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WWDC 2020: Thoughts on the Keynote

While the biggest surprise of the WWDC 2020 Keynote was spoiled months in advance, Apple still had plenty left to make me super hyped about all the software that is going to be released this Fall. Let's step through the Keynote and highlight everything that tickled my fancy.

iOS 14

Apple decided to start out with iOS this year and didn't waste any time showcasing that nothing is sacred and everything can be changed.

The Home Screen

The iOS home screen really hasn't changed that much since the original iPhone. There has been the addition of features like pages and folders but as the number of apps installed has skyrocketed, managing them has become more and more a pain in the ass. My Android friends have extolled the virtues of Android's home screen for years now. All apps are hidden by default in a massive "drawer" and you pull out the ones that interest you. Well Apple obviously has been paying attention because we've now received their spin on it.

Titled App Library, all of your apps will now be automagically sorted on the very last page of your home screen. If any of your pages are full of apps you don't want to have them be visible you can simply chose to hide that page. No longer do you have to worry about grouping all of your apps into folders so they take up less space. Simply hide the pages that unwanted apps are on and forget about them. You can always use the App Library to search for them later.

I'm not going to be one of those iOS guys who ignores that Android did a flavour of this first. They certainly did. But you can see how this is Apple's spin on it. Android usually defaults to giving users all the power and not trying to be that prescriptive as to how it is used. Whereas Apple always believes they know what is best for the user and App Library is no different. You can see this in the "smart folders" they place at the top of the screen. Apple thinks they know what apps you want access to most and aren't afraid to showcase them. Personally I love this UX and I prefer it to having a blank canvas where I have to decide what is "best". To each their own.

Continuing the inspired by Android train, iOS 14 now has the ability for you to embed widgets directly on your home screen. While they may look like the widgets we've had on the Today View for the last couple years, they have much more functionality. The idea now is these widgets will be able to expose a "timeline" of the most important data associated with an app and iOS will do its best to surface the most appropriate data for you at any given time. You can also stack the widgets on top of one another, in a "Smart Stack", and iOS will do its best to showcase the most important one at the top.

Translate App

Apple moved on to the yearly tradition of trying to convince us that Siri is finally going to be good. Apparently they've added dozens of new sources of data and even gave her a fresh coat of paint in an effort to make her less annoying. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me five or more times, shame on me. They did showcase a new app called Translate that is designed for having conversations in multiple languages and it works completely offline. I am legitimately looking forward to using that this Fall when we hopefully get to vacation in Japan or Singapore or maybe Germany.

Messages

Continuing the trend of playing catch-up to other platforms, Apple has finally added pinning, threading and mentions to Messages. This brings them in-step with the other major players like WhatsApp, Messenger, Discord, Slack, etc. It is a very welcome change and will definitely improve the user experience.

Maps & Carplay

Even when I was living in America, Apple Maps could still not compare to Google Maps. Apple says they are closing this gap but they have been saying that for the last couple years and unfortunately Google continues to be ahead of them. I do think the UI is leaps and bounds ahead of Google but when the data is so inferior I just can't make the switch.

As a Tesla user I am very jealous of Carplay. While the 15" screen in my Model 3 is amazing, the UI still has a long way to go when you compare it to the functionality of Carplay. Although I did have a chuckle when they were hyping up using your iPhone as your car key while Tesla has been doing that for years already.

App Clips

Yes I am well aware of Android Instant apps. I have been discussing them with my Android friends since 2016 and I was bullish on the idea back then. I love the idea of being able to load little slices of your app and get that native experience quickly and easily from websites, NFC tags or even other apps. Unfortunately as the App Store has grown so has app size and downloading them isn't always a quick experience anymore. Hopefully App Clips push developers to focus on their app size again and think more about how they can break their apps up into smaller more reusable chunks.

iPadOS 14

We moved onto iPadOS next which I would best describe as an expected evolution of the platform. Sure it gets the same big changes to the home screen that iOS 14 does but everything else is focused on sanding down the rough edges and doubling down on what makes the iPad unique.

New Sidebar Design

Even Apple's first party iPad apps feel like they are just blown up versions of their iPhone counterparts. Look at apps like Music or Photos. That massive tab bar at the bottom does not really feel at home on the iPad platform especially with its growing support for keyboards and trackpads.

In iPadOS 14 the sidebar has received a significant redesign to consolidate all of the UI surrounding navigation in your app. Toolbars have also gained a greater importance in this world. Many apps core functionality seems to have been moved from inside the UI, to toolbars at the top of the screen.

iPadOS hasn't even been out for a full year yet and you can really tell that Apple still isn't finished with its design. They are still trying to flush out exactly how they should differentiate it from the iPhone.

Non-blocking Call UI

This is a very small change but a very welcome one. Fullscreen blocking UIs on iPad feel completely out of place so Apple has finally replaced incoming phone calls and FaceTimes with notifications. You'll be able to take quick actions on them or simply dismiss them like you do existing notifications. And even though this is most impactful on iPadOS they are also bringing this change to the iPhone as well.

We've had Spotlight on macOS for decades now and Apple has finally decided to bring it to the iPad. Essentially this is a more powerful, less jarring version of the existing search tool. It looks like you will be able to trigger it exactly like Spotlight on macOS and it will behave much the same way. Rather than act like a glorified app launcher, the new universal search will do a better job at surfacing all of the data inside your apps.

Apple Pencil

Handwriting recognition is finally going to be built into the OS. I have no doubt that it is going to work flawlessly!

Jokes aside, I am super stoked for this. I am sure it is going to have its rough edges but I really love my Apple Pencil and the idea of being able to convert my handwriting directly into text. I've been doing my best to use my iPad for freeform note taking and all of these changes are going to make it that much more appealing.

