Brief Thoughts and Observations Regarding Today’s WWDC 2016 Keynote

Venue

Moscone West isn’t big enough for 5,000 attendees to fit in a room, so a few thousand WWDC attendees always had to sit in an overflow room where they’d watch the keynote on video. That’s a major reason why attendees would line up at the crack of dawn, even though the keynotes start at 10 am. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has no such limitation, and it was nice to see (and hear) all attendees. The sound system there was just great, and the huge screen behind the stage was good too. I give the new venue a thumbs-up.

WatchOS 3

I was hoping for a thorough reinvention of the WatchOS UI navigation structure, and it looks like we got it. Glances are gone — an updated app for WatchOS 3 is a glance. Just tap the side button once to see the new “Dock”, and the apps in the Dock are live views of the actual apps. A conceptual simplification, along with a deliberate effort to reduce many common tasks to just one or two taps, is just what the doctor ordered for Apple Watch.

As for the purported dramatic improvements to app launching times and background data refreshing, I’ll believe it when I see it, but it sounds like an amazing year-over-year improvement.

tvOS 10

I’d be happy if the only new feature were the system-wide single-sign on for authenticating with your cable provider to use apps that require proof that you subscribe to a traditional TV service.

It didn’t make the keynote, but another change to tvOS that games can now require a dedicated gaming controller. I can see why Apple didn’t allow that — they wanted to push developers to support the Siri Remote as a controller. But some games simply require a real controller. That requirement was holding back the platform. (“Common sense prevails” is arguably the theme of this year’s announcements.)

The Newly-Renamed MacOS 10.12

I love the name change, but as someone who remembers when the classic Mac operating system was called “Mac OS”, I’m finding it tough to type without the space. Back then, “MacOS” was considered a typo.

The new “Continuity” features between devices sound great. Auto-unlocking your Mac with your Apple Watch is a very cool feature, as is the new Universal Clipboard. (That’s not really a Mac feature — it works from one iOS device to another, too.)

iOS 10

I don’t have time to write about all the new features that were announced today (let alone all the ones that didn’t even make the keynote), but looking over my notes, it strikes me that these are all very practical improvements. Everyone encounters the lock screen; Apple has made it more useful. Siri is smarter and can now integrate with third-party apps. Computer vision analysis of your photos — if it works well — will be useful to anyone who takes a lot of photos.

But perhaps the biggest change wasn’t even mentioned on stage. Most built-in system apps can now be removed from your device.1 Third-party VoIP apps can now commandeer the lock screen when an incoming call arrives — something that until now was reserved for the Phone and FaceTime apps. Likewise, third-party messaging apps can be specified as the default for people on a per-contact basis. iOS 10 looks like the anti-lock-in release.

iMessage

I’ve been arguing for a while now that iMessage is vastly under-appreciated as one of the most popular and best messaging platforms in the world. I think because it’s only for Apple devices it somehow doesn’t count in some people’s minds, even though there are (according to Apple) a billion Apple devices in use.

Messages is the most-used app on iOS, so it makes sense for Apple to spend a lot of time and attention on it. With the bigger emoji, stickers, and “bubble effects”, it’s clear that a lot of Apple’s work went into making Messages just plain fun. But the new extension APIs that allow for “iMessage Apps” strike me as turning iMessage into a genuine platform. One way to think about it is as an effort to move away from sharing plain text (and often ugly, unreadable) URLs that open in Safari and instead exchange software “objects” that are usable right there in the message thread.

Swift Playgrounds

We don’t have Xcode for iPad yet, but this is a start. It looks like a lot of fun and a great way to learn Swift or even just how to program, period. This is the most approachable programming environment from Apple since HyperCard. I’m interested to see whether Playground files wind up like HyperCard stacks.


  1. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be a way to specify a third-party app as the default handler for things like “mailto:” links, even if you remove the system Mail app. I hope that’s just something Apple hasn’t gotten to yet. ↩︎

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