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WWDC 2021: Thoughts on the Keynote

This was hands down the weakest WWDC Keynote I have ever seen. We're supposedly watching the Worldwide Developers Conference, but you'd be hard pressed to realize that based on the first 90 minutes of this presentation. Large swaths of it played out exactly like the typical September events Apple puts on to convince people to buy the latest iPhone or iPad.

It's almost not worth writing about as I'm essentially just doing free marketing for Apple at this point but whatever, let's push forward and recap what developers should supposedly be looking forward to this Fall.

iOS 15

As usual Apple started out with iOS and blew us all away by revealing that it will be called iOS 15! After iOS 14 we though they would be changing things up but sly old Apple pulled a fast one on us.

Their first suite of enhancements centred around FaceTime, an invaluable piece of software during this time of social distancing. Most of the improvements Apple announced were to bring themselves up to par with competitors like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Things like noise/echo cancellation, a grid view, blurred backgrounds, etc. They even announced that FaceTime would be coming to other platforms. In iOS 15 you'll be able to create a FaceTime link that will work on all major web browsers.

We finally got our first taste of a real developer feature with SharePlay, a set of technologies designed to allow you to share content with other members of a FaceTime call. They demonstrated the most obvious use case, sharing music or video content, but it is much more powerful than that. It seems like Apple has essentially created a collaboration framework for apps. So if you wanted to build a shared note taking app or real-time trivia game you could.

After this we pivoted back to consumer oriented features that us developers have absolutely no access to. Content shared with you through Messages will now start to be shown in other apps like News, Music, Photos, Safari, Podcasts, and Apple TV. The notifications screen has been redesigned once again in the hopes that this time they will finally be surfacing the most relevant ones for you. Photo Memories can now use Apple Music. Apple's acquisition of Dark Sky has finally bore fruit in the form of a redesigned Weather app. And finally Apple Maps now sports a new 3D look, à la Google Earth, but of course it is only going to launch for seven U.S. cities this year.

AirPods

What better to talk about next at a developer convention than a piece of hardware for which it is impossible to build anything for? I'm happy that AirPods is getting new features like boosting the sound of the person talking in front of you and improving noise cancellation, but why the fuck is this being talked about at WWDC? Apple then spoke about the Find My network and how you can use it to locate a lost pair of AirPods. But again, why is this taking up time at a developer convention? I can do absolutely nothing with this as a developer but it is great to hear as a consumer.

iPadOS

We started out strong on iPadOS with enhancements to widgets that allow developers to better take advantage of the size of an iPad. But after that we swung back to consumer oriented things. One of which I am super enthusiastic about. The App Library is finally coming to iPad which means I can remove the majority of apps from my home screen.

The most Apple part of this section was the touting of their new multitasking UI. I admit, it is much better than the existing UI, but that is only because the existing user experience is absolutely trash. Dragging and dropping apps to move between full screen, split view and a slide over never worked the way you wanted it to. Now there are explicit buttons so there can be no doubt. They also created a new thing called "The Shelf" that will show you all open windows for a given app so you can quickly switch between them. Again, no more grand gestures, everything is just front and centre with a single tap.

There were also sizeable improvements to the Notes app mostly centred around collaboration and organization. A new feature called Quick Note allows you to create a note at any time simply by dragging up from the bottom corner of the iPad. Not only can you write to and dismiss this note quickly, it also knows which app was open when the note was created and can store information associated with that app in the note.

Swift Playgrounds

Finally something for the developers. Swift Playgrounds has been updated so you can build SwiftUI apps on your iPad. Not only that, you can also submit them directly to the App Store as well. I can't wait to see some concrete examples of the apps you can build and how you debug issues. Wait what? That's all they are going to say?

Apple literally spent only 67 seconds announcing this. From 47:08 to 48:15. Developers have been clamouring for Xcode on the iPad for years. We've finally got a first big step towards that and Apple talks about it for 67 seconds?

Who is this presentation for again?

