Keynote Diversity

After much anticipation, the opening keynote for WWDC 2018 has been and gone, with numerous announcements surrounding performance, privacy, security and new features across all four of Apple’s software platforms.

Whilst many in the media have covered the numerous features and improvements that Apple announced (and whether it’s an exciting or ‘quiet’ year), there is one particular element of this keynote that I think deserves more attention.

Yesterday’s keynote included more women than just about any Apple keynote that I can remember. These women were not just brought on stage in a tokenistic or symbolic manner; they were brought onto the stage to discuss enhancements that they have worked on or directed themselves. The effort actually to include women began in 2015 (later than it should have been), with Jennifer Bailey (Apple Pay) and Susan Prescott (Apple News). This year, a female presenter named Jules even demonstrated new watchOS features whilst on an exercise bike in front of the crowd, finishing her segment with an ‘I love you’ message to her daughter.

Jules demonstrates watchOS 5 Workout app features. (Apple, 2018)

This is an outstanding display of company diversity and sets a fantastic example for all companies. Beyond the question of gender diversity, it also continues Apple’s trend of introducing developers and users to different people in the organisation. Back when Steve was in charge, he was often responsible for directing the entire show. Since Tim took the helm, he has adopted the role of ‘keynote bookender’, simply beginning and ending the presentation and allowing others to step forwards. This has enabled the company to highlight the hard work of many of its employees and avoid the reliance on one personality for the company’s overall success and image.

Furthermore, the videos prior to and at the end of the keynote showed a diverse range of developer stories, both in terms of gender and ethnic background.

I hope that Apple maintains its efforts in displaying a healthy mix in its public presentations. The ultimate goal is an even more diverse workforce and company leadership, the latter of which is already on the way to significant improvement with the addition of women over time such as Angela Ahrendts, Katherine Adams, Lisa Jackson, Isabel Ge Mahe and Deirdre O’Brien.

Waiting to #deletefacebook

When I first joined Facebook (towards the end of high school), I was very reluctant do so. I had witnessed others around me use various social media and networking sites — think MySpace and MSN Messenger — only for the most banal conversation. Chats that I saw consisted of nothing more than ‘What’s happening?’ and ‘LOL’. It just wasn’t for me.

The thing that finally convinced me to join was an exchange trip to Germany. I saw the value of remaining connected with friends overseas and understood that it would be useful to chat with local friends as well. Facebook was much simpler then, with a cleaner interface that focused more on actually seeing what your friends were doing and saying. As I entered university, undertaking a degree in communication, I joined even more social networks, hungry to understand more of these digital platforms.

Over the past few years, I shed almost all of those networks. Some were fun; some failed. In the end, I saw them for what they were: a waste of my time. Facebook was always the one that I wanted to delete the most, as I saw it transform into a bloated mess of advertisements and algorithmically-suggested posts.

Whenever I came close to deleting my account, I hesitated. I didn’t want to stay but my many of my friends and photo uploads were there. It seemed such a waste to discard a part of my digital history. Perhaps most importantly, I first spoke to my fiancée Natasha through Facebook, using Messenger. I eventually settled for account deactivation, keeping the account in a state of distant hibernation for quite some time.

With the recent news about Facebook’s data privacy issues with Cambridge Analytica, my frustration with the company and its practices had flared up again. Out of the blue last weekend, Natasha notified me of the Twitter conversation below.

20180320_Elon_Musk_and_Brian_Acton_Twitter

This finally pushed me over the edge. If Elon Musk, a man who runs several companies with millions of Facebook followers, could delete such an account without a moment’s hesitation, then why couldn’t I? I went straight to my study, visited Facebook on my Mac, downloaded my personal account archive and requested full account deletion. Not long afterwards, I received an email saying that it would be deleted within 14 days. Now I’m simply waiting for it to be deleted. They must be snapping the hard drives by hand.

