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Highlights of Apple’s WWDC 2014 Conference – What You Need to Know

Apple’s yearly tribute to itself went down this morning in San Francisco, and there were plenty of brand new software announcements for everyone in the iClub. WWDC 2014 saw the announcement of OS X 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8, this year’s updates to both of Apple’s operating systems. If there was an overall theme, it was that those two will be in harmony much more so than before.

Before we get into your rundown of all the big announcements from the event, it’s probably worth noting a couple things. First and foremost, it’s called the developers conference for a reason – everything here will be available to developers ASAP, but you won’t get the updates until the fall – that way, some nice new apps and updates using the new features will be ready and waiting once your iOS update is done.

Second, as has increasingly been true for WWDC in the past few years, the announcements are really only for the Apple faithful, or anyone intent on converting. Apple’s greatest focus in the past few years has been on internal coherence – all of their devices working together, and not necessarily with any other kinds of devices. To get the most out of Apple, you have to be all in – you probably either want to ditch Apple altogether or make sure you have the complete iPhone-iPad-Mac troika at this point. Why? Well, you’ll see pretty soon.

yosemite

OS X 10.10 Yosemite

A desktop image of Half Dome ushered in the Yosemite era for Macs. That era will include a new notification center that looks a little bit like what you find on an iPhone, with updates and notifications for your calendar, the weather, email – anything normally widget-worthy.

Spotlight, Apple’s search-all bar, is getting a pretty big update this time around, too. It’ll be closer to what Windows 8 offers with its search function, but it’ll be more convenient to access – the search bar and box will show up right in the middle of your screen on the desktop. And, instead of just combing your files and calendar, Spotlight will return search results from the App Store, Wikipedia, Maps, Bing, iTunes, and iBooks, giving you a more informative return on your searches. Most of the time spent on Spotlight was during the Yosemite presentation, but Spotlight’s expanded functionality will be found in iOS 8, too.

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Safari will now be much more streamlined and faster, besting Chrome and Firefox when it comes to performance during tabbed browsing. Speaking of tabs, you’ll now be able to see all of your tabs at a glance, with boxes giving previews of each tab showing up in rows and columns on one page. You can use that to more efficiently navigate between tabs. That’s probably only useful if you have over ten tabs open at once – which, admittedly, is probably a lot of people.

The big update for Mail is Mail Drop. Instead of attaching (and failing to send) large files, you can use Mail Drop to transfer a file up to 5 GB in size using Mail, with a link to the file sent within your email.

There are also minor design tweaks, like translucent windows that let you see your awesome desktop background faintly underneath – but not for everything. You won’t be seeing that if you’re using something you want to give your full attention to, like Safari.

iCloud Drive

You’ll be hearing a lot about how this is Apple’s Dropbox. That’s because, more or less, it is. With iCloud Drive, you can now sync your files across all of your Apple devices. Everything stored on iCloud can now be seen in one folder, too. That’s something Apple was dreadfully far behind in implementing when it comes to cloud-based file management, but again, WWDC is for people in the Apple camp, and if you’re there, this is pretty good news. You’ll get 5 GB of storage for free, 20 GB for $0.99 per month, and 200 GB for $3.99 per month. Pricing for higher tiers up to 1 TB is still to be decided.

handoff

Handoff

There’s no better way to transition to iOS 8 news than with a new feature that lets you transition from Mac to iOS and back again when working or browsing. With Handoff, you can start writing an email on your iPhone, and, if you’re in the vicinity of your Mac, your computer will recognize what you’re doing and allow you to transition seamlessly mid-email from iPhone to computer. Same shold go for browsing using Safari. That works because of Instant Hotspot, which makes your Mac offer to become a personal hotspot for your phone. It’s not yet clear how smooth this will work in practice, but once the bugs get worked out, it sounds like a pretty convenient feature.

And, a bit of bonus iPhone-Mac integration – iMessages coming to your iPhone from any other device will now show up in iMessage for Mac. You can even pick up an incoming call to your iPhone from your Mac. Airdrop now works between Macs and iOS devices, too. Apple really wants to move toward providing you with one unified digital experience, spread out over three screens of varying sizes.

health

Healthkit/Health

You’ll only be interacting with one of these, but you’ll want to know about both. Health is Apple’s crack at an all-in-one health app. If you’ve used Samsung’s S Health, it will be a little like that in functionality – keeping track of heart rate, steps taken, and usual fitness tracker fare, along with diet and sleep information. Eventually, it should be a home for everything pertaining to your health. HealthKit is what will make the information that gets recorded useful – it’s an API that developers like the Mayo Clinic can use in their apps, allowing you to do something with all that info, even if that’s just keeping your doctor constantly up-to-date with your health information. As for tracking, it’s not clear how exactly that will happen, which should fan the flames of iWatch rumors.

notifications

iOS 8 Notification Center

Two big upgrades are coming for Notification Center – interactive notifications and widgets. Now, when you want to respond to a text message that shows up in Notification Center, you’ll be able to respond without switching apps. Things like this can be done right from Notification Center. Somewhat related to that is the introduction of widgets, which will only be found in Notification Center, not the home screen. These extensions can come from third parties, and can add constantly-updating information like sports scores. These extensions will also allow for apps to cooperate with each other – Bing Translate used in Safari was floated as an example. Also related – you can now swap in any third-party keyboard of your choosing right into iOS, if you really don’t like what Apple’s done with theirs.

HomeKit

As the ‘Kit’ part implies, this is an API for developers to use. It has to do with smart home appliances like thermostats – HomeKit will make it easier for app developers to connect appliances to your iPhone wirelessly, and with support for voice commands using Siri. You’ll also be able to create ‘scenes’ and execute them using Siri – so, saying ‘Bedtime’ would dim the lights and shut the garage door, or whatever you specify.

Family Sharing

This is a feature that sounds better on paper than in practice. Family Sharing, in theory, allows for sharing of anything bought from the App Store or iTunes with your family, including iBooks and music, on up to six devices. The rub is that the same credit or debit card needs to be used on all of these purchases – so, it won’t help much if everyone’s using their own payment methods. Insofar as this is how your family actually works – one person’s card used for everything – that’s great, but I’m really in doubt as to how in touch that is with most families. On the plus side, this facilitates sharing of photos, calendar, videos, and location (if you want) with family members, too, which is something everyone should be able to get some use out of – if, of course, your whole family runs on Apple.

mint

Touch ID API

Short, sweet, and great news – a new Touch ID API means app developers can code in Touch ID support for log-ins. In short, you’ll be able to use your fingerprint to log into Facebook from your iPhone at some point in the near future.

Siri

Not much to say about Siri this time, but what is there is significant, especially when it comes to in-car use. It’s no longer necessary to press a button to activate Siri – she’ll always be listening, so, like with Google Now, you can just say ‘Hey Siri’ followed by a command, and she’ll run it.

Swift

Last but not least, a bonus for all you developers out there. Swift is a new programming language that will replace Objective-C as Apple’s go-to language. Coding in Swift should be more streamlined and require less typing. That means app developers can work faster and more efficiently, but Swift will still work with Objective-C commands to make the transition smooth.