Why Apple’s WWDC keynote was its most important in years

Photo:

Craig Federighi stalks the stage at WWDC 2014. Photo: Roberto Baldwin/The Next Web

Monday’s fantastic WWDC keynote was the most significant product introduction since Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad in 2010. But this time, the revolutionary product wasn’t hardware — it was software.

The surprisingly well-executed event demonstrated two things:

1. Steve Jobs’ greatest product wasn’t the iPad or the Macintosh, but Apple itself. He created a company that can very clearly innovate without him.

2. Although there was no new hardware (for now), Apple’s trajectory is clear: It’s getting into some very big things.


As marketing theater, Monday’s keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco was great — far better than recent keynotes. The jokes were funnier, the presentation smoother and the content hugely significant. Clocking in at nearly two hours, it was well-paced, entertaining and fascinating.

Tim Cook looked more relaxed, more at ease. He wasn’t painful to watch. He came across like a proper CEO — a man in charge, comfortable in his own skin and his role as the head of Apple.

Craig Federighi, of course, was the star. He did a great job carrying the show, which is no easy task. (Although it’s curious that he’s being tipped as Apple’s next CEO on the strength of his recent public performances. Maybe, but unlikely.)

I missed Phil Schiller — a funny, likable presenter — and Jony Ive, who I’ve argued should be the star of these shows.

But what I liked best was the import of the announcements. Although it started slow, most of the stuff talked about was important. Past keynotes have often been padded, even when Steve Jobs was in charge — but this one was one big thing after another.

And just like Steve’s trademark one-last-things, this keynote ended on a high note — although you’d never know it from Federighi’s demeanor. He downplayed the important stuff, sneaking it in at the end. He never grabbed a bullhorn and announced it as such, but the best stuff was saved for the last half when he talked about the plumbing of iOS.

Apple’s plan for our future

It’s clear that Apple is laying the groundwork for three very big plays:

The digital wallet: Apple is opening up the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to third-party apps. Developers won’t gain access to any fingerprints themselves — they will remain stored securely inside the processor — but if adopted widely, the system will shake up passwords and payments. And it’s not too hard to imagine a new generation of iBeacon (or Bluetooth-powered) point-of-sale systems at stores.

The iHome: HomeKit is a collection of tools to turn iPhones and iPads into software hubs for the connected home, controlling wireless locks, security systems, sprinklers and light bulbs. It will include Siri, allowing the system to turn off all the lights and lock the doors with a simple “I’m going to bed” command (the best use-case for the connected home I’ve ever heard, BTW).

iHealth: HealthKit is a one-stop shop for data on health and fitness, recording everything from heart rate and sleep to blood chemistry. The app pulls data from third-party health-monitoring and fitness hardware. It can report data to users and health-care providers alike, allowing the Mayo Clinic, for example, to know if patients’ vital signs change for the worse.

The introduction of these tools was low-key. But taken together, Apple all but announced new hardware.

The software is the foundation to Apple’s coming iWatch, which is expected later this year. Likewise, it’s easy to imagine HomeKit being a part of a future Apple TV, controlling the home from the living room via Siri.

Apple is a very careful and deliberate company. It rolls things out slowly. Apple’s Passbook started small, but now is used widely by people to board flights, enter movie theaters and pay for coffee at Starbucks.

While Google shows off a self-driving car — which, cool as it is, is basically vaporware, years away from being a real product — Apple shows us the software that will power some very big products.

This is the first step in Apple’s plans. The next phase will come in the fall, when Apple usually unveils new hardware.

During yesterday’s keynote there was a palpable sense of confidence. You could tell that the various executives onstage were bullish about Apple’s work. It was almost cocky. They weren’t revealing the goodies just yet, but they seemed like they were sharing an in-joke, winking at each other, in on a secret.

Apple’s next generation of gadgets will focus on health and the home.

Unlike most big companies, Apple is playing the long game. They’ve successfully mapped out a plan to expand their reach beyond fulfilling our entertainment and computing needs. With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple is poised to put its next generation of gadgets at the center of our health, our homes and our most secure transactions.

The end result will be total domination.

  • TheMadTurtle

    I agree with the sentiment of Apple playing the long run. Still, while there were clearly a lot of nice improvements to many things, none of them carried much “weight”, in my opinion. Why iOS8 and Yosemite? With the exception of HomeKit and HealthKit, everything else seemed to me to be perfectly suited to a point release rather than a full release. In fact, some of the things – like fixing the issue with families and multiple iTunes accounts, were a looooonggg time coming – way overdue.

    I guess I just expected to learn that how I use my computer and phone would be radically different in some way and I don’t have that impression. Some things will be nicer, sure, but not radically different.

    • Paulo Roberto Ramos de Andrade

      Well, you don’t broke what it already fixed (right, Windows 8?!), you just improve it.

      • TheMadTurtle

        Sure, I get it. Oh, and is it really OS X 10.10? Really? The difference between 10.1 and 10.10 is only that last zero? Sorry, just a peeve of mine…

      • Paulo Roberto Ramos de Andrade

        You need to work better on your next ironic anwser, this was just silly.

      • LordQuad

        I’m with Paulo. Where did that ‘peeve’ come from?

