Yesterday was the keynote for Apple’s 2020 Worldwide Developer Conference. Like so many things right now, the entire conference, keynote included, is virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. In this case, it’s a blessing for the sessions since it means they’re all free for anyone to stream as opposed to being a $1500+ USD ticket. Admittedly, though, the keynote left something to be desired. Just a few weeks ago at Microsoft Build, I feel like Microsoft crushed it with their keynote. It was still streamed live, and it featured popular Microsoft employees all working remote. Scott Hanselman really killed it during the keynote with a ton of guests in a way that was still believable and relatable for everyone working from home.
Apple’s keynote was just a recording, and while it had all of the glitz and shine you’d expect from Apple, it really felt more like a 2 hour advertisement at times. At the end of the day, the presentation itself doesn’t matter nearly as much as the content, but in the future I’d like for Apple to make things feel a little more… human.
I thought it would be fun to rank some of the announcements (especially to help organize my thoughts since a discussion on them is a likely podcast topic for me in the near future) at least for products that I actually care about. You won’t see anything about the Apple Watch here, for example, because I don’t own one, don’t plan to buy one, and didn’t even really pay attention to those parts of the keynote. That’s not to say anything bad about the Apple Watch; I just don’t need a health tracker or notifications on my wrist when I sit at home every… single… day.
iOS App Library
The App Library is basically a series of folders where applications are auto-sorted, giving some order to the chaos without forcing users to spend hours manually putting apps into folders themselves. I’m definitely not opposed to the idea, but it gets a sold “meh” from me simply because I don’t have enough apps for that sort of thing to be useful. At the time of this writing, my phone has 3 pages of apps, none of which are even full. I rarely install apps unless I really need them, and I regularly prune any apps I haven’t opened in a few weeks.
I like the idea of these; App Clips are small, partial versions of apps that you can access on the fly without needing to open the App Store, search for the correct app, and then download the whole thing. The example they gave is when you need a specific app to pay for parking, a situation I’ve definitely been in before. Beyond that scenario, though, I’m just skeptical over how useful this will be. When I go into stores, am I going to be willing to scan a special barcode to access their App Clip? Most likely that’s going to be a hard pass.
Like App Clips, I like the idea of Widgets, and having more options and sizes is cool. I’ll definitely take some time to play around with new ones in my sidebar. What I’m not as enthused about is the ability to start cluttering up the app list with widgets sprinkled everywhere. I’ve seen a few people draw parallels to the home screen of Windows Phone 8, and I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing. Obviously I can just choose to only use widgets in the sidebar where they live today, but I hope they don’t start to change the focus of the app list.
I’ve seen a lot of people throwing (warranted) shade that this is something which has existed for quite a while on Android, and that’s certainly true. Just because they’re late to the party, though, doesn’t mean Apple shouldn’t add picture-in-picture; that’s just silly. Having recently switched from being a long-time Android user to an iPhone user, picture-in-picture is one of the few things I miss from Android. It’s super handy when you’re watching a video to be able to pop out to picture-in-picture mode and quickly check something else. I also like the look of some of the intuitive controls Apple seems to have worked out to improve the experience over that of Android with the ability to easily resize and even hide the video while it plays.
The cycling-specific additions to Maps look slick, though they aren’t initially available in my area, and I don’t currently do a lot of cycling regardless.. Given my goal of eschewing all things Google, though, since switching to an iPhone I’ve been relying on Apple Maps in lieu of Google Maps. As such, I like seeing the commitment Apple has to improving the product. I also appreciate the fact that they themselves mentioned the privacy of Maps.
macOS Big Sur
One of the most immediately noticeable things about Big Sur are the UI tweaks. Most of them are small and subtle, but overall I think it really makes the operating system look significantly better. Having everything slightly tweaked with the uniformity and cohesion you’d expect from Apple just makes everything look and feel extremely polished. I’m looking forward to using it.
More specifically, I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on the updated versions of the Mail and Messages applications in Big Sur. I live in those applications pretty frequently, and they feel just a little dated in Catalina.
I use Siri not infrequently on both my phone and iPad. One of those most jarring things about it is the experience you get when it takes over your entire screen to answer a simple query. The new UI for Siri looks like a massive improvement to me, with Siri appearing as a sphere toward the bottom of the screen and not covering all of the content with which you may have just been interacting. I think this will make for a much better workflow, especially for sequential questions to Siri where your next question is based off of the response to the previous question.
On top of that, it’s also nice to see a focus from Apple on giving Siri to the ability to respond to a broader range of questions. While it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s not unexpected when I ask Siri something only to be essentially given a list of links from a web search rather than an actual answer. The more that type of response can be eliminated, the better.
This may seem silly, but I’m actually really stoked for the new sidebar UI in iPadOS. I think it’ll add a lot of uniformity to iPad apps that also make better use of the screen real-estate you get on an iPad. Too many apps that are “optimized” for an iPad (meaning they aren’t scaled iPhone apps), are still essentially just bigger versions of their iPhone counterparts. The more that can be done to make the iPad a unique thing of its own with its own strengths the better.
macOS Running A-series ARM Processors
As the most-leaked announcement in human history, I think pretty much everyone was expecting this announcement. It was still exciting to see it made official, though. Given how stagnant Intel processors have been for the last few generations and the insane performance Apple is getting out of the A12Z Bionic in the iPad Pro, I think this is a smart and exciting move. A chip like the A12Z Bionic in something with active cooling? Sign me up. I was surprised that the first ARM macOS devices will ship before the end of the year, but it seems like the process for porting applications is fairly streamlined. Likewise, having a binary translator like Rosetta 2 for any applications not getting timely love is a nice safety net, though I don’t know if I’d really want to be playing games run through it like they had demoed.
At the end of the day, nothing absolutely Earth-shattering was announced at WWDC 2020 other than the macOS architecture switch that everyone already knew about. I still think there’s a lot of solid improvments coming on the horizon, though, and I’m eager to start upgrading my devices to the new software this fall.