Set default email and browser apps

This is such a vintage move. Apple has fought allowing users to customize their default email and browser apps for years now. So when they finally decide to allow it they simply drop it as a little footnote on one of their massive "check out all these new features" slides. I bet they still aren't happy that they have to do this but hey at least that vocal minority will have one less thing to complain about.

AirPods Smart Switching

I love the irony of them announcing that your AirPods will be able to smartly switch between whichever of your Apple devices you are currently using. I had to turn off Bluetooth on my iPhone so it wouldn't keep stealing my AirPods Pro from my laptop while trying to listen to this Keynote.

watchOS

Another WWDC, another lackluster watchOS release.

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of nice little improvements and additions but nothing that is really going to make me remember watchOS 7 or drive me to install it. watchOS 5 seemed to be where all the major advancements stopped and we've been living through incremental software upgrades since then.

I've been trying to sync an audiobook from Audible to my Apple Watch for over a month now. At this point I'm not sure who to blame because I know how painful watchOS development is and not even Apple is able to sync podcasts properly. I love my Apple Watch for tracking workouts and receiving notifications but that is where it basically ends. I've been using my watch for the same two major pieces of functionality for five years now and based on what Apple's been announcing it doesn't look like that is going to change anytime soon.

Privacy

While Apple gave their standard rigmarole about how they value privacy as a basic human right, they backed it up with major software improvements and iOS 14 is going to have some of the best ever.

A lot of apps are going to be scrambling this summer to remove some shady business practices they've implemented and hidden from their users. The most egregious is probably reading the contents of your clipboard when they shouldn't be. In iOS 14 you will be notified whenever an app reads your clipboard so you know which apps are trying to peek into your private data.

Also we will finally have an answer to the question "is Google and Facebook using your microphone to listen and target ads?" because iOS 14 will add greater visibility into when your microphone or camera is being used.

macOS Big Sur

After 1 hour and 8 minutes we finally got to the yearly macOS release and it was a big one. It has been a little over 9 years since the first release of OS X, but Apple has decided that what is coming this year is such a dramatic shift that it was finally time to bump the major version number and introduce us to macOS 11 Big Sur.

While OS X Yosemite was a major design overhaul that dropped skeuomorphism and emphasized flat design, it still felt very unique when compared to its iOS sibling. Big Sur seems to tear down those barriers and bring all of the platforms more in sync than they've ever been. You simply need to look at the new sidebars in Finder or Mail to see how similar they are to their iPadOS counterparts.

This redesign also seems to highlight the importance of SwiftUI inside Apple. Not only are widgets from iOS being brought to macOS but the new Control Center feature is built completely in SwiftUI as well. I am shocked that only a year after their public release we are getting core macOS features built in such a nascent technology. I never doubted that SwiftUI would be the way to build Apple apps going forward but I was not expecting this speed of adoption. I am extremely confident that SwiftUI is going to improve quickly because it is not just third-party developers pushing for major enhancements, but also developers inside Apple now as well. The future has never looked brighter.

Safari

Continuing Apple's yearly tradition of dunking on Google, they have implemented a privacy reporter function into Safari that will call out and prevent trackers on websites. This means that Google Analytics is going to be blocked, out of the box, on all Mac's running Big Sur. I wonder, does YouTube even work on this version of Safari?

Transitioning the Mac to Apple Silicon

Up until this point nothing has really justified the jump from macOS 10 to 11. I mean, if something goes to eleven it really needs to be special doesn't it?

Apple has been dominating the mobile silicon space for years now. Ever since the introduction of the A4 chip they've set a bar that no one has been able to equal. There were rumors for years that Apple had been working on their own desktop silicon and even though leaks spoiled this surprise months ago, it was still bizarre to see Apple finally make the announcement at this WWDC. 14 years after switching from PowerPC to Intel, they've finally decided to close the loop and are switching all of their Macs over to their own silicon.

I know some people are scared of this transition. They fear Apple's walled garden is encroaching on the tools they use for their work. I am very excited because in the 13+ years I have been using Apple laptops they have only been getting better. Apple is always focused on the end user experience and I cannot wait to see what kind of insane performance they are going to be able to get now that they have complete control of the thermal envelope of the MacBook Pro.

Also Apple's Rosetta 2 technology looks to translate Intel apps at install time which will hopefully alleviate a lot of the performance concerns that people have. Combine this with what looks to be much better support for virtualization and suddenly Linux and Docker appear to have more first-party support than ever before.

Apple says they are going to ship an Apple Silicon Mac by the end of 2020 but I'm going to bet that it is not going to be developer oriented hardware. It will probably be a MacBook Air or a Mac Mini. Something targeted for the mainstream consumer and it will be followed up by a MacBook Pro version this time next year.

Conclusion

It is really hard to say where this WWDC Keynote stacks up to the rest because the biggest "surprise" was spoiled months in advance so I've had plenty of time to come to terms with it. Migrating from Intel to Apple Silicon makes total sense and is going to set Apple up for complete domination in the hardware space for the foreseeable future. I am really looking forward to using this technology and supporting it for decades to come.

But outside of the transition to Apple Silicon nothing else really wowed me. I am still super excited for iOS 14 and all the cool features it will be adding but previous Keynotes have had much more shocking things that I could not wait to get my hands on. I haven't rushed to install beta software on any of my devices and probably won't.

One thing I can say this WWDC got me excited for was SwiftUI. I was super impressed by it last year but my excitement waned fairly quickly. Seeing how much Apple believes in it and the work they've done in just a single year has reinvigorated my interest. Let's see how long it holds.

#WWDC

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