By Rohan Naravane
If you’ve been following Apple’s yearly developer conference for the past few weeks, you would have seen a fair share of wish lists — write-ups where journalists play the role of a product manager, and imagine features that this year’s Apple products should have. That’s because other than showcasing what developers can do with Apple software, the WWDC also provides a glimpse of what new features customers can expect on their iDevices towards the end of the year.
Some things did manage to make it — take for instance the concept video above that shows dragging-and-dropping of content between split-screen apps on an iPad; that’s very much how it works in iOS 11. Even the long-desired File manager or a customisable Control Center made it’s way to Apple’s mobile operating system this year.
But apart from these few highlights, Apple (as always) was in no mood to give users everything they want. A lot of stuff shown also felt like they were merely catching up to the rest of the industry. Let’s break down what happened, and what did not happen at the WWDC 2017.
The keynote started with tvOS, but the only thing that was mentioned about it was that Amazon Prime Video app is coming to the tvOS App Store later this year. Not to say that’s not exciting — today the only way to view Prime Video on a big screen is by either purchasing a Fire TV Stick or a supported smart TV (it doesn’t work with Chromecast, a popular streaming stick to date). But it is saddening to know that highly-requested features like a multi-user mode or the expansion of the really useful TV app (that simultaneously searches for content from multiple providers) to more countries got no mention.
The fourth iteration of the software that powers the Apple Watch got a couple of interesting features like a Google-Now-like Siri watch face that predicts relevant information. Activity monitoring now sets challenges to motivate users to get better and also supports performing jumping from one activity to another quickly. But yet again, instead of requested stuff like third party watch faces or the option to set an always-on display, the keynote screen time was dedicated to a trippy kaleidoscope watchface or characters of Toy Story, which may attract the attention of some six-year-old Apple Watch users.
macOS High Sierra
The name of Apple’s next computer operating system isn’t just funky, it also points to the fact that not much has changed from Sierra. There are some interesting additions that typical users will find useful — like how the Safari web browser can prevent auto-playing videos and even ad-tracking scripts on websites. Or how the Reader Mode, that strips ads and all other distracting elements and shows articles in a PDF-like format, can be turned on by default for specific websites.
But then there was stuff that just makes you go, “wait, it didn’t do that already?”. For example, the Photos app will now sync names of people you have fed in, to other Apple devices using the Photos app. Then there’s ‘Messages in iCloud’, which now syncs all your previous iMessage conversations when setting up a new device (you know, like how it works with most instant messaging apps today).
A lot of people have their eyes peeled to the iOS updates at WWDC — after all, it is the software that powers the popular iPhone and iPads too. We already mentioned the Files app, the drag-and-drop feature on the iPad and a customisable Control Center in the beginning. Other stuff to like included low-light portrait mode for iPhones with two rear camera lenses. Then there was Do Not Disturb While Driving, a built in screen video recording function and QR code scanning baked into the default camera app. The iPad-specific updates to iOS 11 are slowly and steadily making the iPad Pro more computer-like — there’s a dock just like macOS that can summon apps quickly, you can open floating app windows, etc. But it still isn’t a computer replacement (read below to know why).
Despite all this, a lot of other stuff did feel like Apple was catching up — for example Siri’s ability to translate spoken text to another language is something Google Assistant and previously Google Now have been doing for years. Apple Pay person-to-person payments lets iOS device owners to send money to each other, but it’s not very different from how a wallet app like Paytm functions. In fact, person-to-person payments will work only between Apple users and only in select countries where Apple Pay is enabled.
— Rohan Naravane (@r0han) June 6, 2017
And then there’s stuff where things just felt lacking. SiriKit was only mildly expanded from the number of capabilities it supported last year with iOS 10. And from the laundry-list of features people expected in iOS 11, they didn’t get some important stuff like swipe-typing on the default keyboard, or an overhauled notification center, or an ability to set non-Apple default apps, or even multi-user mode for the iPad, to name a few. Mac Breaking the recent tradition of not announcing new hardware at WWDC, this year a good chunk of the keynote was reserved for new hardware — one of which was the Mac computer lineup. The good news is that the excluding the ageing MacBook Air, all other consumer Macs are now updated to the latest 7th Generation Intel ‘Kaby Lake’ chips. Even the MacBook Pros (the ones with and without the TouchBar) announced late last year got the latest Intel chips, faster SSDs and better graphics on the 15-inch models.
But probably the highlight of the Mac announcement was the iMac Pro — with up to 18-core Intel Xeon CPUs, 128GB of RAM, 4TB SSD and AMD’s Radeon Vega graphics. Of course the price of the entry-level iMac Pro is $4999, meaning it’s clearly only going to interest a niche audience that wants that kind of power. But a couple of things people wanted desperately — like a return of the removed SD card slot on the new MacBook Pros, or more than just one USB C port on the 12-inch MacBook, fell on deaf ears. iPad Pro With the new iPad Pro, you could say the most exciting thing about them were display advancements like a 120Hz screen refresh rate which is also dynamically scalable, HDR video support, etc. But it largely was the same iPad Pro we’ve known with trimmed bezels and updated internals — which means there’s no major departure from how iPad Pros work today. For example, a lot of people (me included) have been asking for an iPad with a trackpad, which would make it comparable to Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
With the iPad-specific iOS 11 features, it would have become an apt computer replacement as Apple would like you to think. But alas, we’ll have to keep on hoping.
The approach Apple has taken with the HomePod is interesting, because none of the virtual assistant devices today produce good audio quality, and speakers with good audio quality don’t have virtual assistants built-in. With the goal of making a good-sounding speaker that is also smart, Apple could price the HomePod at $349, which is almost twice as much as the Amazon Echo and about three times the cost of a Google Home. There are things to like about the HomePod — the spatial awareness means that you can keep the speaker at any corner of the room and it will adjust itself for optimal sound output.
Apple’s positioning of the HomePod as a great-sounding speaker with a virtual assistant is clever, since it clearly knows Siri is still no match for Amazon Alexa or Google Home’s abilities. And there was nothing in the event to suggest that Siri will be able to answer questions a lot better than she does today.
Good morning! pic.twitter.com/iOQudekztJ
— nilay patel (@reckless) June 5, 2017
In closing, it would be a good time to remind the disappointed folk that that Apple historically has never given everything customers wanted in any of their products. But still, these wish lists showcase people’s expectations (sometimes led by frustration) with hopes that the company to give them what they want. I think it’s about time those people realise that all of their dreams, no matter how validated, won’t always come true.
The author has been writing about technology since 2007. He’s often conflicted between what Apple and Google have to offer. You can find him rambling about tech on @r0han.