Privacy

We've got to the part of the presentation where we have wade through Apple's holier than thou attitude about privacy. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love what Apple has done when it comes to app privacy. I just can't fucking stand watching them pat themselves on the back about it. Wading through the bullshit we got some really cool announcements.

First, Apple is creating App Privacy Reports which will show how often apps access the permissions we have granted them. It will also display all domains the apps are talking to so it will be very easily to see which apps have integrated those thirty-party tracking SDKs.

Second, there is now the ability to add what are called legacy contacts so in the event of your death your Apple account can be unlocked by one of these contacts. As technology has become more ubiquitous this is a conversation that we seem to have avoided having so it is great to see a large company like Apple finally tackle it.

Finally, if you're paying for iCloud you now have access to what is being called iCloud+. This grants you three very cool features:

  1. Privacy Relay which is essentially Apple's take on a VPN.
  2. Hide My Email allows you to create unique, random email address which forward to your personal email.
  3. Unlimited HomeKit Secure video cameras.

So again, I love what Apple does with security and all of these features are welcome improvements. But, and I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, WHY IS THIS BEING ANNOUNCED AT WWDC? Nothing announced in this section can be leveraged by a developer. These are strictly beneficial for consumers. If anything all, this this did is create more work for developers in the name of privacy.

Health

So at this point in the presentation I think the rage got to me and I just zoned out.

watchOS 8

Alright watchOS 8. You're going to save this right? What cool new things can I build for? Nothing? Fucking awesome!

HomeKit

Oh sweet Jesus please kill me now. Wait there is something for developers? Third-party hardware can now integrate with Siri? 😵🔫

macOS Monterey

One day I will get macOS Rancho Coucamonga but for this year we're getting macOS Monterey.

Basically all the features I wrote about above are also coming to macOS like FaceTime, SharePlay, Quick Note, etc.

While this may not be something that developers can program for it is definitely something that they will use and that is a new feature called Universal Control. You will now be able to use a single keyboard and trackpad to control any Macs and iPads that are in its direct vicinity.

Also something that we had expected or a while has finally happened. The Shortcuts app that has been on iOS for a couple years now has been migrated to the Mac and is going to be a replacement for Automator in the long term. It will be interested to see if Shortcuts catches on with developers on the Mac.

It wouldn't be a macOS release if Safari didn't get some major changes and in macOS Monterey it looks like minimalist UI is the new hotness. Personally it looks a bit too minimalistic for me but I'm sure after a few days I'll be completely used to it. We are also getting the addition of "Tab Groups" which could be a pretty good way to organize the never-ending tabs I have open across all of my Apple device.

Bizarrely we ended this section not with an announcement about something for macOS, but instead we got an announcement about something that was coming from macOS to iOS and iPad and that would be web extensions. For me this just means that 1Password on iOS is going to get even more powerful and I cannot wait.

Developer Technologies

1 hour 34 minutes and 3 seconds into the WWDC 2021 Keynote we were introduced to Susan Prescott, Vice President of Worldwide Developer Relations. For the next 10 minutes and 27 seconds she and her team blew through the follow topics:

  1. APIs. Yes literally they just said APIs and then had dozens of buzzwords blow across the screen.
  2. Object Capture. Use photogrammetry to create 3D models from photos of real world objects.
  3. Concurrency in Swift. A massive change in how you write async code in Swift got less than 90 seconds of time.
  4. App Store product page updates.
  5. In-App events which essentially just sounds like new marketing campaigns.
  6. Apple's take on continuous integration finally got announced and it is called Xcode Cloud.
  7. TestFlight for the Mac

New Mac Hardware

For one last thing, Apple finally announced their new M1X system on a chip and the 16" MacBook Pro that will house it.

Nah I'm just kidding. This is a developer's conference so obviously they wouldn't announce anything here. They just had Tim Cook say goodbye to an auditorium full of Memoji heads.

Lord I really regret writing this.

#WWDC

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