A few weeks ago, Google held its I/O developer conference, where they laid out the vision for the future of Android and its various services. This week is Apple’s turn at their own World-Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). Apple usually uses the headlining keynote to outline updates to their major software platforms. This year they delivered those software updates as usual but with a few hardware surprises thrown in there. In the weeks leading up to WWDC, the internet was awash with rumors about a smart speaker to compete with Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as a new iPad. Let’s dive in and check out the biggest announcements from WWDC:
The newest version of Apple’s most popular operating system, iOS 11, brings a slew of new features centered around social interactions. The Google Assistant, Siri, is now able to translate sentences into different languages. Siri can also use machine learning capabilities to gradually learn your habits and make suggestions automatically based on how the device is being used. The Control Center was also updated slightly to condense all of the controls to one page (hooray, no more swiping over for music controls!) and 3D Touch can be used to expand those controls.
iMessages was also updated with the ability to synchronize conversations between Apple devices, meaning that if you delete a conversation on your iPhone, it’s also deleted on your Mac as well. Apple is also integrating a peer to peer (P2P) payment system directly into iMessage. Previously, most people would use a third-party app such as Venmo or Square Cash to send payments to their friends or businesses. Now, you can simply use iMessage to send and receive money using Apple Pay. The payments are transferred to a special “Apple Pay Cash Card” which can then be transferred to your bank. Because this P2P payment system only works inside of iMessage, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use it outside of the Apple ecosystem (sorry Android owners). However, it does make transferring money to family and friends who use Apple products that much easier without having to use a third-party service like Venmo.
Live Photos are updated with the ability to be edited. Now users can create small GIFs from the Live Photo. The photos themselves can also be edited with Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, showing off by changing a woman’s hat to a totally different color. Those changes in Photos can also be imported into third party photo editing apps such as Photoshop.
While Apple didn’t introduce any new features to CarPlay, they did introduce a new safety feature that is able to recognize if you are driving and will turn on the Do Not Disturb to prevent any distractions. The App Store has been completely redesigned and looks more in line with how Apple Music looks. The tabs at the bottom now have dedicated sections for Apps and Games. The redesign is supposed to improve app discovery and visibility.
For the past few months, Apple has been heavily touting the iPad as a tablet that can replace your laptop. How well it will do depends on the user but to further the point, iOS 11 introduces several new features specifically for the iPad to increase productivity. There is improved multitasking that allows users to drag an app from the dock and onto the screen for split screen. Information can also be dragged from one side screened app to another, with Federighi again showing a demo where he dragged texts and pictures from one app into the Mail app. Finally, Apple created a Files app that allows users to manage files similar to a desktop (the app itself was leaked a few hours before the event started though). Power users have wanted Apple to allow access to a file system for a long time and Apple finally gives some kind of desktop feature that allows that. The Files app can also connect to external cloud storage such as Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive.
Apple also showed off the augmented reality (AR) capabilities of iOS 11 and is banking on AR being used more on mobile devices like phones and tablets rather than dedicated headsets. Apple is releasing ARKit to allow developers to create AR apps for iOS devices.
macOS High Sierra, tvOS 11, and watchOS 4
Unlike recent years where a new macOS introduced tons of new features, this year’s update featured at WWDC is more of an incremental update. In fact, the new version will be called High Sierra (which is similar to when Apple went from Leopard to Snow Leopard). With this new version, it comes with a new file system called Apple File System (APFS). APFS was first introduced in the iOS 10.3 update. Along with other improvements, this new file system speeds up file transfers with native encryption. The Photos app has additional editing features and Safari will automatically block web trackers to stop those annoying autoplay videos (I’m looking at you CNN). There is also a new Metal graphics API called Metal 2 that supports VR (and AR) and external AMD graphics cards.
Apple’s tvOS wasn’t particularly showcased at WWDC this year, however, Apple CEO Tim Cook did announce that the Amazon Prime Video is coming to Apple TV. Most of the newer features of tvOS such as, new background modes and notifications, custom sound support, and automatic light/dark switching are buried in the release notes.
The Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 4, introduces a few new watch faces such as Siri and Toy Story characters. The Siri face will display information such as reminders as well as a feature dedicated complication to access Siri directly. Of course, being fitness focused, watchOS 4 also allows Apple Watches to pair with gym equipments in order to receive the most accurate workout and calorie information.
Because WWDC is a developer conference, most of the announcements are centered on software. However, Apple took this time to introduce a few new surprising hardware announcements.
Apple unveiled a new 10.5 inch iPad Pro which features Apple’s new A10X CPU and a 12 core GPU. The screen supports HDR video and can run up to 120 Hz refresh rate. This is especially important for the Apple Pencil as the increased refresh rate allows much finer control and responsiveness. The refresh rate changes dynamically depending on what’s happening on screen in order to maximize battery life. The new iPad Pro starts at $650 for 64GB of storage and goes up to 512GB of storage.
In regards to the iMac, Apple is finally updating their all-in-one computer with Intel’s 7th generation Kaby Lake chips. The screens are 43 percent brighter and it displays more colors. The 21.5” iMacs get upgraded Intel Iris Plus GPUs while the 4K models get AMD Radeon Pro 555 and 560 graphics cards. The top end 5K 27” iMac gets Radeon Pro 570, 575, and 580 graphics cards. These are the most significant updates to the iMac since 2015. But wait, there’s more! In addition to upgrading the existing iMacs, Apple introduced the all new iMac Pro at WWDC. Until the new Mac Pro comes out, the iMac Pro will be the most powerful computer Apple has ever made. It ships with an 8-core Intel Xeon processor which can be configured all the way up to a whopping 18 cores. It also features a 5K display and the new AMD Radeon Vega GPU. Save up your pennies because the entry level iMac Pro starts at $5,000. Apple also took the time to make minor spec bumps to the new Macbook line by upgrading them to Kaby Lake as well.
Apple also introduced the HomePod, it’s smart speaker is to compete with the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home. Apple calls it a “breakthrough” speaker that will reinvent music like the iPod did. Those are pretty bold claims but sound-wise, the HomePod seems to deliver. Covered in a mesh material, the shape is reminiscent to the Mac Pro “trash can” look and features, an array of seven tweeters and a subwoofer. The A8 chip inside utilizes technology that Apple calls, “special awareness” that allows it to automatically tune the sound to match the makeup of whatever room it’s in. Naturally, it’s also integrated with Siri and Apple Music, the form of which has been upgraded to answer numerous music queries. Apple says that Siri is able to hear commands even when the music is blasting full tilt. Because Siri is built in, most of the abilities Siri has on iOS is also available here, such as asking for; weather, news, sending iMessages, and creating reminders and timers. HomePod also integrates with HomeKit for centralized control of your HomeKit devices. In an apparent dig at Amazon and Google, information sent to Apple is encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier. The HomePod doesn’t ship until December and will cost $350 when it releases.