Instead of dropping an iWatch or some other hardware bombshell at WWDC, Apple showcased the futuristic tools it will use to extend its rapidly growing empire.
“Apple engineers platforms, devices and services together,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook as he wrapped up the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote Monday in San Francisco. “We do this so we can create a seamless experience for our users that is unparalleled in the industry. This is something only Apple can do.”
Casual observers (and stock analysts) might fret that there was no big wearables reveal, no amazing new Apple TV, not even a spec boost for an existing device during the highly anticipated WWDC kickoff.
“We’re always future-focused,” said Cook, who shared presenting duties with Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, and others. Here’s a look at the shiny, translucent, interconnected future Apple is focusing upon.
Your health will be continuously monitored. While we still don’t know what the iWatch will look like or when it will be released, we do know the name of the developer tool that will connect app makers to the supposedly health-centric device. It’s called HealthKit, and it provides a framework for pulling together data from all kinds of fitness and medical devices to give users a comprehensive overview of their health. A corresponding app called Health will let manufacturers of fitness and medical devices hook into the Apple ecosystem rather than being walled off in their own individual apps.
You’ll switch instantly between Apple devices. With these updates to its mobile and desktop systems, Apple’s ecosystem will become even more tightly integrated. A new proximity-aware feature called Handoff will let Apple users easily start a task on one device and switch to another. Begin an email on your iPhone, for instance, and finish it on your MacBook Air. Laptop users can instantly connect to their phones as hotspots when there’s no Wi-Fi around. Plus, they can make and receive phone calls using their Macs. This effectively turns a Mac into a speakerphone (complete with Caller ID) — just click a phone number on any webpage to make a call.
You’ll get in Touch with everything. A Touch ID API will make Apple’s fingerprint-recognition feature available to third-party iOS 8 apps. This should be big for banking, security, etc., as the iPhone 5s and its successors become able to verify their users’ identities. Your trusty Apple device will become a trusted device offering access to all kinds of secure systems.
Your apps will work together. Extensibility and widgets are coming to iOS apps, which means one third-party app can tap the power of another. For instance, a tourist guide could interface with the Bing app to pull in the search engine’s translation service within the travel app. Also: iPhone users can now use third-party keyboards.
Apple’s bringing the automation home. A new HomeKit API will be Apple’s answer to the connected home, an emerging market that’s currently fractured into makers of smart light bulbs, phone-controlled thermostats and other hardware. Apple will bring Siri integration and the ability to group disparate devices in an attempt to provide the sort of whole-home automation that until now has only been seen in sci-fi movies. “We thought we could bring some rationality to this space,” said Federighi.
Messages is getting more powerful (and less annoying). Apple is tweaking its most frequently used iOS 7 app to make it more user friendly in iOS 8. New options will let users push a Do Not Disturb button to mute a conversation, assign a name to a message thread, share their location, and add or remove recipients (including themselves) from a thread. A weird new addition: Users can record short audio files — just like voicemails — and send them using Messages. Recipients simply raise their iPhone to listen to the message. OS X Yosemite will even let users chat with their “green bubble friends” (Android users) just as easily as iMessage users.
Swift is the language of the future. Apple CEO Tim Cook called new programming language Swift “the mother of all releases for developers.” It will replace the Objective-C currently used for OS X and iOS apps. “The language is called Swift and it totally rules,” said Federighi.
iOS games are going to get amazing. A new tool called Metal promises 10 times the performance for graphics-heavy video games. This means extending high-end 3-D gaming to iOS devices, so your iPhone will be capable of more Gears of War and less Flappy Bird. “The results are stunning,” said Federighi.
Apple is gunning for Dropbox and Google Drive. iCloud Drive will let users share large files with others, at prices far cheaper than Dropbox, which has become the go-to service. Photos taken with an iDevice will be synced automatically, with the first 5GB of storage costing nothing (up to 20GB costs $0.99 per month; 200GB costs $3.99 per month). Also, a new service called MailDrop will let users email large (up to 5GB) attachments seamlessly. With everything built into the Apple ecosystem, the convenience (and potential to eventually dominate Dropbox) can’t be overstated.
Photos will be prettier and easier to manage. iOS 8 will include Smart Editing tools that make it easy to adjust things like color balance and exposure. New “smart” search filters (like location, time, etc.) will make it easier to find a particular image buried in a large photo library.
The App Store is getting better (finally). Developers will soon be able to upload app previews, short videos that give potential buyers a better peek at what the app does. Devs will also be able to offer prepackaged app bundles. “We are really investing a ton in the App Store,” Cook said, calling it the biggest release since the App Store was launched.
You’ve got Notifications. The Notifications Center is about to get juiced in both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. A Today panel will show things like upcoming calendar events, and interactive Notifications will pop up on the iPhone lockscreen, just like they do on Motorola’s Active Display.
Spotlight will shine brighter than ever. The updated Spotlight search tool will deliver results from around the web instead of just from your computer. The demo showed by Federighi looked a lot like the sort of context-sensitive results served up by Google Now.
Typing is getting easier. QuickType will take predictive typing to the next level, using context to serve up auto-complete options. For instance, when replying to a text message asking whether you want to get dinner or a movie might, you might type “I want to go to …” and then see “movie” or “dinner” as one-click options. “I think we’re all going to be typing a whole lot faster,” said Federighi.
The future is translucent. Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design, has had a thing for transparency at least since the Power Mac G4 Cube. In OS X Yosemite, you’ll get a lot more of this, as header bars and other design elements take on a translucent quality that lets “your windows take on the personality of your desktop,” Federighi said. It’s a subtle, classy effect.
Your email is ready for its Markup. A new feature called Markup lets users scribble notes on text and images in emails. “It’s going to be super-handy,” said Federighi.
Family-friendly media sharing. A new feature called Family Sharing lets up to six family members (who share a credit card) to also share movies and music downloaded from the iTunes Store. It also gives parents a mechanism for monitoring their children’s purchases.