This story of mine is in no way extraordinary, however I feel that it’s useful to share, particularly after spending approximately a decade on the network. Regardless of your level of devotion to Facebook, if you have an account, then you are in some way feeding their machine. The company has been either unwilling to change or is in complete denial that it needs to do so.

Other networks have their own issues too. I love to use Twitter and see it as the best example of social media that can democratise global conversation; it can connect you with people whom you’ve never met in person and (hopefully) expose you to new ideas. The company still has a long way to go to deal with issues of online abuse and trolls, however, and I look forward to seeing them actually do something about it.

For the moment, Instagram is safe on my iPhone, as it seems to have some degree of managerial independence from its parent, Facebook. My finger, however, is always hovering over the button.

Companies that hoard people’s data and use it inappropriately should be paying very close attention to what is happening right now.

If you have ever considered deleting your account, then ask yourself: why haven’t you done it yet? Question the value that it brings to your life. Do you just scroll aimlessly? Do you wonder why you connected with people with whom you never actually speak or meet in person? Are you comfortable with the use of your private information to deliver ‘personalised’ ads?

The time has come to delete Facebook.

Apple’s Music Strategy: Return of the ‘Pod’

Apple’s new HomePod has certainly proven to be divisive, with some reviewers lauding its superior sound quality and hardware design and others criticising Siri’s general intelligence.

I’m not going to review every element of the device; that has already been done to death. I also have no home automation accessories, so discussing HomePod’s integration with HomeKit and other smart accessories is also pointless here. I want to discuss HomePod’s audio quality and how it threads into Apple’s broader music strategy.

I am extremely impressed with the audio quality and can attest to the immersive ‘3D’ effect that HomePod projects throughout a room. It even sounds better than two other decent stereo and soundbar systems that I have at home. I have never heard the level of crispness and audio separation from any home/consumer speaker that I have experienced with this device. Bass is powerful but does not distort; vocals and higher tones are crisp and come to the fore (without sounding over-produced). Song with electronic elements really shine and I have found myself playing OK Go’s song Obsession a lot on HomePod. It sounds fantastic.

What I’m really excited about is Apple’s renewed focus on music. In the noughties, Apple transformed itself into an effective music device and service company with its iPod + iTunes strategy. People who had never owned a Mac (or any other Apple device) were exposed to an array of colourful, reliable music players and a new world of digital purchases. More people entered the Apple ecosystem and with Apple’s product ‘halo effect’, more than likely purchased a Mac and other accessories. As time went on, the torch was passed onto devices like the iPhone and iPad, as the iPod slowly faded away.

The iPod + iTunes area has already earned nostalgic status, as nowadays we enjoy the even greater convenience of streaming millions of songs instantly through our smartphones. It now seems archaic to plug a music player or smartphone into a desktop computer. Apple was also famously late to the streaming party, only now catching up to Spotify’s subscription numbers in the United States. No doubt, this delay would have been influenced by Steve Jobs’s personal views on streaming — he believed strongly in the idea of owning your own music. Remember Cover Flow in iTunes? It was all about creating the equivalent digital experience of flicking through a shelf of vinyl records.

We are now seeing Apple assert itself in the music space again, hitting the reset button after a long, gradual period of declining iTunes music sales. With HomePod and its successful AirPods, Apple is building a musical hardware experience equivalent in scope to its Siri strategy. Siri is everywhere, across all of our devices. The iPod once promised to put 1000 songs in your pocket, and now with HomePod and AirPods, Apple is continuing the ‘Pod’ moniker to show users how they get access to their music in high quality everywhere.

Of course, these great hardware experiences feed back into the success of Apple Music and its increasing number of subscribers. Apple has always said that music is ‘in its DNA’. As the iTunes app on the Mac has become more bloated, we couldn’t always be so sure that Apple had the same focus on music. I’m optimistic about where these things are heading. Perhaps the biggest wish that we all have is the final separation of iTunes’s separate components, delivering dedicated music, podcast and video apps to create true consistency with the experience on iOS.

