What would a world without apps look like? Apple offered a sneak peek at such a hypothetical (and fairly alarming!) scenario with a hilarious ‘Appocalypse’ video, to kickstart this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC; 5-9 June). The video was followed by the two-and-a-half hour long keynote, with a record 5300+ registered Apple developers in attendance. Several important announcements were made during the keynote, and we will take a look back at them here:
- Homepod - Apple was widely expected to showcase a new smart home speaker at this year’s WWDC, and the Cupertino tech giant did not disappoint in that regard. The sleek, Siri-enabled Homepod was announced – with the speaker having a wide range of smart functionalities. For starters, the ‘home entertainment speaker’ can customize audio playback depending on the area and type of room it is placed in. A four-inch woofer, together with a 7-beam tweeter array, offers excellent audio quality – while other essential features, like echo-cancellation (multi-channel) are also built-in. Powered by the Apple A8 processor, the Homepod also has the capability to answer questions (thanks to the ‘Hey Siri’ support), start timers, fetch news and schedule reminders. It can be paired with other Homepod(s) as well. The special ‘Musicologist’ feature helps in streaming audio from Apple Music, once a user has requested Siri to play something. Apple Homepod will be available in black and white body colors, and will start shipping from December 2017 (the price is $349). It combines the best features of Sonos and Amazon Echo – and should emerge as a worthy rival to both.
- watchOS 4 -Although tvOS 11 did not make an appearance at WWDC 2017 (more on that later), Apple did come out with an update for its smartwatch platform. The fourth iteration of watchOS has many new additions – with the interesting watch faces being worth a separate mention. Apart from the cool Toy Story character faces (Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jesse), there is also a ‘trippy effect’ kaleidoscopic face and the innovative Siri watch face. The latter can display personalized information, based on the precise location, time and preferences of users. As expected, more activities have been added in the built-in Activity app, while the Workout application has also received workouts (e.g., high-intensity interval training, enhanced swimming training). Third-party app developers have also been kept in mind, with watchOS 4 having lots of new APIs. The blinking light mode and the flashlight mode are also interesting additions. The Music app in Apple Watch has been redesigned, the new ‘Gymkit’ functionality has been included, and the platform will also allow people to make payments through Watch (person-to-person payments).
Note: The Siri watch face will bring in artificial intelligence (AI) to the watchOS platform.
3. iOS 11 – The newest version of the iOS platform was, of course, announced at the Apple annual conference – as is the custom every year. The final version of iOS 11 will be launched in September, and it will be present on this year’s iPhone 8 (or will it be iPhone 7S?). Several tweaks have been made in the latest iteration of iOS, with the redesigned Control Center – with toggles becoming 3D Touch-enabled and the entire set of controls becoming viewable on a single sheet. A new ‘Apple Pay Cash’ card will be made available, to facilitate person-to-person payments via Apple Pay. Syncing across multiple devices will become easier and faster than before, with iMessages being made a part of iCloud (with end-to-end encryption). Live images can be modified/edited, while images will be compressed in the HIEF format (which are visually at par with JPEG images, and require about 50% less space). The Notifications panel and the lock screen have been merged into a single display area in iOS 11, while there is also a special ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode for users – which will mute all notifications and send automated messages, when they are driving. Airplay 2 will make audio sharing and playback on paired devices an absolute breeze.
4. 10.5” iPad Pro - Last year’s 9.7” iPad Pro was a big attempt on the part of Apple to revive the flagging fortunes of the iPad. At this year’s WWDC, an upgraded version – the 10.5” iPad Pro (along with the 12.9” variant) – has been announced. The new model has a display screen with much narrower bezels, and can easily fit in a full on-screen keyboard (the company has been trying to create a ‘handheld computer’ experience with iPad Pro). The A10X Fusion processor (6-core) delivers optimal speed and performance. The 10.7” iPad Pro will also support HDR videos – a first in the history of iPads. The revolutionary ‘ProMotion technology’ will enhance the refresh rate of the screen to an amazing 120 Hz – making activities smoother, and significantly reducing the latency of Apple Pencil. The new iPad Pro model will have the same camera specifications as iPhone 7 (12MP rear camera with optical image stabilization…yay!). Shipments of the Apple tablet might have gone down over the last couple of quarters – but Apple is not going to give up on it anytime soon.
