What Apple Didn’t Announce at WWDC
Some things we expected: Siri coming to the Mac, MUSIC getting an overhaul, and Photos coming into its own.
But there were a lot of surprises today, and some of them didn’t make the cut for what was easily Apple’s most fast-paced keynote in recent memory. Rather than re-stating the stuff that you’ll see plastered over every news outlet over the next few days, I want to dig into the hints, hidden announcements, and remaining questions.
Starting with the big one.
Un-Bundling of System Apps
As Owen Williams noted on Twitter earlier, Apple appears to be solving the problem of allowing people to remove system apps just like Android did-by unbundling them from the operating system:
Here it comes… https://t.co/ysffkpEoaqpic.twitter.com/4qt5LlWH6r— ⚡️ Owen (@ow) June 13, 2016
If this is true (which it is), the ramifications are huge. For one thing, it implies that we’ll have some way of designating third party apps as defaults for certain tasks. If we remove the stock Mail app, there must be a way for us to choose an app to take its place, right? As Alex Guyot over on MacStories put it:
It seems very odd that Apple would (perhaps in a future beta before official release) reveal default app choices without discussing such a huge feature in the keynote. But at the same time it seems even more odd that Apple would allow a user to completely break all mailto: links on the system and give no recourse to fix it besides reinstalling the deleted Mail app.
Difficult to predict which way this will play out.
It’s potentially great news for third-party developers though, and the theme of third-party empowerment is evident throughout the event. As a photographer, one particular note stood out.
Raw Photo Capture & Editing
If you’ve been listening to Candid, you’ll know that this was the subject of much anticipation not only for us but for the entire photography community.
With the iPad Pro’s hardware advancements, the ability to bring a professional photography workflow to the iPad could be the turning point for the device. The WWDC app has an entire session dedicated to “Advances in iOS Photography”, which is described like this (emphasis mine):
”People love to take pictures with iPhone. In fact, it’s the most popular camera in the world, and photography apps empower this experience. **Explore new AVFoundation Capture APIs which allow for the capture of Live Photos, RAW image data from the camera, and wide colour photos.”**
A second session, “Photo Capture Lab”, seems to provide assistance with these new APIs as well:
”Live Photos bring an entirely new way to bring your still photos to life. **RAW and wide colour support adds new dimensions and capabilities to your images.* Get one-on-one technical guidance from Apple engineers about capturing photos in your apps…”*
It seems our dreams are coming true, though there are sure to be some limitations. For example, the raw capture and editing seems restricted to devices with A8 and A9 chipsets. we’ll have to wait until after Tuesday to find out more precise details.
In the meantime, the wide colour support has me intrigued…does this mean we can expect the next iPhone’s sensor to capture a wider gamut than most displays can accurately represent?
Food for thought.
Apple discussed several key extension points on stage: iMessage apps, Maps extensions, and Siri. But there are a few others that they slipped by on a developer slide without mention, or touched upon briefly, like VoIP (Voice-Over-IP, meaning any app that provides data-based calling like Skype, Viber, Hangouts, etc.) extensions and native VoIP experience, Xcode extensions, and Spam alert extensions.
We can guess their functionality from the names. VoIP is becoming a core part of the modern smartphone experience, and I know that having those calls work as seamlessly as normal phone calls do would be a tremendous improvement.
Just the other day, I installed an app to help identify spam callers on iOS.
It works by creating an entry in your Contacts with a gigantic list of suspected or confirmed spam callers, so whenever you get a call from one of those numbers you’ll see the warning. With the new spam alert extension, I imagine this clunky workaround will give way to a native filter point that will allow developers to hook in the way Safari content blockers current work.
Speaking of content blockers and Safari, developers will now be able to sell and distribute Safari extensions via the Mac App Store, and bring iOS content blocking tech to Safari via similar extensions.
A New File System
Apple is introducing a new file system that will underpin macOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iOS. This is a long-term thing, but a massive piece of news regardless.
John Siracusa is smiling. Or maybe not, I don’t really understand this stuff well enough to know if it addresses his enduring concerns with HFS+ and the legacy file systems.
The point is, it’s called Apple File System and so far we don’t know too much about what it means for end users or when its advantages will start to come into effect (probably not for a while).
The documentation page says the following about it:
Apple File System is a new, modern file system for iOS, OS X, tvOS and watchOS. It is optimized for Flash/SSD storage and features strong encryption, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning for files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, atomic safe-save primitives, and improved file system fundamentals.
Colour me interested.
Grab-Bag of Unmentioned Improvements
Here’s a quick list of some of the other improvements that caught my eye:
- Per-thread iMessage read receipts
- Split View comes to Safari on the iPad
- Notes gains the ability for live collaboration (native Google docs competition?)
- Markup is coming to Messages (the image annotation system that currently only exists in Mail)
- Mail gets conversation view and side-by-side compose windows on iPad
- Live Photos can now be stabilized (sorry, Motion Stills), edited, and shot with live filters
- iOS 10 will now automatically remember where you parked and give you options to leave a note, or add details
- Thanks to the addition of raise-to-wake functionality and new lockscreen gestures, the entire swipe-to-unlock mechanism is now gone. You press home to unlock, and if TouchID doesn’t recognize your print, you’re taken directly to the PIN entry pad
I’m sure there are more that will become apparent over the next week. Let me know if you noticed other fun tidbits hidden in the keynote, or WWDC session information!
Questions Left Unanswered
For all the things we found out about today, either on stage or off, there are still a number of important questions left unanswered.
- Will the audio subsystem get any improvements to facilitate simultaneous access by two apps? This is a crucial step in making single-device iOS podcasting a possibility
- Siri is in more places now, but is she meaningfully faster? Smarter?
- What is the “Rest & type iPad keyboard” mentioned in the iOS additional features slide?
- Does the ability to remove stock apps mean that we can designate defaults for those operations (i.e. setting a default email app other than Mail) or just reduce clutter?
- Is watchOS getting more than just the Activity, Number, and Minnie Mouse face options?
- Is Apple News going to be available in Canada now?
All things considered, I was very impressed with this year’s WWDC. There were fewer awkward moments, more excellent haircuts, and a lot of thoughtful updates to all four pillars of Apple’s ecosystem.
I look forward to the betas to see how all these features work in the real world, and to see whether or not any under-the-hood performance and reliability improvements accompany them.