Photo Metadata on iOS

With the recent announcement of new 11- and 12.9 inch iPad Pro models, there have been many thoughts flying around online about what does and does not make the iPad a pro machine. There has been a particular focus on elements such as file management and the inability to connect external volumes to the new USB-C port. To me, this will certainly arrive in a future iOS release… Apple would not have replaced Lightning with USB-C on the iPad Pro if it weren’t serious about the iPad as a productivity device. We’re getting there.

For some time, I have been wishing for a particular feature set to be added to iOS, which unfortunately I think is much less likely: the ability to edit image metadata in the Photos app, such as keywords, titles and descriptions. Photos on iOS already has an impressive range of features based on machine learning, such as facial and object recognition, memories and even synchronisation with contact and calendar information to organise photos automatically. With this in mind, I would assume that Apple deems such manual image management as redundant on iOS.

As an example of when this would be useful, this week my wife and I received our wedding photos from our hired professional photographer. She (the photographer) did a fantastic job of culling and editing the selection before giving it to us, however, I wished to add precise locations to our over 800 photos. Also, rather than just dumping them into an album, which I could easily do on iOS, I wanted to include keywords and descriptions, so that they are all easily searchable in the main ‘Years > Collections > Moments’ interface. All of this still has to be done on a Mac, as no native interface exists for this on iOS. Whilst this process certainly isn’t a chore on the Mac and I have no real issue with it, it’s an example of functional inconsistency that could easily be resolved by Apple. Since my images are synchronised across all of my devices with iCloud Photo Library, it’s only logical that I should be able to interact with and adjust these photos in the same way on each device. There are third-party apps that can achieve this but I don’t wish to risk my data privacy.

In its promotional videos, Apple has shown how its new iPad Pro models attach to other devices via USB-C… imagine connecting a DSLR, importing photos and having full, manual control over their metadata. That sounds like a pro activity.

Some people wish that iPads had mouse pointers and trackpads; others wish for laptop-style hinges to prop up the display, such as the Brydge keyboard. These are major design points that can change the entire interaction model of the device (for better or worse). They’re interesting to consider but much of what makes the iPad so enjoyable is that it is a versatile slab of glass. Its minimalism and difference from traditional computers are the things that make it so fun to use.

To me, it comes down to the finer points of software consistency. I don’t want to have to choose which device I pick up based on what it can or can’t do; I want to choose which device I pick up based on how I want to use it: touch or pointer. If Apple can address such niggling points and offer consistent app experiences across its devices, this will see the iPad’s pro status confirmed. With the addition of pro apps such as Adobe’s upcoming Photoshop on iPad, I’m hopeful that we will start to see a new era of feature parity across iOS and macOS.

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.

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

Ad: ‘Sticker Fight’

Undoubtedly, one of the most exciting changes to come in iOS 10 last year was the updated Messages app. iMessage apps, screen animations, tapbacks and Digital Touch sketches have really strengthened an already fantastic service from Apple, making it even more integral to the broader ecosystem.

Perhaps the greatest addition, however, was stickers. Easily downloaded from the iMessage App Store within the Messages app, stickers have added a whole new level of fun to iOS messaging. Of course, there are many free and priced options. I certainly use this feature a lot with my family, friends and fiancée. Trash Doves, cutiefood, Dancing Food and the Star Wars packs are particular favourites of mine.

To spread the word further about how cool these stickers are, Apple has made a great ad that reflects the fun of using them. Check it out below, and if you haven’t gotten into iMessage stickers yet, then you should definitely do something about that.

Courage

The year 2016 was a very interesting one for Apple, with its fair share of praise and controversy. Mostly, it seems that the company attracted negative attention for issues such as delayed product delivery, a failure to upgrade desktop Macs and the release of the apparently no-longer-pro MacBook Pro. The Mac is probably the biggest sore spot at this point in time.

Whilst I agree that it wasn’t Apple’s best year, I do think that as usual, Apple unjustifiably copped far more of a beating than many of its competitors, even with impressive product innovation and comparatively stellar sales. Consider the amazing design and engineering work involved in the AirPods, Touch Bar and wheelchair-focused fitness functions in watchOS 3, for example. In addition, Apple pushed its services even further, with a revamped Apple Music interface, differential privacy and the biggest release of iOS yet, opening up even more opportunities to developers in the form of iMessage apps.

Perhaps one of the most discussed topics of Apple’s business in 2016 was the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Heated discussion developed online following the iPhone keynote, where Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller stated that in making such a decision, Apple had shown ‘courage’. Schiller was mocked immediately for saying this, but I believe this to be the case. Like the removal of floppy disk and optical drives, Apple made a decision to drive a more wireless future.

In the Tim Cook era at Apple, I believe we now also see a reversal of the once-famous Jobsian ‘reality distortion field’. Whilst Jobs once apparently distorted reality around product launches, tech journalists now distort reality, praising companies such as Google and Microsoft for announcing products that either never get released, or that sell only a fraction of what Apple achieves. Remember when Microsoft’s bot turned into a Nazi online? Yep, people forgot about that. Remember when Google copied the external design of the iPhone 6 with its Pixel, leaving behind the not-so-successful Nexus line? Yep, people didn’t really care about that either.