For now, the HomePod isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased to be an early adopter and see the new software features roll in…

Going Cellular: What It’s Like to Live with Apple Watch Series 3

Image 4
The Apple Watch Series 3 (Nike+) with a third-party band and the Explorer watch face

Since the initial release of the Apple Watch in 2015, much has changed. Now with Series 3 running watchOS 4, this great wearable device has become faster, waterproof and more capable, with numerous apps and functions that can operate independently. Most crucially, it now runs on cellular (mobile) networks, meaning that in many cases, you can actually leave your iPhone at home. Of course, you still need an iPhone, but the convenience factor has increased significantly. Since hearing a recent episode of podcast App Stories, which focused on various use cases of the Apple Watch, I was inspired to write my own account of the device. I wore the first generation all day, every day, but now that I have had time to live with the Series 3, I feel that I can give an appropriate account of what it is like to use.

I received my pre-ordered first-generation Apple Watch on launch day over two years ago and instantly fell in love with it, using it predominately for notifications, activity-tracking and messaging. To say that it was transformative would be an understatement; with its haptic feedback, it sent my phone into a permanent state of silence (no more alert and ringtones!). I could effectively and subtly manage the once infuriating number of notifications, which once led me to pull my phone out of my pocket constantly. I could even act on them.

During this year’s launch event for the Series 3 and iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theatre, I was ecstatic to see that the watch was finally gaining cellular capability. I was determined to get it. While the iPhone X announcement was very impressive, the watch was far more compelling to me. The notion of leaving my phone at home was tantalising. Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPhone, but every single day, especially on my commute and at lunchtime around Sydney, I observe people who are unable to separate themselves from their devices. Their faces are glued to smartphone displays, often scrolling aimlessly through social feeds.

Perhaps the clearest use case of the new cellular model is independent phone calls, messages and notifications. With seamless number-sharing (connecting and sharing data with your existing mobile plan), the Apple Watch attaches automatically to your network when it detects that it is out of iPhone Bluetooth range. This is indicated in Control Centre, as well as on the Explorer watch face with four dots as an indicator (if you use it). I was impressed that (for once) Australia had reasonable plan rates for sharing phone numbers; it only costs me an extra $5 per month to share data with my Apple Watch on Optus.

Most tech journalists and reviewers mainly tout the new Apple Watch’s cellular connection as a great emergency option, enabling you to exercise without having to carry a phone. This is true, but it is often pushed as the only appealing real-world context when you would leave your iPhone behind. My aim with the Series 3 has been to separate myself from the iPhone in a range of situations, in order to remain free from useless distraction. When I go for my lunch break at work, I always leave my phone in the office and go for a walk. Do I need to check emails? Do I need to look at another screen for an hour? When I go out for dinner with friends and family, I now often leave my iPhone at home. When I go for a coffee on my home-office day, I walk through my suburb to a local café without my iPhone. Not to mention, having Apple Pay on my wrist means that I can go to the coffee shop without even needing to take my wallet. The Series 3 enables me to travel lighter and even distance myself from superfluous technology.

Prior to the smartphone era, mobile phones were shrinking in size — this was the selling point. Nowadays, we see bigger and bigger designs for enhanced entertainment and productivity. The only antidote — as much as I love my iPhone 7 Plus — is to reduce or altogether remove bezels. The Apple Watch fulfils that need for a smaller, simpler communications device, the way that older feature phones once did.

Regarding exercise, however, I do use it for working out and love being able to track my routes during walks and runs. Tech journalists are right to highlight this feature so frequently. It is also brilliant to have an independent Maps app on the wrist for finding points of interest, with taps on the wrist for turn-by-turn navigation.

Whilst not a compulsory purchase, the Series 3 becomes even more compelling when paired with AirPods. These fantastic wireless earphones gained much praise when they were released last year (although low in supply for some time), and rightly so. Beyond music playback, they are the ultimate companion for phone calls, Siri and other general audio through the Apple Watch. While I enjoy using the watch ‘Dick-Tracy-style’ for calls with the speaker, the AirPods facilitate more private conversations.

