As a die-hard Apple developer, gaining access to the Worldwide Developers Conference is a bit of a holy grail, so I was particularly excited to be able to attend the WWDC 2016 held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. True to its name, the event focusses on the developers, so there are no hardware reveals to be seen, but Apple did unveil watchOS 3, tvOS, macOS Sierra, and iOS 10, all of which are loaded with killer new features. Apple referred to iOS 10 as “Apple’s biggest iOS update ever”, with major improvements to iMessage, Apple Music, Siri, Notifications and many other minor features. Let’s look at some of the highlights:
watchOS 3 brings a huge array of updates. The biggest is speed, which will benefit the entire platform. Applications launches instantly – seven times faster than in watchOS 2. This is the result of multiple under-the-hood changes, mainly due to background updates of apps hence why it always has the latest data. Apple has added “dock” to the watch and now users can see real time data without even opening the apps.
Apple introduced the Control Centre function in watchOS 3 which can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Apple has also added more watch faces including activity rings, numerical ones, and a Minnie Mouse face. Users can change their watch faces with a swipe.
WatchOS 3 is even more focussed on health and fitness now. In the Activity app, users can now compete with their friends. They can see their friend’s activity rings, heart rate, step count and more. Users can message the people they are competing with directly inside the Activity app. With a single setting change, wheelchair users can set their activity to wheelchair mode and receive “time to roll” notifications instead of “time to stand”.
Another important update was the launch of a new app called “Breathe” to guide users through deep breathing exercises. Users can set the duration from one to five minutes and the watch does the rest with haptic feedback or visual aids. Users can also set reminders to do their deep breathing exercises.
It will be a free update, available this fall.
The fourth generation Apple TV was released last year, but there is no hardware update yet. The major announcement related to Apple TV was the Remote app for iOS, which allows any iOS device to function as a complete Siri remote. Other highlights included a dark mode for TV to darken the interface, and a single-sign on for cable network apps, allowing users to sign in just once on the Apple TV to access other cable content.
Apple has rebranded OS X to macOS to keep the name in line with its other OS names (tvOS, iOS, and watchOS). The new macOS update will be called macOS Sierra.
macOS Sierra brings an array of new features for Mac users. For me, the biggest update is the introduction of Apple Pay on Mac. Via the Safari browser, Apple Pay is available on both Mac and iOS, allowing sites the choice to add a “Buy with Apple Pay” Button. When selected, the user can then confirm the payment either by using the Apple Watch or via Touch ID on iOS devices. Using this option is safe and straightforward for users as they don’t have to type the card information (which also protects the user’s card details in case a site gets hacked). I am really looking forward to making payments with Apple Pay on web.
Alongside Apple Pay, the other big update for Mac users is the integration of Siri on Mac. Users can search for files using Siri, and pin search results to the Notification Centre for quick access.
Another interesting update for me was unlocking the Mac via an Apple watch instead of entering a password manually. In the context of continuity, there was an update related to iCloud and an announcement of universal clipboard for all Apple devices, which lets users copy data (Text/Link/Images/Rich content) from one device (iPhone/iPad/Mac) and paste onto another device (Mac/iPad/iPhone).
Sierra will have the ability to clear infrequently used (and probably useless) data like old caches, empty trash and others, which will help to free up a huge amount of storage on a Mac.
There were ten major updates announced for iOS 10. Apple finally added ‘raise to view’ to iOS devices, meaning that the iPhone will detect when you are holding it up to look at it, and it will show the lock screen with all the notifications without unlocking it. Notifications on iOS are also more advanced and rich now. For example, a user can check an entire thread of messages instead of only one message, or view their complete calendar using 3D touch. Moreover, developers can now customise notifications in a new way, allowing much greater flexibility in how they can be displayed to users.
The iMessage app got a major update this year to include handwritten messages, full screen animations, stickers, and the sending of invisible messages (which requires the recipient to swipe in order to see them). Apple also added support to show web previews when a user sends a site link. Emoji symbols are now three times bigger, and Apple Music links let users play music right in the message thread. Text can be replaced with a related emoji (which was well received by the audience with a big applause). A major update for developers is that Apple opened iMessage for third party extensions which can be very useful. The examples Apple gave included the option for users to order food or send payments from within the iMessage app.
Talking about extensions, Apple has also opened Maps for third party extensions which seems to be very useful. For example, a user can book a ride or reserve a restaurant table without leaving Maps. Maps can now show traffic routes, routes which take less time comparatively, and zoom in and out based on location and speed.
This year, Apple opened many extensions which also included Siri. Now, developers can take advantage of Siri for their apps. So you can send a WhatsApp message using Siri without even opening the app or send a payment using related apps.
In iOS 10, Phone app users can now request voicemail transcriptions. Apple added support for third party VoIP apps – for example, now you can make a whatsapp call right from the Phone app to your contacts.
The Apple Photos app is now way better, with powerful in-device image recognition technology. In addition to faces, it can now detect objects in pictures like horses, water or trees, making it easy for users if they want to search for specific photos. Apple has added a new feature called Memories, which is quite intelligent in the way it can group pictures based on location, time etc like trips.
QuickType got a lot smarter in iOS 10. It can now give intelligent suggestions as you type which can be based on other activities on the device. Another addition to QuickType is the ability to have bilingual suggestions in case you use more than one language (without having to switch the keyboard’s language).
Apple’s Music app has been completely redesigned. Users can now check song lyrics, play complete shows, and much more.
Apple has also introduced a swipe action to see available widgets in the Notification Centre. Developers can now customise what the user sees via the 3D touch functionality.
The News app in iOS 10 is a lot more useful, supporting subscriptions and categories. An interesting update was that News can now offer breaking headlines notifications if the user wants it.
Apart from these notable updates, there were some other smaller additions like the ability to use HomeKit to turn on/off devices, clear all in the Notification Centre, share Notes app and many more.
Though Apple opened many extensions this year, they were quite clear that the most important thing for Apple is a user’s privacy and security.
As expected, Apple announced Swift 3.0. Apple also launched a new free app on the iPad to help users learn how to code in Swift (for both basic and advanced users).
Everything announced at WWDC will be available this fall as a free upgrade.
Even though Apple didn’t release any big new surprises this year (like they have done in previous years with tvOS, Swift and WatchOS), they have definitely made big improvements on what they already have. As an Apple developer, the most exciting thing for me is the opening up of Siri, Maps, iMessage extensions, Apple Pay and Swift 3.0 with better performance than ever. In addition to the Keynote, I attended the live WWDC sessions and the labs, which certainly makes quite a lot of difference compared to the online videos. In particular, being at the labs gives you an exceptional opportunity to talk one-on-one with Apple engineers, and I could ask undocumented questions about best practices, app review help, tips & tricks, and more. In fact, the WWDC is the only time that one-on-one conversations with Apple engineers are made available to the developer community, and that alone is worth the price of admission!