So as I’m sure we all know Apple kicked off their 2015 World Wide Developer Conference with a whole slew of new announcements about the Mac, iOS, and the Apple Watch. As many of my friends know I am a bit of an Apple fan. However, I would not consider myself a fanboy. I am a bit more realistic than the run of the mill devotees that bow to everything their particular fanboyism favors. Not just referring to Apple fanboys.
Back to Apple’s announcements. I don’t believe many, if any, of yesterday’s announcements were necessarily revolutionary. Much of what Apple has been doing since the iPhone was released in 2007 has not really been revolutionary. It’s all been a fairly logical evolution of their product lineup. I do believe that Apple has been more responsive to user feedback in more recent history rather than just dictating what their users will experience.
Mac OS X El Capitan
All in all not really that much to report. The major changes that they have announced are nothing earth shattering. Split screen is simply Apple playing catch-up with a feature that Windows has had since Windows 7. Although, the Windows version doesn’t work that well with multiple monitors. The one nice feature addition that I did see is the mouse shake enlarging the pointer to make it easier to find.
Spotlight has been refined to make it easier to use and provide a larger breadth of information. They now allow the Spotlight window to be re-sized and moved. The larger change is that it now accepts natural language queries. This is apparently a feature that has been present in Windows 8 for a little more than a year and can only improve with Microsoft’s inclusion of Cortana in Windows 10. I think the hope was to see the inclusion of Siri in OS X for uniformity between desktop and mobile. I believe Apple has missed the mark a bit with this.
The changes that Apple anounced for Safari are the high points of the El Capitan experience. No matter what browser I use I always have a bookmarks bar for my most used pages. Moving those to miniature tabs keeps them handy while also keeping the interface cleaner.
I also have to give a round of applause to Apple for tackling the noisy page issue. While Google Chrome has had a feature that indicates which tab is making noise it doesn’t provide a way to selectively silence it. The result is that you either have to hunt down the the ad on the page to silence it or just give up and close the tab. I’ve found pages that don’t even provide a control to silence them. An immediate turn off that usually means closing unless there’s something important I’m trying to accomplish. Then I have to mute the whole computer.
The rest of Apple’s OS X announcements were honestly nothing to write home about. Most of the changes are relatively minor improvements or refinements. Maybe there a lot of under-the-hood changes, Metal included, that will improve the user experience. Overall though, El Capitan is not a huge jump compared to previous OS X updates.
As with OS X there doesn’t seem to be anything that really wowed me about iOS 9. Seems to be mostly refinements in the user experience.
Search & Siri
The search feature is definitely something that Apple is focusing on in both iOS and OS X. As has been Google’s focus in Android lately. The Search experience in iOS is definitely becoming more in line with what Google Now by offering suggestions before the user has even begun a search. I have always felt that the iOS Spotlight search was out of place. I have only occasionally used the feature to track down apps that seemed to be alluding me at the time. The Spotlight search has always seemed especially redundant since the introduction of Siri.
I like the idea of a responsive personable search assistant like Siri or Cortana but I’ve found that the vocal search results that my wife gets from her Nexus 5 are move valid and relevant than the same general searches that I’ve attempted with Siri. In the past it seems that Siri has had a specific subset of things she does well and the rest she shuffles off to Google and just presents a set of results. Nothing very intelligent about that. Especially when the results don’t necessarily match your query. Now that the two features are combined I hope we can get more meaningful results.
The one feature that everyone has been hoping for in iOS is some sort of side-by-side multitasking. Having done iOS programming I understand the reason it has taken so long for this feature to be implemented. I definitely see this as a positive step forward for iOS and the iPad.
My only wish would be to have that feature in my iPad 4. Alas, that feature will be missing from my device. Even the original iPad Air does not receive the full set of multitasking features. The 50/50 split view will only be available to Air 2 users. I’m sure there are technical reasons for limiting those features to newer devices but sometimes I can’t help but feel that Apple is holding back features to keep the upgrade cycle going. Apple is, after all, a hardware company and anything they do with software is done to drive hardware sales.
Keyboard & QuickType
Definitely some nice additions here. Text selection especially has been a sore spot that has been difficult at times and near impossible at others. Having the cut, copy, and paste buttons right on the keyboard will be a huge improvement compared to the difficulty of trying to get the pop-up menu to appear to paste a section of text.
One thing that I noticed and that has been pointed out by others is that the letters on the keyboard are now upper or lower case depending on the status of the shift or caps lock. This has been one of my complaints about iOS is that it’s not immediately visibly apparent whether or not you’re going to be typing caps. While the shift key has always given that indication the contrast in the change from iOS 6 to 7/8 isn’t necessarily enough for some people’s minds to register case quick enough.
Battery & Storage
Definitely on the minds of most smart phone users is battery life. I personally don’t usually have a problem with battery life on my iPhone 6 but there are those that use their devices more compulsively and burn through their batteries in quick order. I believe iOS has generally been on the nimble side as far as battery performance is concerned but Low Power mode is a feature that has been needed for when you don’t have quick access to a charger.
This wasn’t announced during the keynote but iOS 9 is going to bring improved app sizes. Developers will be able to indicate which app content is required for each device type as well as specify content that can be downloaded and deleted dynamically to a device only when it’s needed. A feature that will also be available is for the App Store to only provide the 32-bit or 64-bit binary required for a specific device. Currently both formats are downloaded to a device even if they will not be used. When implemented these features will allow apps to take up much less space on a person’s device.
While I don’t own an Apple Watch and don’t plan on buying one in the near future but the changes to the watchOS are definitely interesting. I know there was a lot of disappointment in the developer community with the lack of support for native apps and the inability to customize the watch faces themselves. Being able to create custom “complications” will allow developers to add nice indicators for their users to get quick updates on what interests them rather than having to dig or pull out their iPhone.
With the quick turn-around to release watchOS 2 I believe it speaks volumes that Apple is proactively listening to user and developer feedback. They want the Apple Watch to be something that users will actually enjoy using and find useful.
From iTunes Radio to Apple Music it is more of a progression from a free to a paid service. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. Music has been progressively moving away from people’s coveted collections for quite some time. So the idea of providing curated playlists of music seems to be a step up from the algorithmic playlists that other services provide or a personal playlist of music on random.
Coming from the somewhat old-school attitude of music I’m not entirely sold on this yet. I still have personally curated playlists of music on my iPhone. We’ll see how successful this service becomes. At the very least it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the music industry. And Taylor Swift believes that streaming music is “just a fad”. That may be true but that fad doesn’t seem to be weakening. It only seems to be getting stronger.
I believe that the improvements to Apple’s products and services is positive. I believe they may have missed the mark in a few areas or may have not gone far enough. Overall though, definitely needed additions or steps in the right direction. I hope that Apple continues to improve their product line-up and doesn’t fall into the chasm of “good enough” that got Microsoft stuck for such a long time.