Without giving too much away right from the beginning, WWDC 2017’s key topic seemed to be revolving around lateness. Yes, from a keynote that started fashionably late, attendees who arrived late themselves and at times looked very confused about whether they should sit, stand, wave at the camera or make funny faces, to almost everything that was announced to be something that we either expected to get last year or hoped for having ages ago. But there is a positive note in there. It means that — finally — Apple did deliver to many of our hopes and expectations, and maybe — just maybe — innovated a little bit as well, though that depends on what your standards for innovation are.
While the opening video was trying to highlight — in true WWDC fashion — the importance of Apple developers, which is all true, don’t get me wrong; to me it was more in line with my latest view of technology and internet dependency. Seeing the world in absolute dismay and disarray in an apocalyptic state, highlights an issue which I increasingly fear: the breakdown of the internet. As someone who has professional training in computer networks, small and large, I know how young the internet is, and how volatile it can be. Redundancy is not always a given, and to be fair, there’s only that much redundancy you can create to keep an untamed beast like the internet, happy. Seeing my thoughts in the form of a well directed and edited video, was a bit chilling, especially in the current political and economical climate. But don’t mind me. Just ranting on …
To celebrate developers, Tim — who again, I think was just as boring of a speaker as he was the previous two or three years — introduced the youngest and oldest developers, age 10 and 82 respectively. Well, I guess that’s great, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it special. Pro-active people did other things in the past at various ages too. It simply shows that the trend remains: people who are creative will be so at any age, Apple had little to do with it.
There isn’t a whole lot happening here just yet, and what’s coming is not entirely clear, but there’s certainly two pieces of good news:
- The TV app now has over 50 partner content providers and that number is only growing.
- Also, what everyone has been waiting for the last couple of years — Amazon Prime Video — is finally going to be here, sometime this year. I never understood what the holdup really was, but I am fairly certain it was something political. Bloody politics killing innovation and ruining user experience …
OK, I am going to be biased here. From the moment the initial Apple Watch was released, I never liked or appreciated that … thing, so I am going to sound unimpressed here.
Sure, it can do a lot of things. A lot of unnecessary things with a battery that lasts a maximum of two (two!!!) days. Pebble, FitBit and Samsung have all beaten that score at some point in time. So without further ado, you’ll get the same crappy watch, but now with watchOS 4. You know, compared to 3.
- It now comes with three new watch-faces: Siri, Kaleidoscope (to distract you from shitty battery life), and Toy Story — because these are supposedly very important cartoon characters to have on a watch.
- On the activity side, things are a tad better with some improvements that actually make sense. I for instance was happy to see HIIT (high interval training) introduced. While I hate gyms, the new gym sync feature will also be useful for all them gym monkeys out there who will finally get some more accurate and aggregated data. Sure, they’ll still go to Burger King afterwards, but that’s another story for another day.
- Core bluetooth and redesigned music app are what I would call “meh”. Don’t know. At this point the Bragi Dash Pro sounds a lot more interesting than the Apple Watch so will leave it there.
P.S. Horrible and incredibly forced demo. The fake jokes with fake kids and parents really need to stop…
macOS (High) Sierra
According to Tim, Apple is perfecting Sierra. From that what I got was more like “Look, we know Sierra isn’t that great, we released craploads of buggy code (remember the battery and USB headset issues), so we are now going to try a little harder.”
Yes, Sierra is OK, but not great, and to that end Apple decided to call the next version “High Sierra”, cause that’s going to fill me with confidence… Based on the new name, I should probably expect buggy code to be excused with “we were high when we pressed the release button, it says in the name, it’s practically a disclaimer, dude…”.
That being said, there are a few interesting points that are worth mentioning:
- Safari promises to now be 80% faster than Chrome with ES6. That is a bold promise, I have to say, as Chrome is pretty darn fast, and I write ES6 on a daily basis. Let’s hope that’s true.
- Safari comes with video autoplay blocking which is an awesome feature as plenty of sites have this terrible tendency to autoplay videos. I am in a meeting, you eejits! Aaaargh!
- Tracking while browsing will also be blocked/prevented. So next time you buy a sex-toy (for your friend), ads won’t show up everywhere you browse afterwards.
- APFS file system. Look, technical jargon aside like native encryption, and 64 bit this and that, all you need to know is that it’s secure and blazing fast. What took 5 seconds to copy previously, now will take less than one second. That is impressive, I will say that!
- Metal 2 — incredibly original name compared to the previous generation of Metal, is now going to be 100 times faster than OpenGL. Yes, Metal is about graphics performance, in case you’re not familiar with the matter. This allows for better 4K, VR and enables external GPU support.
I never owned an iMac, but they are sexy desktop machines, no question about that. With the addition of 4K and 5K screens, they became even sexier, but for me they never felt like — either powerful enough (I really hate the idea of a fusion drive), or portable enough to own one (them beasts are heavy!).
But today Apple finally managed to at least make me genuinely interested. Besides the tech upgrades to the existing line:
- faster Kaby Lake CPU, up to 64GB RAM, Fusion Drive as standard, 50% faster SSD, and two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 enabled ports, all 4K versions getting discreet graphics, the entry model being effectively 80% faster than the previous version
They introduced what the Mac has never ever been — an absolute powerhouse, and they call it the iMac Pro. Albeit not a very original name, and this seems to hint the Mac itself is dead once and for all, the iMac Pro is an impressive machine:
- From 8 to 18 cores of Intel Xeon CPU
- Radeon Vega graphics with up to 16GB of VRAM (11 to 22 teraflops — though 22 is half-precision computing)
- Up to 128 GB of RAM
All that, at a considerably lower price than the original MAC and competitively priced with PCs. That’s a new one for Apple! Available in December 2017 — just in time for the Holidays spending fest.
