you do a Vimio or Youtube search, then play the result--right inside Spotlight. If you have to leave Spotlight to go into an app shown as a result, there's a link on the page to return you to your search. My impression is that this is similar to iOS8's message reply feature; you can type and edit your text, and even review the conversation, but once you send the message, you're back where you were. Here, though, you'd go into an app, do what you wanted to do, then back out of it and land back in your search results list.
Proactive extends to the lock screen, too. The app you use most often at any given time will be waiting on your lock screen, similar to how Handoff works already. If you don't want that app, simply ignore it--it's not in your way at all. If you do want to use it, swipe it up to open it, and you're off and running. Speaking of running, Proactive can figure out when you normally exercise, and can start your running playlist when you plug in headphones. It can also learn other habits; For instance, if you always listen to an audio book while driving, when you get in your car, that book might be offered right on your lock screen without you having to do anything. Proactive can even examine traffic conditions and times on your calendar, reminding you when it's time to leave without you having to set an alert for a particular time. This is especially nice if you are out and about, as the travel time from the office to the doctor might be very different compared to that from home to the doctor. Wherever you are, your phone will know and remind you in time.
Siri will be much smarter, more responsive, and accurate as well. Apple claims that Siri already has the industry's lowest rate of misunderstood words--just five percent--and has gotten forty percent faster in the last year. Expect those numbers to improve even more, but that's not all. Siri will be more deeply integrated into HomeKit, able to issue your commands to locks, window coverings, heating and cooling systems, and other devices equipped with HomeKit technology (more of which will be coming in the next year).
Siri's ability to set reminders has gotten a bump: it can now remind you of things when you get into your car--no word on how it senses when you do that--and "this" is now a valid keyword. If you're on a webpage, or reading an article, or looking at an email, just say "remind me about this when I get home". Then, when you get home, the reminder appears; activating it will open the app you were in, back to the place you left off. This is one small, but very big, feature I've wanted for a long time! Finally, Siri can find pictures based on location and date; "pictures from my summer camp last July" is a query that Siri will understand, searching for images taken last July in an album, or at a location, it can identify as "summer camp".
The other big feature in Proactive is its ability to scan your emails for events and contact information. Similar to the data Detectors already present in iOS, Proactive can add people to your contacts, or events to your calendar or reminders, with just one tap. It can even see an incoming number during a phone call, and try to find any emails where that number was used. If it can, it will show you a name in addition to the number--its best guess as to who the caller is, based on the emails it found.
All this sounds a bit invasive, doesn't it? Knowing where you are and what you do all day, reading your emails, modifying your calendars… Apple addressed those concerns during the presentation. All this data processing is happening on your phone, and nowhere else, so Apple doesn't see it. If it needs to run a web search or send anything to the cloud, iOS does so only after anonymizing your data so no one knows whom the request is from. Privacy and security continue to be a top priority with Apple, and if I'm going to trust anyone with as much personal information as Proactive is getting, I'll trust them.
Is iOS eating your battery? Not anymore! iOS9 claims to offer an hour more battery life than iOS8, and that's before you hit the Low Power switch. Yes, iOS is finally getting a toggle that lets you put your device into a state where it draws as little energy as possible, though we don't yet know exactly what it shuts off to do this. Apple said today that this setting can extend your battery by another three hours, perfect for that dreaded "twenty percent battery remaining" message popping up when you're still an hour from your charger. Part of how it gets more time out of each charge, even without Low Power Mode, is by implementing the same Metal API that OS X uses. This and other tricks let your device do what it needs to do while using fewer resources to do it. In other words, not only will you see better battery performance, you'll see better overall performance and, possibly, a snappier operating system.
News is the name of a brand new app. The experience, from what I can tell, is like a combination of RSS and Flipboard; you are presented with a list of articles that iOS thinks you'll like, pulled from a wide range of sources. When you first set it up, you will be asked for your preferences--topics you like, news sources you follow, and so on. Once done, News will start pulling articles from those sources in those topics. It will learn over time, as it watches what you read and what you skip over, and will soon be presenting you with personalized, auto-curated headlines whenever you open it. There's a way to bookmark articles for later reading, to favorite them, and even to explore new types of content to see what else you might like. I suppose it's more of a Flipboard/RSS service, paired with a technology similar to Pandora or iTunes Radio. News will only be available in the United States, Australia, and the U.K. at launch.
