WWDC keynote is proof of Apple’s awesome power and poise

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Tim Cook opening remarks WWDC 2017
Tim Cook presided over one of Apple's busiest presentations in years.
Photo: Apple

Over the last year or so, you could be forgiven for thinking Apple has been dickering about. The company seemed sluggish and slow.

Yeah, there have been a few hardware upgrades, but nothing special, and certainly nothing breakthrough.

And then today! Bam! A jam-packed WWDC keynote with a slew of amazing-looking new hardware and software.

Apple is back, in a big way!

Tim Cook running onstage
Apple’s WWDC was so frenzied with updates, presenters ran on and off the stage.

Even though expectations were high for today’s keynote, I don’t think many people were prepared for the sheer volume of new stuff Apple showed off at the Worldwide Developers Conference kickoff.

Running for a marathon two-and-a-half hours, the updates kept coming and coming. It was hard to catch a breath. There were only only a couple of breaks for in-depth demos.

The keynote was so frenzied, Tim Cook and the other presenters were running on and off the stage.

Everything they showed off seemed strong and promising. Several times I marveled to myself, “Holy crap, they’ve been working like crazy behind the scenes.”

As well as nearly a dozen hardware upgrades — no mean feat in any year — Apple unveiled a huge stack of updates to its software platforms.

Apple is a very big, very powerful corporation

Apple puts on a smiley face for the public, so it’s not often you get to see how big and powerful the company really is. Today’s keynote was a muscular and confident performance that clearly showed Cupertino’s power and reach.

Apple brings so many resources to bear that a minor update to Apple Watch’s Activity app includes a major overhaul of one just feature — the swimming workout — that allows the wearable to automatically determine swimming stroke and distinguish between sets in the pool.

Apple didn’t say so explicitly, but it must have been a lot of work by a sizable team of people. And yet it was just a very, very small part of what the company showed off today.

If you stop and think about it, this is mind-boggling. Apple commands huge resources at its disposal. And it’s not even talking about its major efforts, like Project Titan (its self-driving car initiative) or glucose monitoring in the Apple Watch. It must make smaller companies like Fitbit — or even big companies like Google — very nervous. How can they possibly compete?

Tim Cook’s demeanor reflected Apple’s serious swagger. He appeared confident and relaxed — in contrast to some of his wooden and nervous performances in the past. He’s so poised, he even dispensed with the self-congratulatory company updates that kicked off every keynote for decades.

Apple’s doing just fine, he said, to a big laugh.

As Apple prepares to move into its giant new headquarters — as explicit a symbol as could be — the company is more powerful and self-assured than ever before.

Final WWDC 2017 keynote observations

Apple Pencil wwdc 2017
Apple Pencil performance is even greater on the new iPad Pro.
Photo: Apple

Apple Pencil is central to the iPad

Steve Jobs must be having fits. It’s clear from the keynote that the Apple Pencil is central to the iPad workflow, at least for pros.

Updates in iOS 11 make the iPad workflow much more Pencil-centric. Jobs notably said if you see a stylus, they blew it. But the new iPad Pro is a stylus-driven device when getting work done.

In demos and a promo video for the new iPad Pro, the pencil landed front and center. Handwriting recognition coming to the Notes app will making handwritten notes searchable. This big productivity boost makes scribbling on the iPad a powerful input method.

Another demo — intended to show off the iPad’s graphics capabilities — instead revealed that the Pencil remains central to tasks like making a movie poster.

AI is eating software

Machine learning fuels many of the major new features in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11. Machine learning is the Silicon Valley buzzword du jour, but today’s keynote showed how deeply it’s being baked into Apple’s software.

From the new Siri smart watch face on the Apple Watch to dynamic tuning of the sound output of the new HomePod speaker, machine learning will be central to the computing experience.

While introducing a new Core ML application programming interface, which opens up machine learning capabilities to developers to use in their apps, Apple software chief Craig Federighi rattled off a few of the places ML is currently used: face tracking and face recognition in Photos, palm detection while using the Pencil on iPad, and handwriting recognition in Notes (among many, many more). The new API will open up machine learning possibilities to even more uses.

There’s a famous saying that software is eating the world. It’s clear that AI is eating software. Machine learning is creeping into everything.

