As I do every year, I watched the Apple WWDC 2018 keynote, for personal entertainment purposes as well as a genuine interest in what Apple is doing. The same is also true for both Google’s and Microsoft’s developer conferences. This is not a comprehensive summary as done by other Apple news sites and blogs, but rather a few thoughts on what I’ve seen and how it may or may not affect me.
iOS Update Strategy
Every year, and with good reason, Apple mocks Google’s Android platform for lagging behind in the software update department. This year was no different, as was to be expected, but in addition to that they emphasized the support of devices dating back to 2013. Five-year-old iPhones and iPads! Take that Android.
I’m not a blind Apple fanboy, but this just needs to be mentioned. Yes, iPhones have become even more expensive than before over the last couple of years, but if my device receives software updates with new capabilities and, more importantly, regular security fixes for such a long period of time, then I believe it’s money well spent. In fact, the recent death of my sister’s phone – a Google phone no less – resulted in me buying an iPhone 8 and handing down my Android phone because we couldn’t find a suitable replacement for her based on optics, likely to expect software updates and price. It just wasn’t an option to spend a lot of money for a device she wasn’t sure she’d be happy with for several years – especially for a student that really needs to limit her expenses.
Additionally, this also makes me happy as the owner of an iPad Mini 4, a not so young any more device. Although I was more of an Android guy at the time – it is a good OS – I had no confidence, even less than in phones, that there will be any timely updates for any of the Android tablets.
Again, I have to compare this to Google. They’ve been focusing on Android performance for several of the past releases and it’s the first time that I can recall that Apple does the same thing. I don’t think iOS needs as much attention as Android because it already is very efficient, but I really welcome it, especially since Apple supports their devices a long time. It is most likely also a response to the long-standing conspiracy theories that Apple deliberately slows down older phones with every new iOS version.
UIKit on the Mac
Disclaimer: I am not a Mac or iOS application developer, so neither do I know the ins and outs of UIKit and AppKit nor the differences between them. But I do have an opinion on cross platform development and this falls into this category – sort of.
Xamarin has developed frameworks to support cross platform apps with a high level of code reuse even up to the user interface and across different (mobile) operating systems. Microsoft has tried as well, although with less success – which has nothing to do with the tools and the technology behind it. I’ve heard talk about a potential (wish for a) new toolkit that would simplify macOS and iOS app development. I regularly listen to Marco Arment’s, Casey Liss’s and John Siracusa’s Accidental Tech Podcast and Leo Laporte’s et al. Macbreak Weekly on the Twit network and it’s been mentioned a few times here and there.
What Apple showed is more like Android app support on Chromebooks than a cross platform framework. Since they didn’t provide any details about the inner workings in the general keynote it’s only speculation, but on first look it seems to be one-way, from iOS to macOS. It may be good enough. Maybe in its first version that’s all developers are going to get and it will become more powerful over time. For now though, it only seems to be a convenient way to get iOS apps compiled and working on a Mac rather than a comprehensive platform to unify the app development model (not the looks) across macOS and iOS.
Wallpapers changing based on time, showing the Mojave Desert at different points during the day is such a useless but also nice idea. I like the attention to detail here. How much I would see it when really working? Not too much because of all the open application windows covering the desktop 😉 I’d still enable it.
I also like the idea of a system-wide dark mode. I had hoped that maybe Apple would have also tried to modify website CSS in Safari to also darken bright pages, e.g. Google’s, maybe as a separate option for users to turn on. I do like dark mode for development, but I refrain from using it because the OS (in my case Windows) doesn’t support it in all places. And even if it would (Microsoft seems to be working on that), Windows is a place where I’d expect 3rd party applications to not care and force their own (most likely ugly) custom skin on users. This means that when switching from my dark mode enabled IDE to another application, I am likely to be blinded for a few seconds. It’s like leaving your dark developer cave to step out for a few minutes, filling circles on your Apple Watch, and being blinded by daylight before the eyes can adjust. Since that is annoying, I use “bright mode” everywhere instead, so everything looks the same. In Apple’s case the only application left that can cause such a disruption is the browser. Hence, a slight modification of a site’s CSS?