6. More intelligent Siri - Siri on iOS has been getting consistently smarter – and its performance is set to climb a couple of notches higher on iOS 11. With the help of SiriKit, the mobile digital assistant will support more external apps than before. Contextual search will be boosted by proactive suggestions, while Siri will also be enabled to ‘read’ texts off the phone screen (thereby making the task of understanding difficult words easier). The recalibrated Siri has an enhanced natural voice, with ‘intelligence’ levels being buoyed by on-device learning. On devices running on iOS 11, Siri will also be able to translate user-commands and queries to different languages, like Spanish, English, Chinese, German, and many more. The assistant will also be able to pull up VR codes, and perform banking and task-management activities.
7. iMac Pro - Easily the biggest of the Mac-related updates announced at WWDC 2017. An all-new iMac Pro (for professionals) is set to be launched, with uber-powerful eight-core Xeon configuration (ten-core and eighteen-core options will be available). The size of the iMac Pro will be 27”, and it will have a vRAM of 16GB. The high-quality VR environment will be a big plus for this computer, which will have the breakthrough Radeon Vega GPUs. The 27” iMac Pro will be available in Space Grey, and will start to ship in December.
Note: Apple CEO Tim Cook referred to the iMac Pro as ‘pretty badass’. It is being touted as the most powerful computer the Cupertino company has ever made.
8. More about Macs - Prior to the conference, there was plenty of buzz about the Intel Kaby Lake processors (7th generation) coming to Mac computers. These processors have indeed been included in the refreshed lineup of Mac systems. The 21.5” iMac can be upgraded to have the Fusion Drive storage system (it is standard on the 27” model). The new models will also have higher memory and storage capacities – a maximum of 32GB and 64GB for the 21.5” and the 27” iMac computers respectively. The computers will have two new Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C ports, come with Radeon Pro GPU processors, and the Iris Plus graphics configuration. According to reports, the SSD of the revamped Mac systems function almost 50% faster than their predecessors. The 27” iMac will boast of 5.5 teraflops power for processing. New chips and drives were also announced for Macbook, Macbook Air and Macbook Pro – offering significant speed boosts.
9. Amazon Video app on Apple TV - Rather surprisingly, not much was announced by Apple regarding its smart TV platform (the much anticipated tvOS 11 was not showcased). However, there was big news – about Amazon Prime Video finally becoming available both on Apple TV and the TV app of the iOS platform. With Amazon and Apple burying their past differences and getting together, the content source of Apple TV will expand considerably – something that all Amazon Prime subscribers can rejoice about. ITV Hub and All 4 remain the other popular video apps that are not yet on the Apple TV roster.
10. Redesigned App Store - The App Store is being redesigned by Apple for the first time this year, to enhance its user-friendliness. The changes are being made as a component of the overall iOS 11 update. The UI of the App Store will become neater and more streamlined – with every app/game being presented in separate ‘product pages’, and greater visibility for in-app purchases. The overall layout resembles that of Apple Music, with the content-separating tab ensuring easier browsing. Information about all the new games (including gameplay tips and help) will be available – while there will be a new ‘App Of The Day’ tab feature, to highlight the specially recommended application on any day. There is something for iOS app developers too – with the ‘phased releases’ option making it simpler to release relatively large updates.
Note: It was also revealed that Mountain Valley 2 (by Ustwo Games) will be present in the restyled App Store.
11. ARKit - The war in the augmented reality (AR) space is hotting up. In April, Facebook launched its AR-focused ‘Camera Effects’ platform, while Microsoft has also launched its very own platform for AR developers. After several months of subtle hints, Apple finally announced at the recently-concluded WWDC that it is going to join the game – with the all-new ARKit suite. The platform will provide tools and resources to app developers for creating high-end AR applications (for iPhone and iPad). In a live demonstration at the conference, Apple showed how augmented reality can be used to enhance the real world, by placing virtual objects in it. The company, as Tim Cook has repeatedly said, is looking to make inroads in the AR market. After implementation, ARKit has the potential to help Apple surge ahead of its competitors.
12. iPad-specific updates - iOS updates do not often have specific new features for the iPad. An exception to this was iOS 9, which introduced split screen multitasking for the tablet. iOS 11 will also come with a fairly large number of ‘for iPad’ updates – ranging from a revamped Files application, innovative multi-app views and smooth document markup options (with Apple Pencil), to a redesigned app dock and built-in capability to ‘recognize’ handwritings in the Notes app. It remains to be seen whether the new iPad models (10.5” and 12.9”) can bring about a turnaround in the fortunes of the device.
At WWDC 2017, Tim Cook officially announced that the total number of devs registered in the Apple Developer Program now stands at 16 million. The keynote was one of the most interesting in recent years, with all the software and hardware announcements mentioned above. The CEO summed up things by saying ‘Apple is doing great’ – and this year indeed looks big for the company.