Other notable updates include Notes and Maps. Notes receives the same feature set as on OS X: text formatting; link, image, and map pin support; note attachment view; and, exclusive to iOS (for now): drawing. You can draw on your screen with a finger, and your artistic creation will appear right in your note. Maps is getting the long-awaited transit directions feature we've hope for since 2012, and can now guide you through public transportation in several major American or Chinese cities. Most of us will have to wait, but if you live in one of the few places this feature supports, you'll have a much easier time getting around. Maps can even take you to the correct entrance of larger transit hubs, and factor the time it will take you to walk to your next conveyance into account.
Finally, HealthKit is receiving updates to what kinds of data it can handle. It will let you track UV exposure, reproductive health, and other details in iOS9. Presumably, this means it will finally be able to track menstruation, a feature women have been asking for ever since HealthKit launched. Other incremental updates include expanded gaming APIs--such as the ability to record your screen during a game or leverage mapping for in-game maps--and a feature that lets a two-finger touch on the keyboard turn it into a trackpad for controlling your cursor and selecting text. There's no word on how, or if, VoiceOver will handle this new trackpad feature--or if it would even benefit from doing so.
The iPad is getting all the changes I've already listed, of course, but is also receiving some special features of its own. In short, it will become a far more capable productivity device than ever, and owners of iPads--especially Airs or Air 2s--should be very excited.
iOS9 on the iPad brings with it a whole new way to multi-task. You can enter the App Switcher and view full-screen previews of your apps, then slide between them, or pull one next to another and--for the first time ever--put both side by side. You can have both apps running at the same time, both on your screen at once, each responding to your input. Open up Calendar and Messages, to check your schedule as you're planning a trip; keep Pages and Safari open while you do research for a report; the combinations are endless, and you can see how very useful this feature would be. You can even watch a video in one app as you open and use another, or shrink the video down to a tiny icon so you can use a different app but continue to have the audio from that video playing in the background. In either case--two apps or an app and a video--you can adjust how much of the screen each one takes up, based on how much of each one you need.
The on-screen keyboard is receiving a big refinement in the way of on-screen controls. There are formatting buttons on the keyboard, letting you style and manipulate text without going to any special menus or performing extra gestures. Additionally, as I mentioned previously, touching the keyboard with two fingers will turn it into a trackpad.
Even better is the support for external keyboards. iOS has supported keyboards for years, of course, but the iPad and iOS9 take it a step further. You can see what hotkeys an app has set up--such as command-n for New--and you can initiate a Spotlight search directly from the keyboard. Perhaps most useful of all, you can switch tasks with a keystroke (command-tab, I assume, but I don't know for sure). NoApp Switcher at all, no four- or five-finger gestures, just a keystroke. Combine that with the power of viewing two apps at once, and the updated on-screen keyboard, and your iPad becomes a true productivity powerhouse.
iOS9 will run on all iPads that support iOS8. However, some features will not be available for older models. What we heard today was that the task-switching gestures in iOS9 will only be present on the iPad Mini 2 and 3, and Air 1 and 2. The split screen features are for the iPad Air 2 only, and will not be coming to the iPad Mini at all.
Last year, Apple Pay debuted on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, then extended its reach through the Apple Watch. More and more banks, credit unions, and merchants have gotten onboard, and the service has enjoyed steady growth. By July, Apple expects over one million locations to support it, and that doesn't count all the apps that offer it. In fact, apps that implemented Apple Pay (letting users pay with a fingerprint from within the app, instead of typing in their card details) report that their checkout rates have doubled, according to today's presentation. Even Pinterest is getting in on the action, providing pins users can use to buy physical objects through Apple Pay--a service supported only on iOS.
This year, Apple Pay is expanding in a big way: not only will more American retailers--including Baskin Robins and even Square--start supporting it, but it is moving overseas! The U.K. will receive Apple Pay in over two hundred and fifty thousand locations, including the London Transportation System, in July. At launch, over seventy percent of bank cards will be supported, and Apple expects that number to grow.
The other push is loyalty cards. Duncan Donuts, J.C. Penney, BJ's, and other retailers will be offering loyalty and rewards cards that you can add to Apple Pay, which will appear in the Wallet app (this is the app we currently know as Passbook). Instead of paying with your regular debit card, for instance, you might pay with a Duncan Donuts card, thus earning you points. Since your phone knows where you are, doing this is easy; the card associated with the store you're in will be offered by default, though you can easily choose a different one if you want to.