Desktop Stacks to group a set of random files on the desktop seems a nice idea. I do not have this problem myself, but I can see other people liking it. I wonder if it can also be used in regular (unorganized) folders, e.g. Downloads.
I do like the Windows Snipping Tool to create screenshots of custom selections or complete windows and maybe add some markup. In comparison, discovering Apple’s free-form rectangular selection required me to perform a Google search. Apple-Shift-4? (I can only execute it through muscle memory)
Whatever it is, the new screenshotting tool looks much better, giving users an on-screen selection of the different options to choose from. Apple even raised the bar and added video recording as well. This is a good upgrade.
I was very surprised at the positive feedback about the “Office 365 in the macOS app store” announcement (I like Office).
Dolby Atmos on Apple TV
I couldn’t hold back a laugh when I heard this. Technically it’s a good feature, no doubt. From what I have heard so far (and I don’t mean hearsay from other people, I mean being in the theater and experiencing Dolby Atmos) it makes for a nice demo video but in movies it just doesn’t come across. I’m not sure if it’s because of the types of movies that I watch (Marvel, DC, Star Wars etc.) or if movie makers invest more time in visuals than sound. At this point I’m excited when I notice Stereo “effects”. But Dolby Atmos?
On top of that, how many people have a proper Dolby Atmos sound system at home? I enjoy my 5.1 setup when it is supported, and I think it’s good enough. The crucial thing here is how loud you can turn it before your neighbors come knocking at your door. That’s much more important to enjoy a movie than Dolby Atmos. Don’t get me wrong, I think sound is a very important component of a movie. My gaming PC has a dedicated soundcard for a better sound quality and I also have a 5.1 speaker setup for more fun. So far, I just don’t think Dolby Atmos is worth it.
I do like the free upgrade to 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos of course. Nice job Apple.
watchOS and tvOS Visual Design
Disclaimer: I do not own an Apple Watch or Apple TV.
I find the visual aspect of the user interface not very appealing from what Apple showed on their slides. I can understand why on the watch. OLED displays consume less energy when showing black – because the black pixels are actually “off”. I do not understand however, why the Apple TV looked so boringly gray. It reminds me of Microsoft Edge. Just a lot of gray. A barren land, void of fun and joy. Not very good looking. Not very inviting. I will have to check some Youtube videos to get a complete picture and hopefully convince me that Apple chose some bad example pictures – which Apple usually doesn’t.
It was mentioned.
Privacy and Security
That’s an important topic and a big plus in the decision for buying an iPhone (in addition to long term software support) in favor of an Android device. I knew what I was getting into in the Google Android world and I was okay with it. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t prefer a more private approach to this topic. Especially since my professional work also revolves around sensitive data and privacy. Microsoft is another company that has shifted their focus to privacy and keeping your data safe – not in a backup kind of way. Cynics might say, that’s because their attempt at an advertising business had failed miserably. Either way, Microsoft, too, is trying to leverage the privacy angle for themselves. Their focus is on cloud business though, compared to Apple’s consumer business with their i-devices. At this point and as far as I trust any capitalist entity that answers to shareholders, I trust both companies in this regard.
Of course, there has been a lot more that I didn’t mention, but my goal wasn’t to comment on everything, only the things that resonated with me for any reason.
I think this year’s keynote wasn’t as arrogant and self-praising as the previous ones. It had a good pace, was entertaining enough that never in those two hours I had the feeling of getting bored. Not even in the watch segment that I couldn’t care less about.
Gender diversity in the presenters was okay, but Apple’s leadership team still seems to be a bunch of white dudes. One of the women was referred to as only “a manager” on the I-forgot-what-it-was team, whereas all other presenters had some leading role. In that moment it struck me as odd, but now that I am thinking about it, it’s a good thing. It means that you don’t have to be THE leader of a team or company department to be a presenter at the WWDC opening keynote.
Regarding my iOS and macOS background: I do have some experience developing on iOS and macOS, but that is limited to creating frameworks. When it comes to apps then those only exist to test the frameworks and as a result they are as minimalistic as possible.