The topic of courage and Apple’s different way of doing things was brought to my mind again after finding an excerpt from one of Jobs’s appearances at the D Conference, from back in 2010. In this excerpt, from the 2 min 15 sec mark, Jobs elaborates on what Apple believes it takes to make a successful, effective product. It involves making compromises and saying “No” to things that may seem crazy to exclude. Check it out below.

Apple has always made controversial decisions, and even the most devoted loyalists seem to forget this. Is the Mac being forgotten? No, of course not. The focus is instead on iOS, where the most consumer appeal and sales are happening. Entirely new input technologies like the Touch Bar do not occur in product categories that are being phased out. Likewise, whilst Apple is apparently exiting the display and router (AirPort) business, this is most likely another example of sharpening the company’s product focus. Remember when Apple used to make digital cameras, printers and even a gaming console? All of those products were given the chop, and when Jobs returned in 1997, he reduced the entire company’s product line to the famous consumer-pro matrix. In recent years, Apple has proudly stated that it is the company whose products all fit onto a single table.

What Jobs said in the video above remains true today. Indeed, the company can always listen to its customers more, and it should not ignore the interests of the pros and loyalists who kept it going in its darkest times. I do think, however, that more exciting things are still on the horizon. Apple continues to show courage in its design decisions, and is never afraid to do what may be unpopular for success in the long run.

Looking Forward to the Apple Watch

I’m a massive Apple fan and have been since I was five years old. My aunt recommended strongly to my father that we buy a Mac in 1997, at a time when Apple was only a few months from bankruptcy. Our first Mac was a Power Macintosh 6500, a beige machine inspired by the era prior to Steve Jobs’s return. I loved that computer. I typed stories on it, listened to audio CDs, played CD-ROM games (yay Myst and You Don’t Know Jack) and learnt how to navigate the Web.

Since then, I’ve followed every development in the Mac Universe very eagerly, watching Apple set the standard in every product category that it touches. They’re not always the first to market, but that’s precisely the point. Apple takes existing ideas and combines them to make the simplest package possible. Apple creates products that are designed so beautifully and made so approachable for pros and beginners alike, that every competitor, and I mean *every competitor*, copies them. Look no further than Samsung with the iPhone, or PC makers’ ultrabooks with the MacBook Air.

It is with this zeal that I await the Apple Watch. I look forward to seeing if it will be an enormous success, a dreadful failure or somewhere in between. I predict that it will succeed, but that it will sit in a similar position to the iPad. It is almost impossible to imagine that anything could take off as well as the iPhone (now the greatest business in the history of all business, following Apple’s last quarter). It will sell well, but will probably face the same scepticism that meets the current wearable market. If anyone has the power to change this, it is Apple, just as it did to the tablet market.

Models include the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition

Since the Apple Watch was first revealed in September last year, I have been wondering what it’s most useful feature or features could be, or what would matter to me specifically. In my broad reading about the watch, it seems that some people cannot see how it could be useful. They state that it needs a ‘killer app’ to be successful, something that it can do that no other device can.

This is not the point of the Apple Watch, as I see it. I believe that the Apple Watch can be summed up with two words:

customisation + convenience.

The iPad had and still doesn’t have a real ‘killer app’. The iPad is a deliberately expanded iOS device that does all of the same things as an iPhone (except for phone calls). Apple understood that a gap could be filled. People wanted larger displays than what they had on their phones, but wanted something that was more comfortable than a laptop to carry around or nestle with on a lounge. The iPad has been a resounding success, applicable in both work and leisure situations. The Apple Watch will enable people to not only check notifications more easily and control various another devices and accessories, but also be personalised in a way that no other modern, wearable technology has before. That’s what some critics do not understand; it is not about specifications, numbers, unique hardware-enabled features and geeky stuff. These things help, but what truly matters is the marriage of good design and engaging software to create a unique experience for every individual. Apple creates magic with its products by paying attention to these small details. No other company can do this. No other tech company can inspire the same pride in its consumers.

CEO Tim Cook triumphant at the September 2014 event, unveiling Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Pay

I imagine that my primary uses for the Apple Watch will lie in social media notifications, music playback, glances at weather and other location information, plus a little bit of Siri. With the way that the Australian dollar is going at the moment and the knowledge that the Apple Watch will be starting at $349, let’s hope that I can actually afford it. #firstworldproblems

Apple can make the watch cool for younger people again, many of whom have given up on wearing watches in favour of awkwardly (and somewhat rudely) pulling out their smartphones to check the time. I’ve always loved to wear watches and see the Apple Watch as the first compelling, modern take on the traditional timepiece.

I look forward to seeing how this next device will go on to influence our lives as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad all have. Even the Apple TV, a supposed “hobby” product, has dramatically changed my lounge room space at home and how my family consumes content.

Apple’s influence is mammoth and there is plenty more to come.