WWDC 2015 in review: OS X, iOS and watchOS.
The 2015 WWDC was the first year I was able to attend, and it was a great experience. There was a ton of information over the course of that week, and a lot to think about, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts as I settle back into my work.
OS X "El Capitan" Improvements
I pretty much immediately installed El Capitan the second I could. I saw on Twitter that it was roughly as stable / more stable than Yosemite, so I figured why not. My favorite feature of the OS is hands down the shake-the-mouse feature, making the mouse pointer grow for a second or two so you can see where it is.
What a great and playful feature, seriously. I’m sure a lot of people would eye roll that this counts as a feature, but I think it’s these little things that “surprise and delight” people, which is what keeps customers around forever. And on a more technical level, it makes all the sense in the world— Our eyes are best at seeing movement (which has a great evolutionary advantage), so when we first arrive at a computer, we shake the mouse pointer so our eye can catch the movement. Growing the size of the pointer for a second or two is just enough for us to find it faster—especially as our screen sizes grow to 5K resolution displays and beyond. Smart feature, and I love the thinking that went behind it.
Other than that, it’s just another year of iteration on the platform. I’m happy with the Safari improvements, and I might start using Spotlight—although I’ve been an Alfred user for years and haven’t felt the need to switch. The human-friendly searching is compelling though—being able to type something like “find documents I worked on last year” is pretty cool. I think natural language inputs to computers is the next huge frontier, for sure.
Similar to OS X, this iOS release was more about smoothing things out and iterating on all the advancements iOS has seen in the last 2 years. iOS 7 completely changed iOS, and iOS 8 added a ton of functionality. iOS 9 needed to be more about refining the experience and making sure it still delivers that world-class speed and performance that people want and like.
Siri’s improvements look promising. I agree it’s sped up a whole lot in this last year. I find myself using it a lot more now, especially since it’s the primary input method on the Watch. When it works, it works well. When it doesn’t, it’s insanely frustrating. That’s the problem with something like this—it honestly needs to “just work” all the time. The second it doesn’t “just work”, even once, it kills the magic and makes you question using it again, because you don’t know which version of Siri will show up.
Siri’s “Proactive” features also look great. I also love how Apple is strongly positioning itself as the pro-privacy company. Siri’s contextual suggestions and awareness of you as a person are all device-only. They re-iterated over and over that they are not in the business of your business. They don’t want to know your data, and have designed all their services to keep it private. I really appreciate that, and am starting to lean that way with a lot of my own services I use. If it’s free, then I’m the product, and I hate that. I’d rather pay for something and make sure I’m the customer, not the product.
I’m really excited for multitasking on the iPad. A lot of people have been feeling that the iPad lost its edge in the last couple of years from a software perspective, and I agree. With all the changes to how Apple handled apps on the backend, designing for the iPad was no longer “a thing”. You just created a single app, and iOS would do all the magic of scaling your app properly to work on any size device. The result has been great, but it left the iPad feeling underutilized.
Multitasking is definitely Apple’s answer to that. Being able to pin two apps side by side and work between them is incredible. Most of the time, you are working between two apps. Safari + some other app, being the most notable example I can think of. Or Slack + some other app. Not having to swipe back and forth and resume them makes all the difference in the world. I’m really excited to see this in action—I’m not yet daring enough to install iOS 9 on my primary iPad yet. I’ve learned to wait until beta 2 or 3.
Finally, the keyboard improvement looks great. Text selection has been a long standing pain of mine on iOS. Dragging your fingers across text in a small text view is not a pleasant experience. Being able to now turn your keyboard into a giant trackpad (effectively) looks like a great solution to this problem.
watchOS 2.0’s changes make a lot of sense. I see it as a gradual de-coupling of the iPhone and the Watch. Native apps and the fact the Watch can now have its own conversations with the Internet via wifi all point to the fact that the Watch will become a standalone device. I actually think this spells the death of the iPod. Apple already downgraded the device’s location on their store page, so I feel they’re getting people ready for its death. This makes even more sense with Apple Music about to be released. The Watch having its own wifi connection and Apple Music being all about streaming (not storage) make it the perfect device to listen to music wherever you are.
Add in the fact that Apple is slowly moving to kill the headphone port (and make everyone listen to music via Bluetooth) and this makes even more sense. The Beats purchase was incredibly strategic for them long-term.
More specific to watchOS, I love that developers can now make complications on the watch face. That is easily my most-used feature of the Watch— looking at its face when I raise my wrist. I have mine setup to show me the weather, my upcoming calendar event, my activity rings, and of course the time itself. Being able to swap out a complication with something like the current score of a game sounds great. Getting me data in less than a second is huge, compared to getting data in 30-60 seconds using my phone. Over the course of a day, that adds up quickly.
Yes, Apple Music is essentially a Spotify/Rdio/etc clone, but I think it’s more than that. The best thing said about Apple Music was that an algorithm alone cannot tell you what music you’d like—you need that human element. Computers can understand music only in a very particular way. They can look at the notes, they can see who all likes it compared to what else they like, and they can match things up that way. They can’t tell you who inspired that artist, what style of music it closely resembles, or who they think you’d love because you love this band. Those type of intuitive insights come from people—probably forever, or until we create an AI that intelligent (and terrifying).
I think Apple is clearly working towards a 5-10 year goal of a huge convergence of all their experiences. The lines are blurring between how we use different technical devices in our lives to the point where it’s just a single experience, regardless of what form it takes. The goal is always to make our lives simpler. The Watch put Apple’s tech on our wrist so we can talk to it and get bite sized information. The iPhone is a computer in our pocket connecting us to the world. The Mac is a powerful machine letting us create and do complex computing. The cloud/Bluetooth/wifi connects all these dots and keeps them talking to each other.
I think in several years, we’ll see the introduction of something called Apple OS. Essentially the same OS run on every device they sell—from the Watch to the Mac. The technology behind the scenes does all the magic of figuring out what physical device it’s running on and molding itself to that experience, but it will be one platform.
It’s fun to think about, for sure. I’m really excited for everything happening with mobile, and I’m especially happy that I get to be a part of it all.
Here’s hoping to be at WWDC next year!