IMG_7070
They even added a cute, little keypad!

The addition of a ‘Now Playing’ app, which pops up automatically when playing audio, and can be added to the dock, is also a brilliant addition in watchOS 4. It is much more useful than the previous ‘Glance’ version and is great for quick access to controls when streaming Apple Music directly to the wrist.

On music, you can easily load music from preferred playlists and artists on your Apple Watch for local playback when it’s docked and connected to Wi-Fi, but I have so far loved requesting music through Siri on my AirPods, streaming directly from the Apple Music server without even needing my iPhone.

IMG_7068
Streaming is awesome and the new user interface with scrollable cards is a pleasure to use.

Apple no doubt understands the significance of this pairing, as they do not break out revenue for the Apple Watch and AirPods in their quarterly earnings calls. Instead, they refer to both products under the category of ‘wearables’. This is smart for a number of reasons. Not only does it obscure revenue and important data from competitors, it also bolsters the wearable category, reinforcing the value of interconnected devices that revolve around the iPhone. They are established as items of convenience and feature extension in separate, defined category.

Using AirPods with my Series 3 has dramatically enhanced the watch experience, transforming it from a handy, wrist-worn notification machine into an essential communications device. It feels more meaningful than it ever was before.

Now, this brings me to more detail on Siri.

In the face of great competition from Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortona, Siri has faced increased scrutiny and criticism. Amazon’s Alexa, in the United States particularly, has gained a great response for its predictable and reliable voice commands for variety of functions. My experience with Siri on the watch, contrary to others’ opinions, has been nothing short of stellar. I find her to be reliable and accurate most of the time and a great enhancement to my occasionally phone-free life.

With and without AirPods, I use Siri on the Apple Watch to dictate and send messages, make phone calls, ask for the weather, ask for information (historical, fact-based, etc.) and perhaps my favourite use case: requesting music in the car. I do not have Bluetooth in my car, so I plug my iPhone into USB with a Lightning cable. While driving, I can safely say ‘Hey, Siri’ without looking at my Apple Watch’s display, and ask for any music stored either locally on my present iPhone or directly from Apple Music. The vast majority of the time, Siri understands me over highway road noise and plays the correct tracks. The only real misunderstandings come from more awkward, non-English artist names or track titles, or if I request a song an alternative or obscure version of a song.I do not deny Siri’s imperfection, but I would dispute much of its criticism.

If there’s one thing that has earned the Apple Watch the most criticism, it is perhaps third-party apps. The watch got off to a slow start with apps, as developers did not have access to the full WatchKit with the first generation. Since then, the Apple Watch has gained the ability to run apps by itself, rather than always handing off to an iPhone. This naturally means that developers can make more powerful apps. I could go on and on, but I’d like to share two of the most meaningful apps that I use without my phone on me. These apps are not necessarily my most used apps, but they are great examples of the power that the watch has for search, beyond the predictable functions for communication.

After Credits

Since the watch gained Cinema Mode some time ago (‘Theater Mode’ in the United States), I have though differently about how I use my watch at the movies. I no longer have to choose a different face to remain less distracting in the dark; I can now tap a button in Control Centre and avoid my wrist lighting up and disturbing others.

The free app After Credits enables users to check easily if the movie that they are watching features any additional (surprise) content during or after the credits. Having something like this on the wrist, without having to pull a phone out in the dark or wait through the entire credits, may sound niche, but is something that is of tremendous convenience. I certainly enjoy having such information only a tap away.

IMG_7072
A simple list with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

V for Wikipedia

I love searching for definitions, facts and a range of historical information on sites like Wikipedia. If I am passing a monument, I like to know why it’s there. If I spot an interesting building and want to know when it was constructed, I want to be able to find that easily. If I want to search for the meaning of a word, the iPhone enables me to do that.