Getting Sherlocked

WWDC keynotes are great for Apple’s customers, but they remain nerve-wracking experiences for iOS and Mac developers. While consumers cheer every update and new feature, some coders see their worlds crashing down.

Take Sonos, which just got “Sherlocked” big time. If it was a publicly traded company, Sonos’ stock would be tanking right now. Apple didn’t even pretend it wasn’t gunning for Sonos, describing the HomePod speaker as a fusion of Sonos’ great sound with the smarts of Amazon’s Alexa.

Of course, you can attach an Amazon Echo Dot to a Sonos speaker and approximate the HomePod, but the integration of hardware and Apple’s services will make HomePod a leading contender for Apple customers.

There’s also Readdle, the Ukrainian app maker, which publishes a highly regarded scanning app. The company just saw Apple add scanning capabilities to the stock iOS Notes application, which must make Readdle gulp.

Readdle’s dedicated apps provide more features and will likely stay ahead of Apple — but it’s a tough sell when your product’s core feature gets built into a default app.

iMac Pro looks like a caged monster

The new iMac Pro brings awesome firepower to the desktop this December.
The new iMac Pro brings awesome firepower to the desktop this December.
Photo: Apple

The iMac Pro does indeed look badass, but it seems to suffer the same drawback that made the trashcan Mac Pro unpopular — it’s impossible to do simple hardware upgrades. The lack of upgrades from Apple, and the inability of customers to perform their own, doomed the Mac Pro.

I might be wrong — maybe it will be possible to upgrade the iMac Pro’s CPU or graphics card. But it seems unlikely given the iMac’s form factor, which is the same as the current machines, which are not upgradeable.

Perhaps the addition of USB-C mitigates the problem somewhat, but the one thing pro users want is cutting-edge performance. The easiest way to get this is to make Pro machines modular and easily upgradeable. Sadly, it seems Apple still hasn’t heeded this lesson.

Still too few women and people of color

There were a fair selection of women onstage at the WWDC 2017 keynote today, although they got relegated to secondary presenter roles. Middle-age white men still dominate Apple’s executive ranks.

Apple recently named Denise Young Smith as VP of diversity and inclusion. However, the absence of Bozoma Saint John, a high-profile black female executive and a star of previous keynotes — who is reportedly leaving Apple for reasons unknown — shows that the company still has a long way to go on this front.

  • Andrew Roy

    OMG LEANDER. You ended a seemingly well written article ( by today’s standards, anything that doesn’t have 100 typos in the first paragraph deserves a Pulitzer ) about apple’s prowess as a technology monster by pointing out they aren’t “colorful and female enough” in their executive ranks?!?!? First off, just cause they aren’t “black enough” ( or Asian, or female or whatever these days ) doesn’t mean jack sh*** in Silicon Valley. You go where the talent is…who cares if it wears tampons or jock straps, eats fried rice or fried chicken or whatever?!?! If you’re going to play that card maybe you should think about replacing Buster and Erfon with Jackie Chan and Mr. T and every once in a while remember to include a special guest appearance by Queen Latifah or Alicia Keys if you’re so worried about diversity in the workplace ?

    That being said, its 2017 and things are changing. Some for the worse and others for the better. Let’s remember the fact that even though Apple may be pretty white and speak with baritone voices it did produce the world’s most powerful Gay executive and the first billionaire of Hip-Hop…I’d say that’s pretty diverse and unique at the same time.

    As for today’s tech: the software was amazing. The iMac pro was a step in the right direction for pro customers and let’s hold our collective breath and hope that Apple actually did learn its lesson and will deliver a more modular return to the Mac Pro of yester-year when it announces it later this [next] year .

    The new iMac really addresses 2 huge things for pro consumers: it gives them amazing power AND what really amounts to the best Cinema Display Apple has ever made…something they have been clamouring for for years.

    Let’s not overlook the fact that the MacBook Air got a spec bump and we FINALLY got a customizable control center in iOS…Federighi and Co. seem to be listening!

    One more thing…is the home pod enough to make you jump off the Sonos wagon or are you going to need to wait a few upgrades before taking that leap? I’m salivating cause I’ve been looking for a better way to address multi-room audio in my house !

    • lee

      How many black women or men contribute to your web sites? Or the cult cast each week? As the above person as stated I don’t care what colour you are where your from, if you have the talent to do the job thats all that matters.