All three received minor but necessary upgrades. Unfortunately the Air has only gotten a CPU update. This upgrade however now means I will be more confident in purchasing the 13" touch-bar model.
The MacBook and the MacBook Pro are now both boasting higher clocked Kaby Lake processors, while the 13" has gotten a cheaper version (replacing the pre 2016 line) with only 128GB of SSD, while the 15" has gotten some graphics update. All shipping today.
iOS is probably what’s going to make the headlines tomorrow. Version 11 feels a lot more like an upgrade compared to the sham version 10 was. Of course Tim couldn’t let the keynote pass without mentioning Android at some point. And he did. Focusing on its terrible fragmentation and the results that has in new version adoptions across the globe. Well, yes, sure, but Android has to run even on a $12 Indian or Chinese phone. It has to cater to practically any device out there, and everyone knows and understands that. iOS runs basically on just high-end phones and there are only a handful of them. Of course a closed ecosystem where you produce both software and hardware is going to have much higher adoption rates when it comes to new software. Tim, you’re talking to developers here …
Aaanyhow. iOS 11 is what I would call a proper update focusing on the important things, not emojis and other unimportant, childish nonsense.
- iMessage syncing between devices. Anything you do on one device, happens on all the others. No more texts showing up on the ipad from the mistress for your wife to see, when you clearly remember those were deleted on your phone!
- Apple person-to-person payments via ApplePay and iMessage. That is a nifty one, I must admit.
- Siri voices are now a tad more human, able to detect context and translate. Will definitely use that next time I am in Spain. I was about to spend some time on Duolingo, but I might just take Siri along for the ride.
- Two times better video and photo compression while keeping quality the same. That’s awesome, given the amount of “memory” we use by snapping and recording “memories”. Nice pun, ay? ;)
- Live photos become more useful with the addition of features like: long exposure, loop and bounce. You can also now choose what the main/best frame is.
- Maps gets floorplans feature where malls and airport floorplans will be added in time. Again, a very useful feature if you’ve been to an airport like Heathrow, Munich or Schiphol.
- DND function while driving. This will stop all notifications and keep your screen turned off.
- HomeKit gets multi-room speaker support with airplay 2.
- Phased release for app developers to basically release to a subset of users in batches. Developers also get access to Vision API and Neural Language API.
- ARkit, which a complete toolset for Augmented Reality creators. I see this becoming very popular in the education, gaming and even tabletop gaming area.
This one got me really excited. I was about to transition from my iPad mini 4, and now I have an extra reason to do so. An extra 20% reason in fact as the 9.7" is now a 10.5", which means more screen real-estate in the same slim and light package. This HDR screen is also incredibly bright, 50% brighter and with a 120Hz refresh rate. This is probably one of the few things I see as innovative this year, or at least it definitely sets a new standard for competitors. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, this refresh rate is dynamic and is based on what type of content you are looking at. This results in keeping the 12h battery life, despite the higher size, brightness and refresh rate of the screen.
The camera is the same as in the iPhone 7. Nothing to write home about, but at least they’ve upgraded that too. The pencil now boasts a 20ms latency as well, which is an improvement. The entry level storage has been also brought up to 64GB. All readily available for purchase at surprisingly low prices compared to my expectations.
But the iPad (Pro) has gotten some software updates as well: app dock (similar to what you’d have on macOS), a drag and drop feature and surprisingly… a files app that allows you to browse your files much like you would on a Mac. That I did not see happening. Given all the updates — both hardware and software — the iPad Pro starts to really look like a MacBook or MacBook Air contender. All we need now is a terminal, and us developers are happy campers!
This last one is a bit of an odd one, and it really is a great example of how late Apple can sometimes be to the party. While Amazon Echo has already had a number of iterations and variations, Apple has only now decided to launch a smart speaker. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s innovative, it’s certainly on par with what’s out there and if you’re not entirely stingy and like Apple at least a little bit, you’ll get one because:
- It has 7 tweeters for the high and mids, and 6 microphones to listen to Siri commands. The speaker ignores every other sound, or information around it. It only listens for the Siri command. Data that gets sent to Apple’s servers is anonymized and contains only your actual command or question.
- One big woofer which based on the audio presentation is fairly good — similar to what Bose or Sonos would sound like, but the sound is spatially aware, which means you should get a better and more immersive listening experience.
- It uses the A8 chip used in the iPhone.
- You can chain two homePods together.
- It can act as a home assistant via HomeKit and Siri. It can tackle certain topic, much like the Alexa skills.
It is going to be available later this year for $349. If you ask me, that’s a fairly good price. I’ve paid similar money for my Bose devices, and while they work just fine, better Apple ecosystem integration would be desirable. homePods will offer that with the expected sound quality.
It was a good WWDC keynote. Sure, the demos were forced, it all started late, and some of the updates felt like what we should have gotten last year, but at least it was jam-packed with real updates, many of which matter to most of us, developers and consumers alike.
With this years’s WWDC keynote being so eventful, I am almost worried what else can they show us in October, except for the “yet another iPhone that looks a tiny bit different than last year’s”. I for one know already what I’ll get from Apple this year: the new iPad Pro, the new MacBook Pro and maybe the homePod. How about you?