Most would assume that the Apple Watch would not be able to fulfil such functions quickly, easily or with adequate detail. The app V for Wikipedia makes all of this possible. On the iPhone, it is a beautifully designed Wikipedia client, transforming the site into a kind of luxurious, digital book. You can search not only for articles in different languages, but also quickly jump through chapter sections, view images in full screen and even see articles about things, places, events or people that are relevant to your location.

The Apple Watch gains a focused, stripped-down version of this app, allowing you to search for articles by voice, scribble or location. I have used the app frequently as a source of information. It is quite satisfying to search all of Wikipedia on your wrist, and you can bet that I have used it to verify facts while in conversation with others. Generally, I am met with expressions of bewilderment at how I answered any given question without a smartphone. Not every developer has mastered user interface design for the watch, but V for Wiki is an example of watchOS app design done well. Across Apple Watch and iPhone, I would rank it as one of my absolute favourite apps.

IMG_7167
Search easily.
IMG_7169
Scroll to read. Simple!

Beyond these app examples, I do wish for certain improvements. My greatest wish for the Apple Watch, particularly now with cellular models, is a dedicated Apple Podcasts app. Downloading and/or syncing to the watch from an iPhone, as was definitely the case with the Music app, may also be too cumbersome an experience with something like podcasts. At least with today’s watchOS 4, if it were even possible only to stream the latest episode of any given podcast subscription, then I would be a happy chappy. Simply give me a list of my subscriptions, show me the latest episodes, and let me tap ‘play’. Podcaster Marco Arment, creator of popular podcast app Overcast, has gone into great detail on the limitations of audio synchronisation (particularly podcasts) on the watch on show Accidental Tech Podcast. There is still plenty of potential here.

Based on the Series 3’s noticeably faster hardware, it would be fantastic if many developers were to make their apps run more independently. For example, Day One (a digital journal) and Spendee (expenditure- and income-tracking) are two apps that I use frequently on the iPhone. Whilst present on the Apple Watch, they are still dependent on a connection to the phone. I am unsure of the exact technical limitations that may restrict this for developers, but perhaps some way of holding added data in the background would be appropriate, which could then sync to the watch when the connection is reestablished.

Needless to say, the biggest disadvantage of carrying only a watch is the inability to take photos. Mobile photography is now such a big part of our daily lives, and I thought that this would really bother me when being out with family and friends. Interestingly, it hasn’t all that much. It has occurred to me that I already have so many photos, and that not having a camera with me 100 per cent of the time actually allows me to be in the moment, rather than obsessively capturing it all the time. With current battery limitations in a device so small (impressive though the new battery is, lasting for two days if necessary), it would be interesting to see if Apple were to include cameras in future models. No doubt there is a greater case for a FaceTime camera rather than an iSight one, as video-calling on a watch makes more sense that capturing stills with a tiny lens. It is difficult to beat physics in this case as lenses need to be a certain thickness. Samsung’s efforts at adding cameras to their earlier Gear watches were blurred disasters, so I’m not gunning for it.

I’ve worn watches since I was a young child; the act of turning my wrist to check the time is etched into my brain. The Apple Watch obviously fulfils the role of a timepiece, but more than this, it has become a stellar device that has changed the way that I think about interacting with the digital world.

Back when I was studying, I was introduced to the somewhat pompous concept of ‘co-presence’. Quite simply, it refers to the idea of being present in two worlds simultaneously: the physical and the digital. You can be using your phone to check the status of any given social network, for example, while sitting and interacting with friends. The issue, as I see it, is that to many people fail to be really pay attention to the physical world while using their devices. The Apple Watch, I believe, enables such ‘co-presence’. A simple haptic tap, without sound, keeps me plugged in, but not locked into the digital world. Devices should augment and support experiences in the real world, rather than consume them.

