Every year Apple has at least two big events, their iPhone event in the second half of the year and their developers conference event in the first half of the year. Each event has it’s own press briefing, here are my notes from today’s WWDC 2017 press briefing. It is long as hell.
The show opened with a comedy skit about a new Apple engineer sitting down at a new desk and accidentally unplugging the iOS app store servers, disabling every app. Soon, the world descends into chaos as people can’t get directions and we see a marketplace of people trying to substitute for the missing apps:
Tim Cook was the first live human on stage with numbers and then to announce that Amazon’s Prime Video service is finally going to the Apple TV.
Kevin Lynch announced new Siri functionality that would automatically present information you might want on the new Siri watch face. Rotating the crown scrolls through the available information. For example you might want to see your upcoming appointments and weather changes. They’re displayed as tiny cards as seen here:
There’s also a new kaleidoscope face along with several animated Toy Story character faces.
WatchOS 4 also has more customized notifications for activity encouragement and better reward animations when you’re done exercising.
The exercise tracking is more advanced and detects when you’re paused while swimming to determine your intervals, for example. It’s also easier now to move from one workout type into another without stopping.
New gym equipment will be Apple Watch enabled and will help you record your fitness activities on that equipment when you swipe your watch near a certain area on the equipment.
Apple Music is improved on the watch with a new app.
The new WatchOS will be out this Fall with a pre-release version available to developers today.
Tim Cook introduced Craig Federighi to talk about macOS updates. macOS 10.13 will be called High Sierra, another stability update along the lines of Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion. Craig joked about the name’s obvious weed reference.
Craig promises these new features in 10.13:
Safari will also block autoplaying video and audio on web pages. That’s great.
Safari will have “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” to prevent sites from identifying you across domains.
Search is better somehow. Apple didn’t really explain how
Mail gets a split view in full-screen mode to edit new messages alongside reading others and is also more optimized for storage.
Photos gets all kinds of improvements such as improvements in detecting faces.
Finally, Photos’ machine learning stuff gets synced across devices.
Photos also has way more advanced editing features on the Mac.
Apple’s Apple File System came to iOS recently to replace HFS+, APFS will be on High Sierra as well.
MacOS will also support h.265 for video compression, which will also be supported with dedicated hardware on Macs.
Craig boasted about their graphics API Metal for a while before announcing Metal 2 that is supposed to give a 10x draw call throughput improvement. It’ll also have better debugging and optimization tools.
Interestingly, Craig talked about how there is a new Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 and USB-C hub available for developers who want to offload Metal GPU computation tasks to an external device from a Mac. It isn’t clear if this can offload desktop graphics rendering, as well, but you would assume so.
Craig announced VR support coming to the Mac from Valve with SteamVR and engines from Epic (Unreal) and Unity.
All systems that support Sierra will support High Sierra. It’ll be out this Fall with a public beta later in June.
Mac Hardware Updates
New iMacs are coming with 50% brighter displays and Kaby Lake chipsets from Intel. The iMacs are getting support for more RAM, 32 gigs on the 21.5 inch and 64 gigs on the 27. The 27 also gets fusion drives by default. The 21.5 iMac gets improved integrated graphics. The 4k 21.5 inch iMac gets the Radeon Pro 555 and 560 with up to 4 gigs of RAM.
The 27inch 5K iMac gets the Radeon Pro 570, 575, and 580 with up to 6 gigs of RAM.
MacBooks and MacBook Pros are also getting updated with new chipsets.
Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll & Epic’s Lauren Ridge showed up to give a VR demo running on the new iMacs. The demo featured live edits to a Star Wars scene in the Unreal Engine. It was incredibly awkward and didn’t demonstrate anything new over what Windows desktop machines could do last year.
There’s a new 27 inch iMac Pro in Space Gray to offer an option for anyone missing the Mac Pro that hasn’t been updated in years. With copious options in CPU (up to 18 cores) and RAM (up to 128GB).
According to Apple it’ll be much cheaper than a comparable workstation that would cost over $7000, this one will start at $5000. It’ll be available this December.
Tim Cook boasted about iOS 10’s lack of fragmentation compared to Android and then reintroduced Craig Federighi to talk about iOS 11.
iMessage apps get an updated app drawer.
iMessages is now in the cloud to sync your message history to all of your devices, and it is still encrypted end-to-end, which should mean that Apple can’t access your messages in any situation. Although practically they could do so and you might not know about it.
Apple Pay is getting person-to-person payments, and it’ll have integration with Messages. Although it’ll store by default to an Apple Pay Wallet you can transfer money to your bank account. Sounds like the introduction of an Apple Bank.
Siri is getting an improved voice that sounds more natural and is still the only option with both male and female voices. Siri will also support translation in beta with some languages. SiriKit for developers will do more and support more applications. The last update only worked with a few custom actions like sending messages in third-party apps.
iPhone photos and videos are getting new compression formats that are supposedly much more efficient. The portrait camera is getting more features for a higher quality end-result.