Apple Watch OS Update
The Apple Watch launched barely six weeks ago, and Apple is already releasing a beta of its next major operating system update: watchOS 2.0. The big deal here is the support for native Watch apps. This means that apps can run on just the Watch, without requiring a companion app on the iPhone to be installed and the phone to be nearby. Exercise tracking and music playback have been possible without a phone since watchOS1.0, but now any app can run untethered. Weather can update, you can get notifications, third-party exercise apps will work… and most of your apps will run faster! Needless to say, any app that requires the internet will need the Watch to be connected to a wifi network if your iPhone isn't in range.
Native apps have another advantage: they can hook into the Watch's onboard hardware in a way not allowed before. They can access the microphone, heart rate sensor, other HealthKit data, speaker, digital crown, friends button, Taptic feedback engine, and accelerometer. They can even play back short videos.
watchOS 2.0 will include a range of other improvements as well, some of which are:
- Make any of your photos, or photo albums, into a watch face
- Apps can make their own complications, which you can add to your watch faces
- Siri and Maps both get the same features introduced in iOS9, and Siri can even respond to a command to show the glance for a particular app, or start a certain kind of workout
- The digital crown can be used to show what your Watch will look like--weather, reminders, and so on--at different times of the day, known as "time travel"
- While charging, the Watch can show the time, and play a wake-up alarm
- You can have more than twelve friends on the Watch, sorted into different groups. Friends can now be added directly from the Watch, instead of requiring you to use the iOS Apple Watch app.
- You can add colors to digital drawings, use dictation to reply to emails, take FaceTime audio calls, and more
As you probably expect by now, watchOS 2.0 was released as a beta to developers today, though no public beta program was mentioned. The update will be here this fall, and will be free.
There's a new player in the crowded music streaming arena: Apple Music. This is Apple's response to Spotify, Pandora, and the other streaming services out there--and it actually sounds rather compelling. Here are the highlights.
For $9.99 per month, you'll be able to access:
- Stream nearly any track iTunes has to offer, whenever you want
- Save tracks to your device, for offline listening
- Listen to Beats One, an internet radio station run by three big-name DJs from three major cities: New York, Las Angeles, and London. This station puts "great music first".
- Get personalized playlist recommendations based on what you're listening to. These playlists are suggested by humans, not just algorithms.
- If you're an artist, use the Connect feature to post behind-the-scenes content, photos, songs, or whatever you want, as a way of connecting with your fans
Apple Music will arrive in more than a hundred countries by July, as part of the iOS8.4 update; this iOS update will also deliver a completely re-designed Music app. In the fall, iTunes will get the feature, bringing it to Mac and Windows, and there will even be an Android version. While the price is $9.99 per month for an individual subscription, you can sign up as a family and pay $14.99 per month for up to six people. Each person in the group will have an individual account, so no one's playlists or recommendations will interfere with those of anyone else. This is a great deal--even two people would pay nearly $20 between them, and the savings just get better from there. The $10 price is in line with other popular services like Spotify, and Apple is even offering a three-month free trial of its new music service.
That's All, Folks
That's everything! To summarize:
- El Capitan will deliver stability, gesture support, better searching, and easier window management to the Mac
- iOS9 will introduce Proactive, a contextually aware helper that provides the apps, contacts, and information you need, when you need it, without you having to ask
- iOS9 will also bring better searching, a great new way of moving the cursor/highlighting text, the new News app, an big performance improvements to Apple's mobile devices, and the iPad gets support for split screen apps
- Apple Pay hops the pond and gains many more retailers, including Square
- The Apple Watch gets a huge update, including support for native apps
- Apple Music debuts, offering unlimited (well, we think it's unlimited) streaming of the entire iTunes music database, Beats One radio station, and personalized playlists for just $9.99 per person per month, less if you sign up as a family.
No, we didn't see amazing new features like when Apple Pay or Siri were first introduced, but I think Proactive and the iPad improvements are plenty incredible. The focus was on stability and security, and I anticipate a lot less headaches when we get our hands on all this new software compared to last year's updates. I'm excited to play with iOS9 and OS X 10.11 this fall, and I might even give Apple Music a try. I don't have an Apple Watch or an iPad, but I'm thrilled for my friends who do, as they will enjoy a hugely improved experience in a few months.
How did you feel about today? Underwhelmed? Excited? Don't care? Will you be trying the public betas this summer, or sitting it out? To the comments section! Go!