All in all, I continue to be impressed by the Apple Watch. With major improvements to hardware, software and now cellular networking, it helps me to focus on the things that are actually important. I cannot wait to see where Apple will take this product category.

New iOS 11 Videos Show the ‘Pro’ in ‘iPad Pro’

The iPad has long been viewed as a consumption device, meant only for enjoying movies, books and browsing on a larger display than that of a smartphone. Apple has really sought to change this recently, with the creation of the iPad Pro for enhanced productivity with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil.

Apple has just released a number of videos that show off the great, new pro features that are coming to iPad with iOS 11. With the video example of document scanning below, the company has done a clever job of taking what was once a fiddly process, simplifying it and explaining it in a simple, human way for novice and pro customers alike. This sort of video really reminds you of the original iPhone videos from 2007, which took the time to explain things in a time before everyone had a smartphone. In today’s world, where most people are still not convinced that work can be done on a tablet, this addresses it.

Check it out.

The Legend of Seinfeld

Last night was a night that I thought would never happen: I had the chance to see Jerry Seinfeld perform live at the ICC in Sydney. The absolute sitcom and stand-up legend himself, who had not performed in Australia in 19 years, decided to visit this continent and gift us with his unmatched observational comedy.

Jerry!

I went with my fiancée, Natasha, who also worships the man. It was the show Seinfeld that in fact brought us together. During my time at university, Natasha and I did not know each other, but had a mutual friend by the name of Myf. She suffered constantly through our coincidentally simultaneous Seinfeld references. We both preached incessantly about how it is and always will be the greatest television show to ever be made. (Nothing has had the same cultural resonance or influence, except for perhaps The Simpsons, although Jerry quit while on top.) Noticing this shared passion, Myf put in a good word for the other on both sides. The rest is history!

I would say that Natasha and I are quite well-known amongst family and friends for being Seinfeld nuts. The beauty of the show is that is instantly relatable to anyone – the banal and the mundane are dissected masterfully in the show. Jerry and co-creator Larry David struck the perfect recipe for critiquing and painfully over-analysing the minutiae of human existence. I would go so far as to say that watching the show since I was a young child went on to influence the way that I talk and view the world. Little things annoy me, and boy do other people get to hear about them.

Last night was the culmination of a lifetime of quotation, references, laughter and watching and rewatching TV re-runs and DVDs. Natasha and I knew that we would have a great time, but we weren’t sure what to expect from a him so late in his career. He could easily have rested on his laurels and pumped out old stuff.

Well, I was blown away and I’m pretty sure that the rest of the audience was too. The theatre was packed, the laughter was loud and there was even a second show to follow.

IMG_5541
Effortless performance

Not only did Jerry’s performance run for 90 minutes, but he did not stop for breath. Laugh after laugh delivered and nothing felt forced. Jerry delivered a show that was not only true to his 90s style and fame, but one that was also relevant to a world that is obsessed with smartphones, the Web and personal image. He did it all without being offensive, crude or political. I walked away incredibly impressed. I would have paid double for the ticket.

IMG_5543
Crowds pour in for the *second* show.

This is a man who has mastered his craft and continues to do brilliant things like the popular Web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You can tell that he loves what he does.

So, I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to Mr Seinfeld for providing the absolute best, most timeless comedy on the planet, and for giving us all a night that we will not forget. Oh, and also, thank you for incidentally providing me with a future wife.

One happy Seinfeldian couple

WWDC 2017 Keynote Rundown

Earlier this morning, Apple held the opening keynote of its 2017 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), with 6000 attendees and many viewers via livestream around the globe.

Usually a software-focused event, this keynote ended up being much, much more. Not only were there announcements for each of Apple’s software platforms (tvOS, watchOS, macOS and iOS), but also refreshed MacBooks, MacBooks Pros and iMacs, an entirely new iMac Pro, beefed-up iPad Pros and an entirely new product: HomePod.

