It’s always nice to see companies get keynotes and press conferences down to a science. Apple’s WWDC 2016 keynote was their most orderly yet, as presenters marched through all of the upgrades and new features coming to Apple’s operating systems later this fall. They were so focused on order, they even renamed their oldest operating system to get in line! But, funny enough, one of the biggest themes of this year’s keynote was disrupting that order a little by letting developers get their hands on some of Apple’s first party apps. If your life runs on Apple, here’s what that means for you this year.
Apple made moderate changes to arguably the weakest of their major operating systems — the one on the Apple Watch. The market still doesn’t seem to be sold on smartwatches as mainstream devices, and while some of the upcoming changes in WatchOS 3 are nice, we’re thinking they’re probably going to do more to please current Watch owners than to convince others to buy one. The main improvement, appropriately, has to do with time — it’ll take much less of it for Watch apps to launch, and when they do, they’ll have relevant information already loaded up. If the demo at WWDC was representative, apps should launch nearly instantly. Little UI tweaks like adding a side-scrolling app dock for favorite apps and sliding up to bring up settings should also make the user experience a little smoother.
More useful should be the SOS button. Pressing and holding the side button under the crown for three seconds will initiate an emergency call, with the Watch knowing which number to call based on which country it’s in. Trusted contacts will also be notified, and medical information can be tied to use of the SOS button. The only problem is that the call is placed either through an iPhone over a Bluetooth connection or directly from the Watch over Wi-Fi. The lack of cellular connectivity really hurts the Apple Watch here — while the SOS button will be nice to have, we don’t think we’d be able to trust it enough to rely on it.
Messages have gotten slightly more useful. You can now reply to a message using voice or touch with one tap, or use a smart reply with a swipe up and a tap. Scribble is a new feature that lets users hand write replies letter by letter, which seems awful in practice. However, it will work for both English and Chinese — Scribble will be far more useful for the latter, as users will be able to write entire characters on the Watch, which could be just as efficient as inputting characters on the phone.
Finally, more Watch faces! There will be a Minnie Mouse watch face, because somehow there wasn’t one before. There’s also an Activity rings watch face that gives you a constant look at your daily fitness goals. Speaking of which, your progress can now be shared with friends and family, along with messages of encouragement straight from the Activity app. Apple has also added a wheelchair mode for the Activity app and an entirely new app called Breathe for guided breathing exercises and meditation.
The best upgrade is the speed boost for app launching, but to us, the Apple Watch still has the same problems it did before — it’s too busy. There’s way more functionality on the Apple Watch than we want to worry about using on a screen that tiny. The Watch has to make doing things on the small screen much faster and more efficient than doing them on the big screen of the iPhone, and for the most part, that’s not the case. That leaves the Watch as more of a toy than a must-have piece of tech. WatchOS 3 makes some improvements, but it doesn’t change the core user experience. That said, current Apple Watch lovers will find a lot to like when the update hits in the fall.
Not a whole lot of changes are in store for Apple TV, but what’s there is good — especially for sports fans. Soon, viewers will be able to get four sports games up on screen at once (or any other program, but sports is the most obvious example of a time when you’d want to watch four things at once).
The Siri Remote will now be available in app form, with all functionality from the physical remote being brought over. That means voice and touch controls are a go, and the remote app itself can still be used as a game controller thanks to the iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope. Meanwhile, Siri will get a little smarter — she’ll now be able to hunt down movies by Netflix-style topics like “popular high school movies from the ’80s.”
The most cheered upcoming upgrade? The awful experience of having to authenticate each channel with your cable provider’s information is at an end. Apple has introduced single sign-on, which asks for your cable provider info once and automatically authenticates all available channels. Overdue, and a very welcome sight.
If you’re wondering what macOS is, it’s the operating system formerly known as OS X. Apple renamed it to be in line with tvOS, iOS, and WatchOS, but fortunately, there’s more new here than a name change. The latest version, macOS Sierra, has tons of new features, but with a big caveat. As has become clear in the past few years, you really do need to collect and use all the devices Apple is putting out there to get the most from any one device. That’s now very true of Macs.
Continuity is an Apple feature that syncs activity across all Apple devices using a unique wireless connection. That’s old news, but what’s new is that that connectivity can now facilitate authentication. If your Mac is password protected, an Apple Watch can turn into a personal key fob of sorts, signaling to the Mac that the wearer authorized. That bypasses the password screen. It saves a few seconds’ time, which is nice, but nothing groundbreaking. More interesting is integration of Apple Pay into Macs. Once the update drops, you’ll start seeing a pay with Apple Pay button on some online stores. Tap that, and you’ll be able to use the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to authorize payment without having to enter in billing info.
Another bonus for the Apple faithful is the universal clipboard. It’s a very slick feature for those in that crowd — soon, it’ll be possible to cut or copy something on your iPhone and paste it to a program on your Mac, seamlessly. There are no steps in between — because all your Apple devices can communicate with each other, what you’ve copied or cut is made available no matter which device you move to.
And, like what Microsoft has done with Cortana, Siri is finally coming to the Mac. She’ll be very powerful when searching for files, parsing through complex queries to find very specific files. Search results can then be pinned to the notification bar, from which individual search results can be dragged out and opened or pasted in other files, in the case of pictures.
They also talked about the use of iCloud, although we’re a little more iffy on this. While it’s great that desktop files will be accessible from all your other Apple devices, we have some skepticism about the new optimized storage feature. If you use it, macOS will offload files you’re unlikely to use (movies that have already been watched, old documents, etc) and move them into the cloud. This could end in some things going to the cloud when you’d rather they stayed local, especially if you’re someone who likes to travel with a MacBook on trains that don’t always have Wi-Fi. Thankfully, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
We think it’s really cool how Apple is finding inventive ways to get their products to work together well, but we’re not sure macOS Sierra is a huge leap forward for those who only own a Mac and nothing else. The addition of Siri may be useful, but a lot of people still haven’t warmed to voice control, and Siri still doesn’t have the greatest reputation among digital assistants. We’ll see for sure soon — macOS Sierra is out as a public beta in July, with a full release coming this fall.