      • TheMadTurtle

        Wasn’t trying to be ironic. Mathematically, 10.10 = 10.1. Like I said, it’s just a peeve of mine.

      • Arnold Ziffel

        Version numbers don’t represent mathematical values; they’re labels.

      • Rui Nelson Carneiro

        No, dumbass.

        it’s not a fractional number.

    • LordQuad

      “. Still, while there were clearly a lot of nice improvements to many things, none of them carried much “weight”, in my opinion. Why iOS8 and Yosemite?”
      Seriously? I suppose as a consumer ‘weight’ would be, or have a different ‘meaning’. This WWDC address was huge for the development community. A new and low level language ‘Metal’ was introduced (MASSIVE for developers and those looking to take advantage of the A7s computational GPU skills). Inter app communication. Everyone’s cried for years about the keyboard…get a NEW one! Huge updates. Continuity for me, my family and my business is also HUGE! I suppose the Mad Turtle would ‘assume’ these fixes were a long time in the works iTunes specifically. That said, show me anything in Android (I’m an Android owner as well) that comes anywhere CLOSE to media aggregation access and organization than iTunes. Windows? Nope. In iOS, the integration of iTuneswith programs like dJay are incredible. GarageBand, iMovie, Pinnacle…even Lightroom companion or FCP….THIS is where Android development needs to improve. Creative, useful and productive software. Much of which comes free and ‘stock’ with an iOS device. This conference wasn’t meant for consumers. It’s a developer’s conference. That’s why iOS 8 and Yosemite.

      • TheMadTurtle

        I appreciate your opinion, LordQuad. No need to make it personal. You know what happens when you “assume”. Something about a donkey, I think…

      • BobButtons

        The only way for that to improve with Android is if you use a Google OS or 3rd party software. Apple makes both OS X & the iPhone so of course they can have built-in aggregation. There are numerous programs for Windows to install that do this with Android. Obviously it won’t be built in since Microsoft has their own phone OS to push.

    • Mario Zyla

      Why do people always ask for radical changes? It’s technology. It’s an ecosystem that will help make life easier and Apple is just doing that, in every keynote, in every update, better than anyone else.

      • BobButtons

        Yeah, people want to be radically amazed but whenever it happens the Internet rains down a shit-storm of people pissed that everything’s different.

      • http://abercrombie.com/ Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

        Exactly…. Like iOS 7

  • Rich Cook

    When is apple going to support heirarchical mail folders in iOS Mail? Such a basic feature, but doesn’t work. Very strange. Also, searchable email would be, um, NECESSARY.

    • jonbren

      What do you mean by searchable email? If you are referring to the Mail app, then when you go to your All Inboxes folder just swipe down to revel the search box.

  • stefnagel

    “Total domination.” Yep.

    Mirrors trump windows. Public content streams … tunes, games, apps, shows, books … will be upstaged by the new private content stream … us … specifically our health, wealth, family, home, work info.

    Identity trumps celebrity. Our private content streams will be much more important than social content streams like Facebook can ever be.

    Privacy trumps piracy. Private content will require superb crypto engines, baked into both hardware and software. How many times did the Apple guys mention security yesterday? The FaceGoo pryware agencies need not apply.

    Who in their right mind would give an ad agency their credit card number? Apple will soon have a billion of them. That’s maybe 25 percent of all the credit card carrying adults in the whole wide world.

    Apple knows. Appleknockers? Not so much.

    • http://www.hugepatheticforce.org/ JonJ

      Who in their right mind would put their door lock mechanism in any Internet or cloud system? All I need is for someone in another country (no names) locking me out of my house and demanding ransom, or a local hacker opening the door.

      • stefnagel

        Ha.

  • Mike Littell

    See and here I thought it was the single worst Keynote yet. I took it as Apple has lost all that was left of Steve Jobs momentum in innovation. I wait all year looking forward to the Apple Keynotes like a kid for Christmas. And this year Apple told me there was no Santa. You want continuity? Let’s start with consistency!
    And for it being huge for dev’s? That’s great and all but without new hardware I won’t give two shits about your badass software.

    • RetortForm

      This is some good whine. Need you some cheese?

    • jdcliff

      Ditto! The Emperor has no clothes.

    • Mike Chu

      Well, technically, it is world wide DEVELOPERS conference…

    • pe8er8

      Right! Considering it’s a developer’s conference why would they concentrate on software?

    • aardman

      Entertain me! Entertain me! Sheesh.

      Anyone who doesn’t see how significant this keynote is, how it just made an unprecedented (for Apple) big reveal on Apple’s directions for the next few years, is not much more than a five year old in a birthday party screaming for Apple to keep making balloon poodles.

  • Mario Zyla

    Apple is, primarily, a software company and this keynote was for the developers, not consumers. Anyway, I am a consumer and I loved continuity. I mean… calls from a computer… that’s huge.
    And it was clear that Apple is hiding something under the hood, probably coming in October, you could feel it throughout the keynote.
    The team was very alive and funny, the stuff presented were great, a new programming language was designed and people weregenrally satisfied and wowed. I think it was even better than with Jobs on stage. Anyway, we have to wait till October.

  • aardman

    I’d prefer to say “The end result will be unparalleled ubiquity.”

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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