Memories are enhanced. Video editing is supposed to be much improved as well.
Control Center is now modular and a single page. If you 3D touch a control module you get more controls and more information for that module as it expands to take up more space on the display.
The lock screen notification area will now expand with a swipe to display all of your notifications, not just the most recent ones.
Live Photos are improved, you can pick the key photo and loop the short video in live photos or choose other effects.
Maps gets improved maps for inside buildings like malls and airports. Navigation gets speed limits and lane-guidance. There’s a new feature for drivers called Do Not Disturb while Driving, it’ll be automatically suggested while driving and hide notifications. It can also notify anyone texting you that you’re driving and that you won’t see their messages unless they’re on a VIP list or they can break through by responding with “urgent.”
AirPlay 2 supports multi-room speaker systems from all iOS devices as well as the 4th generation Apple TV.
Apple Music can optionally share your playlists and music library with your friends, developers can also access this information through new APIs.
Phil Schiller appeared on stage to announce some updates coming for developers and users. The iOS App Store gets a complete redesign that looks more like Apple Music. A new Today screen shows off new cards with different stories about new apps. There are new dedicated screens for showing off games and a different screen for non-game apps. Category editors can display videos demonstrating tips and tricks for different apps.
Craig came back to talk about other technology improvements, including ARKit for augmented reality. It’ll work with Unity, Unreal Engine, and Apple’s SceneKit. Craig demonstrated 3D objects like coffee cups and lamps displayed on surfaces like tables that are detected instead of just having the 3D objects overlaid on what the camera sees without any interaction with real-world objects. An updated version of Pokemon Go will support this new ARKit and display Pokemon on the ground instead of just floating in the air.
Peter Jackson’s WingnutAR team appeared on stage to demonstrate an AR application running on an iPad with a science fiction action scene. Using AR to display a pre-configured action sequence is pretty boring, honestly.
The 10.5 inch iPad Pro
Apple introduced a new iPad Pro with a 10.5 inch display and an A10x processor. Joz told us that this supports a full-size software keyboard along with a better keyboard case. It’ll have a better refresh rate that looks smoother when motion is displayed on the screen, so Apple called this ProMotion. It’ll also dynamically adjust the display refresh rate for whatever the content is you’re working on, for better performance or battery life at a slower refresh rate.
The new 10.5 inch iPad Pro also has the same camera as the iPhone 7 and the base model has 64 gigs of storage. They’re available for order today and will ship next week.
Craig came back to talk about iOS improvements for the iPad. The dock can now have a large amount of apps. It can be pulled up from the bottom of the screen in any app. You can pull apps out of the dock into a slide-over multi-tasking split-view. iOS 11 will also support drag and drop. There’s a new Files app that supports iCloud drive and third-party cloud file management services like Dropbox.
The Notes app now supports handwritten notes that get interpreted using OCR as text by the system for searching and can scan a document for editing.
The 12.9 (let’s be honest, 13) inch iPad Pro also gets the new display, processor, increased base storage (64GB) and other features. All of these iPads 10.5 and 12.9 also have the 2nd generation TouchID sensor with quicker fingerprint recognition, but still appear to have physical home buttons instead of the haptic-driven virtual home buttons of the iPhones 7 and 7 Plus.
Phil Schiller came back on stage to talk about “Reinventing Home Music” with a new speaker from Apple called HomePod. The first non-Beats branded speaker from Apple since the iPod Hi-Fi. HomePod is a rotund 7-inch tall device with a little bit of an urn shape and has its own A8 chip inside. Supposedly this speaker is very advanced and detects the kind of environment it is in to adjust for different types of rooms and adjust the audio for clarity. It’ll also work with another HomePod automatically for better stereo separation.
Of course, this speaker will support Siri and be Apple’s competitor to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home device as was rumored for months. Apple says that this speaker will have advanced Siri functionality that is tailored specifically to it.
The HomePod will be $349, in white and space gray, this December.
Overall, this feels like Apple trying to catch up, in VR and AR, with a speaker for Siri and finally getting updates to the iPad Pro and an iMac Pro to help reassure Mac Pro users like video editors that Apple hasn’t completely abandoned them when the Mac Pro still doesn’t have a release scheduled beyond “not this year.”
It’s good to see VR on the Mac, but nothing today addressed the desire for a desktop Mac for gamers to play VR applications unless you want a machine with a built-in display and a GPU you can’t upgrade. As terrible as Nvidia can be as we’ve seen with the GTX 970 memory debacle, I don’t ever want to buy a desktop with an AMD graphics chipset.
I would probably want a HomePod as Apple is the only company offering an AI assistant speaker that gives a damn about privacy and isn’t just trying to sell you shit through their store like Amazon with their Echo.