To save you the hassle of reading all of Apple’s marketing material, here’s a quicker rundown of what was announced…

Software

tvOS

Apple’s software platform for the Apple TV, whilst quite easy to use and with its own App Store, hasn’t always received the most love and attention. This tradition (of sorts) continued at the keynote this morning, with the only major announcement being the addition of the Amazon Prime Video service to tvOS. Perhaps the greatest issue that has plagued Apple’s efforts in the lounge room space has been the confirmation of new content deals, particularly for its new TV app. With this new development, it’s exciting to see Apple filling the gaps. No other software developments were announced for tvOS, but I anticipate that we will continue to receive more refinements in the future, such as the fantastic dark mode and quick scrolling that have been delivered in recent updates to the platform. A renewed focus on gaming would also push people to engage more with the device, as they have done so willingly on iPhones and iPads.

watchOS

watchOS 4 Siri Watch FacesThis is the platform that I was perhaps most excited to hear about prior to the keynote. Since the initial announcement of Apple Watch in 2014, Apple has come a long way in how it defines and sells its wrist-worn product. Whilst originally pitched as more of a communications device (think Digital Touch),  last year watchOS 3 redefined the watch as a health and notifications tool. Building on this, watchOS 4 focuses on improved watch faces, app design and notifications, particularly for health and activity. Users can expect a new kaleidoscope face, Toy Story character watch faces and (perhaps the most useful) Siri watch face, which dynamically adjusts a range of scrolling complications that provide personal updates and link to each relevant application.

Activity notifications have also received a boost, with improved tracking and reminders giving watch users greater motivation and information about movement throughout their day. The dock and Music and Workout apps have also received update user-interfaces, making them easier to use on a small display.

This is only a preview of what is to come, however, and I anticipate that yet more features will be added once new hardware has been announced. The watch category is still in its infancy, and new hardware sensors and expanded battery will no doubt lead to further software features.

macOS

macOS High Sierra Photos

In a similar style to earlier ‘refinement’ updates (think Leopard to Snow Leopard, Lion to Mountain Lion), Apple has updated macOS Sierra to High Sierra. This also continues the naming theme of famous locations in California, which began with OS X Mavericks.

High Sierra extends apps such as Notes, Mail, Safari and Photos, adding speed, navigation and feature improvements, such as autoplay-blocking, more professional editing functions, external editor support and privacy enhancements like ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ while browsing the Web.

Although likely boring for most end-users, but actually incredibly significant, High Sierra sees the introduction of the new Apple File System (APFS) to the Mac. APFS dramatically improves system performance, so things like writing, moving, copying and pasting files take much less time. The speed difference was very noticeable during the presentation, and when coupled with developments such as HEVC video, graphics improvements and new VR capability, this is a fantastic update for professional Mac users.

iOS

iOS 11 iPhone and iPad Pro.jpg

Saving perhaps the biggest update for last, iOS 11 will bring a truckload of new features when it’s released later this year. It’s actually easier to list just some of these as bullet-points:

  • enhanced iPad features, such as a customisable dock, multi-touch drag-and-drop and better app switcher;
  • a dedicated Files app for drastically improved file management;
  • a new ARKit for developers, bringing new augmented reality features to games, apps, camera functions and more;
  • improved Siri, with enhanced voices, more natural language and translation support;
  • advanced editing features for Live Photos, including loop, bounce and long-exposure effects;
  • Apple Pay money transfer wth friends via an iMessage app;
  • a new ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ feature for safer driving;
  • an entirely redesigned App Store and iMessage App Store;
  • Maps enhancements with lane guidance and indoor mall mapping; and
  • an improved, one-page Control Centre with better 3D Touch support.

iOS 11, in many ways, completes the professional enhancements that began in iOS 9. With more productive features for iPad Pro, users will now have access to much more powerful multitasking and file management, making it a much more convincing replacement for the laptop.

Hardware

Over the past few years, we have seen fewer and fewer hardware announcements at WWDC, with events in March, September and October often used for the unveiling of new Macs, iPads and iPhones. This year saw a reversal of that trend.