      • Gest2016

        Its actually much more racist to insist companies hire by color of people’s skin. I am a tech recruiter and if there were a perfect black candidate for every job I need to fill, I would hire every single one of them. I could care less what someone’s skin color is. I am filling jobs which pay up to $500k+ a year, a star candidate chosen from hundreds or thousands. There’s simply no system besides choosing the best talent that works in the higher echelons of tech.

    • Gest2016

      Lack of minority representation at tech companies goes back to factors which were set in place hundreds of years ago, lets start with slavery. As a culture we need to ensure equality of access to education and opportunities. We do not need to guarantee equality of outcome. We cannot innovate through quotas. The best companies in the world are aristocracies of talent, there is nothing fair, democratic or quota driven about genius and talent. And the best hope for the future is to emphasize engineering, math and science education for every minority group so that they might rise to the top as well, and maybe in time be represented in tech in as great a fashion as they are in every other area of life. When you point a finger at Apple, you are a hundred years late and trying to push a string. Great trees start with small seeds. Lets let the future forests of talent bloom in every segment of the population through progressive education policies.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    Diversity works if you can find competent people to fill those shoes. Hiring solely on skin color is the absolute worst way to hire the best talent. Um.. Apple had a Latin CEO, maybe you don’t remember. He didn’t work out that well.

    You hire the most competent. And what are they going to do fire people that have been with Apple for many years? Some came over when Apple bought Next. They can’t simply fire people based on skin color to replace someone else.

    • Gest2016

      There is so much that cannot be said in this debate because anyone commenting gets labelled a racist. I will just leave this here … about 90% of my hires are from India because that culture and country places a HUGE emphasis on academic achievement in math, science and technology. If other populations had this emphasis or were supported in a way that emphasized this same education, I would hire them — and I could care less if they were Eskimo’s or pygmy’s — I am hiring people who build tools. Those who can build them get the jobs.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    I am still waiting for a MBPR with the 32 RAM option. I thought Phil said that a 32GB RAM model was going to be this year? Are they going to add the option soon? That was a deal breaker for many.

    • EdRed

      Do the Kaby Lake processors used for the new MBPs support more than 16 GBs of LPDRAM?

      • Terence Riley

        If I’m not mistaken, and I’ve been known to be, I think Intel’s website has KL processors capable of running 64GB RAM. Maybe more.

  • Ser Vegas

    Apple is imploding. This was the most disappointing WWDC in many respects. Where they could have gone leaps and bounds beyond Microsoft’s AR offering, they displayed a modest and underwhelming product. The iPad Pro continues to lag the Surface Pro in features and peformance. If Apple is going to continue to ignore robust commercial IaaS and PaaS products, the company will soon be irrelevant.

    • Rico Gusman

      You must be smoking some fine drugs with that last statement. Apple’s ability to sell the sizzle not the sausage is beyond any other company, just look at how there will be a stampede for the new products and this is before they announce the next iPhone. You don’t see the big picture…

    • Gest2016

      I’m sorry, hope your antidepressents get refilled soon. But thanks for the laugh.

  • Terence Riley

    You did not mention the fact that Jony Ivy was nowhere to be seen. Must have had school duty across the pond. I checked Apple’s website after the keynote to configure a 27″ iMac and to my supprise no Optane option anywhere! What’s the point of a subtle increase in CPU speed or thread count if your not going to offer a $30 or $75 memory chip to enhance performance by 15 to 20%? A turbo’d 4.2 MHz CPU with 64 GB or RAM and 1TB of SSD for $4000 with a student discount and you can’t find and an Optane chip? Come on! The mobo has the slot for it but I’ll be dambed if I’m pulling the screen off a new computer to install a $30 chip. I’m just saying.

    • aardman

      I saw Jony Ive in the audience. Front row. Look for the audience shot in the video.

    • EdRed

      He was in the audience. The weird thing was that when he was shown, he and the people around him weren’t clapping though the rest of the audience was.

      • Terence Riley

        I must have missed that. Thanks. I guess he’ll speak at the iPhone unveiling if he’s in town then. I would have thought in 2 1/2 hours Tim would have called on him to say something.

  • puggy

    That was an awesome keynote if you have $ 10,000 dollars to spare.