The usual hyperbole and self-congratulation abounded on day one of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). But as we’ve come to expect, the meticulously on-brand sermons offered up some interesting new products and features. CEO Tim Cook even managed to get the occasional word in, between bursts of rapturous applause. Here’s everything you need to know.
What to expect from Watch
Watch may only have officially launched six weeks ago, but watchOS 2 is just around the corner already; in fact, the developer beta is open right now. One of the most common complaints about the first Watch iteration was that pretty much everything had to be run in conjunction with an iPhone; now, even when you are away from your phone, the Watch will still interact with networks, and communication functionality is much greater.
Vice President of Technology Kevin Lynch outlined some less essential but handy improvements, such as a ‘Time Travel’ feature which enables users to go forward or backward through their schedule, so they can check their appointment times, weather reports, and even see how their battery life will go down throughout the day. While charging in Nightstand mode, the Watch can be used as a bedside alarm. And the Watch can now play back short-form video, most notably Vines.
“We believe deeply in this space, in technology designed for the wrist,” says Cook. “And we believe that in opening this platform, you will create new and powerful uses we can only begin to imagine.”
iOS 9 is on its way
As cool as iOS upgrades are, there’s only one thing that any long-time iPhone owner wants, and that’s better battery life. With iOS 9, an iPhone 6 will last an extra hour on full charge. And instead of closing apps and reducing screen brightness to save power, you can simply switch to Low Power Mode, which extends battery life by another three hours.
The secondary concern after battery life is, of course, security. But even as iPhones get better at interpreting our search queries, all data generated remains anonymous. “We don’t mine your email or your contacts in the cloud… We don’t want to know!” Says Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering. “It stays on your device, under your control.”
Perhaps most significantly, Apple want iOS 9 to be available to all customers, meaning it will support any device supported by iOS 8. It also requires considerably less free space to download.
Siri is getting smarter
“Siri has quietly become very popular,” says Federighi, “serving 1 billion requests per week.” Siri is now 40% faster and more accurate, and also sports a brand new user interface. The new and improved Siri is more proactive and organised; it can take an event invitation from your email and automatically update your calendar, and even recommend a suggested departure time based on estimated traffic conditions for that time and place. And if you receive a call from an unfamiliar number, your phone will look though your emails and messages to come up with suggestions as to who it might be.
Replacing the wallet
Apple Pay is now supported by 2,500 banks, and is about to be made available to 50 million credit card customers via Discover. Apple are also working with Square to enable smaller businesses to access Pay. But it’s not just about money. Apple’s Vice President of Internet Services, Jennifer Bailey, is on a mission to replace your entire physical wallet. And it starts with rebranding the iPhone’s Passbook as Wallet, which will function as one place for all of your loyalty and reward cards. The entire thing is automated, so each time you use Pay at your favourite coffee shop, your digital loyalty card will get a stamp.
Pay is expected to reach 1 million contactless locations in the US next month, by which time it will also be launching in the UK, with an initial base of 250,000 locations. There is an additional value-add which is likely to get Brits on-board; Pay can be used on all London transport. Bailey’s presentation also marked the first time a female Apple executive has appeared onstage at WWDC. She was shortly followed by Susan Prescott, Vice President of Product Marketing, who introduced ‘News’.
Nifty new stuff
‘News’ is Apple’s new native app which draws in articles based on your interests and favourite publications, designed specifically to offer engaging visuals while retaining the publisher’s brand. “Publishers can easily create beautiful content using gorgeous imagery, stunning layout and rich typography,” says Federighi. Articles can incorporate compelling visuals in the form of photo mosaics, animations, infographics, galleries and video. News will make its debut in the US, UK and Australia, and will include 30 free daily articles from the New York Times, sports reporting from ESPN, and content from 17 Condé Nast magazines. “We believe this offers the best mobile reading experience ever,” says Prescott.
Other new additions on iOS 9 include the ability to make checklists and attach photos in Notes, and the Transit view on Maps, created for people who use public transport. On iPad, the QuickType bar provides shortcuts which make editing even faster, and Slide Over enables you to check your email without leaving the app you’re using. Unique to the iPad Air 2 is Split View, the first ever side-by-side computing function for iPad.
And because no tech session is complete without a reference to the IoT; the HomeKit platform supports an array of new connected accessories, including security systems and carbon monoxide sensors, while in-car operating system CarPlay now lets you play music from your phone in the car wirelessly.
Apple embraces developers
One particularly crowd-pleasing announcement was that Swift, Apple’s programming language, will soon be made entirely open-source. It will go through public beta in July, and Apple plan for it to be available on iOS, OS X and Linux by the end of the year. “We believe Swift is the next big programming language,” says Cook, who predicts that this is what developers will be using “for 20 years to come.”
Towards the end of the keynote, Cook proudly revealed that the App Store has recently hit something of a milestone; 100 billion app downloads. Not bad, considering the App Store itself is only seven years old. And it’s all thanks to the kind of people who attend WWDC, according to Cook. “Developers are transforming, empowering and reimagining the very important things we do in our daily lives,” he says. “There’s seemingly no limit to what you can do.”