Mac

iMac Pro

Certainly one of the biggest concerns from the pro and developer community in recent times as been that Apple has lost enthusiasm for the Mac. As more consumers flock to portable devices, and even in many cases use only a smartphone day-to-day, the Mac has seemed like the forgotten child of the line-up. Consider the delayed Mac Pro and somewhat mixed reaction to the Touch Bar, and anyone of a ‘pro level’ has had at least some cause for concern. (Frankly, I believe that most average users don’t care about this, but as much of the online discussion is held by enthusiasts, the view of this situation has become overwhelmingly negative.)

Well, today was a big reassurance to all who might have thought that Apple no longer cared about the Mac. With new Intel Kaby Lake speed bumps to the MacBook and MacBook Pro, as well as more powerful iMacs, Apple has shown that it can still keep the Mac up to date.

What is most interesting, however, is the addition an entirely new Mac: the iMac Pro. Long-rumoured and much-discussed online, the iMac Pro takes the well-known all-in-one design, but adds considerable processor, RAM and graphics upgrades, with a new space grey finish. This is clearly Apple’s way to address the ‘prosumer’ market, or in other words: more serious consumers who aren’t necessarily hell-bent on purchasing a more modular system like earlier Mac Pros. This new iMac Pro, available later in the year, should satisfy many creative professionals who thirst for a minimalist desk set-up.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro.jpg

As iPad sales have continued to fall over the years, Apple has tried many things to reinvigorate and redefine the category, including iPad minis, iPad Airs, price adjustments and more. The most recent strategy, however, has perhaps the greatest chance in pushing the iPad as a full-blown personal computer. Significant speed increases, brighter displays and a new 10.5-inch version with new productivity features in iOS 11 now all position this portable category as much more attractive work machines.

HomePod

HomePod.jpg

Easily the most rumoured announcement of all, Apple finally unveiled its newest product, the HomePod. Pitched as a high-end competitor to devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod combines home automation, voice assistance, quality sound and wireless audio connection and playback (think Sonos).

The particularly interesting thing about the HomePod is Apple’s emphasis on its music cred, even describing it as being a kind of resident ‘musicologist’ in your home. This product ultimately feels like a rethink of the original iPod Hi-Fi, brought into 2017 with wireless enhancements, Siri capability and integration with Apple Music. When compared to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod is a much more fashionable, homely device (available in two colours), but it remains to be seen how well it will compete. Products like the Echo and Home are fairly well-established and have less friction for third-party device integration than Apple’s secure HomeKit platform. Also, the HomePod will only be available in three countries (US, UK and Australia) in December December, with more markets in 2018. Apple’s strength, however, is likely to be in its premium push, existing service ecosystem and superior multi-lingual support for Siri.

Conclusion

Rumours were rampant for this event, but Apple did not disappoint. Following much anxiety from Apple analysts, bloggers and creative professionals, the company managed to address pretty much every area in which it was accused of falling behind, adding meaningful software enhancements and announcing a number of hardware refreshes. Judging from previous WWDC keynotes, it was far more likely that only a small handful of hardware announcements would have been made.

I’m particularly curious to see how the iPad performs as a segment. As time goes by, the iPad seems to be settling into a longer product refresh cycle, like the Mac. iPads are so good, that many users do not feel the need to update their tablets for at least a few years. Will the enhancements in iOS 11 for iPad Pro be enough to motivate people to upgrade, as well as ditch their laptops? I’m convinced of its power as a productivity and creative content machine, but I’m not so sure about other consumers. In my mind, many average users still consider tablets like the iPad to be consumption devices, not tools for productivity, even if they are more than capable of it.

What’s important today is that Apple has shown that it can chew gum and walk at the same time, even whilst moving 12,000 employees into a newly-constructed campus. I can’t wait to get my hands on these new software updates in Spring and am eager to see what the rest of the year holds.

Image credits: Apple 2017