Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

My thoughts on yesterday’s WWDC announcements

I didn’t watch yesterday’s Apple keynote at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), so everything here is from second-hand sources. For this reason, there may be things I’ve missed or misunderstood, and you may want to read Lifehacker’s summary first.

As it’s a developer conference, the main focus is on Apple’s operating systems – iOS and Mac OS X – rather than on new hardware. Before the conference started, we pretty much knew to expect new versions of iOS and Mac OS X, as Apple has hinted that they’re aiming for annual free updates. iOS got most of the attention last year with an almost complete re-design, so this year it was the turn of OS X.

Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite”

The new design takes a lot of cues from iOS 7. The font is now Helvetica Neue (same as iOS), and there’s greater use of flat design. Application windows are now somewhat translucent, like on Windows Vista/7, and there’s an option of having a dark theme. All the icons have been redesigned as well, and seem to complement each other much better than in previous editions.

Notification Centre has also been upgraded, and can now take up two columns; third-party apps can add widgets as well. This, presumably, means the death of Dashboard, which Apple triumphantly introduced years ago and then basically abandoned it – indeed, in the screenshots I’ve seen, the Dashboard icon is missing from the dock. I’ve never used Dashboard, but I also hardly ever use Notification Centre on OS X either. I use it a lot on iOS but it’s never been something I’ve got used to on a desktop.

The updates to Spotlight look interesting. Again, it more closely imitates iOS and effectively becomes an app launcher as well as a search tool. Again, not really a feature of OS X that I use much.

Mail has some incremental updates, like it always does. I used it as my main email client for a while but nowadays I prefer Airmail, and I don’t think the changes are enough to make me change back. Similarly the changes to Safari are interesting but not enough to make me switch away from Firefox – if anything, I’m not keen on the simplification of it. But then I’m more of a power user.

As for completely new features, Handoff sounds like it could be useful. You can start a task on an iOS device and pick it up on your desktop, or vice versa. Of course it’ll probably depend on you using Apple’s apps on both platforms, like iWork or Mail. AirDrop will also now work between iOS and OS X – at present, with iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, transfers can only be made iOS-iOS and OS X-OS X, which limits its usefulness. And iMessage on OS X grows some balls and actually becomes useful, by also working with SMS and MMS messages, and not just those sent over the iMessage network. Being able to compose text messages on a desktop, with a full keyboard, could be really useful. Similarly, you can route phone calls from your iPhone through your desktop.

So for me, there are a lot of things where I’ll think “That’s nice” and will then never use them, but the new design looks good, as do the features which tie iOS and OS X together.

iCloud Drive

Back in 2009, Steve Jobs met with Dropbox’s founders and offered to buy the company – they refused, and Steve basically vowed to compete with them. That didn’t really work out so well. Dropbox has 300 million users and is still independent. iCloud probably also has millions of users but I bet very few people use it for document syncing like you would in Dropbox – I certainly don’t. That’s because apps have to be written to explicitly support iCloud Documents, and many don’t – plus, you can’t really view those documents from outside the app that opens them, which nobbles interoperability.

With this in mind, Apple has finally decided to launch iCloud Drive, which now works in the same way as Dropbox always has done – one folder, synchronised between your devices. It’ll work on OS X, iOS and Windows, and OS X apps shouldn’t need to explicitly support it like they do now. Those that do will be able to also synchronise open tabs, for example. The downside is that any document storage counts towards the five gigabyte limit that free users get – if you want more storage you’ll need to pay for it. And as I already have iOS backups using up chunks of my iCloud storage, I can’t see myself using this much.

iOS 8

iOS had a big update last year, so the changes this year are a bit more incremental. Double-tapping the hold button will show you recent apps, but also recent contacts as well. There are some minor improvements to gestures in the Mail app, and Messages has some improved support for group messaging and sharing your location. This is presumably to bring it closer to Facebook Messenger in terms of features, but I’ll still probably use the latter more because pretty much everyone has Facebook and not everyone has an iPhone.

The much-rumoured ‘Health’ app was announced, as a central place for all fitness tracking apps to combine their data, and ‘HomeKit’ will work with any supported home automation devices you may have – I don’t have any.

Like with the new version of OS X, third-party apps can add widgets to Notification Centre. So rather than just showing text, these could include images and interactive elements. And some notifications will allow follow-up actions without leaving the current app – a text message notification will include a Reply box, for example. This brings iOS in closer feature parity with Android.

Another feature ‘borrowed’ from Android is third-party keyboards, so expect Swype and SwiftKey on iOS 8 later this year.

Mobile Safari will now support extensions. So there’s a possibility of ad-blocking, and integration with password managers. I’m also really hoping for an Xmarks extension so that I can synchronise my bookmarks across all of my devices.

Finally there are a few tweaks to Siri, including built-in support for Shazam, so that you can identify music.

All in all, there are some interesting changes. I don’t think they’re particularly revolutionary but I can see some of them being good ‘quality of life’ improvements. And, after all, they’re all free updates. Of course, it’s likely to be around three months until regular users get access to these new features and many things could change in the meantime. We’ll have to see what happens.

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