There were so many announcements during the WWDC keynote yesterday that even people who follow Apple for a living (and expected most of the details) were overwhelmed. New versions of iOS, OS X, and watchOS were only three of the biggies, alongside the official debut of Apple Music and a lot of small but interesting new details.
Since the keynote ended, I’ve been sorting through all of the stories, as well as all three new operating systems. What follows are my picks for the ten most game-changing WWDC 2015 announcements, some of them requiring more explanation than others. They’re not in rank order, but there’s definitely one that I thought was the biggest of the bunch. Share your picks in the comments section below…
1. iPad Split-Screen Modes. If I had to pick just one new feature announcement as the biggest game-change at WWDC, it’s what Apple is calling Multitasking — a collection of three different ways to split an iPad’s screen into segments.
Slide Over: A 1/3-screen pane that gives you an elongated iPhone-like view of one app while the other continues to occupy the full screen behind it.
Picture in Picture: Continue to watch a video or make a FaceTime video call while you’re using another app, thanks to a movable, resizable window that can be placed anywhere on the screen.
Split View: Expand the Slide Over pane such that it takes over 1/3 or 1/2 of the screen, leaving the other 2/3 or 1/2 free for the formerly full-screen app. This is only supported on the iPad Air 2, for now.
There are three reasons this is so huge. First, it enables iPads (including iPad minis (!)) to finally start acting like Macs when you want to simultaneously do one thing while monitoring another, or reference one app while working on another. Second, it sets the stage for larger iPads, which would never have made sense with big but single-app displays. And third, Apple really got the UI right. The feature not only works without a conventional windowing system to divide a screen into multiple panes, but is easy to learn.
2. Proactive Assistant. I don’t know any iOS user who wasn’t (at least quietly) jealous of Google Now’s ability to help Android users plan their days — using information culled from emails and other data, evoking privacy concerns. By bulking up Spotlight search results with location data and information on your routine use of your device, Apple is trying to offer more and better information automatically without crossing into “creepy” territory. From my perspective, Proactive is a lot more limited than Google Now, but anything that makes iOS more useful without having to dig through apps is a plus. Ditto on seeing much-needed search improvements to Spotlight on the Mac.
3. watchOS 2 SDK: A More Capable Apple Watch. Partially because the Apple Watch segment of the WWDC keynote seemed like a speedreading exercise, none of the user-facing features Apple added in watchOS 2 really stood out as a game-changer. I’d personally be surprised if any of them convinced a hold-out to get off the fence. But third-party app support is huge, as it opens the door for the Watch to become useful across a million niches that will eventually attract millions of customers.
4. Performance and Battery Boosts. Calling one hour of extra iPhone run time or 1.4x-4x Mac app improvements a “game-changer” might seem like a stretch, but Apple’s basically turning the key reasons people historically upgraded their hardware — speed and better battery life — into software improvements. For free. Who wouldn’t want a peppier, longer-lasting iPhone, or an iPad that can actually handle multitasking without killing its battery?
5. News. Missing from the early iOS 9 beta, the new News app has the potential to be a very big deal. There’s no question that Apple seriously messed up with Newsstand, crippling the feature within iOS 7 and 8, while ignoring publisher cries to properly support them. And cynical people may look at News as little more than an Apple effort to clone Flipboard, potentially monetizing third-party content in exchange for a nicer UI to navigate that content. But the UI is indeed gorgeous, and a lot of publishers will be willing to forget about Newsstand to give it a shot. If Apple pulls News off correctly, it could easily become a daily must-use alternative to RSS readers, Flipboard, and similar apps.
6. Notes. Notes doesn’t get a lot of attention, and it has barely been updated over the years, but it’s one of the very few apps I keep outside of a folder on my main Home screen for immediate access. Apple has seriously bulked it up in iOS 9, adding basic drawing and measurement tools, formatting and checklist tools, the ability to add multimedia content, and a 100% iCloud-based sync engine. Notes just went from “useful” to “crazy useful.”
7. Transit Maps. Again, it might seem like a stretch to call the addition of something arguably small — mass transit directions — a “game-changer,” but this was actually a huge omission from Apple Maps on the day it launched, and has limited its utility for huge numbers of people in major cities. The more cities Apple adds to Maps’ Transit feature, the more widely used the app is likely to become as an everyday point-to-point mapping solution.
8. Apple Music. A lot of people use Spotify and similar music subscription services, enough to have actually made a dent in music sales for both the industry and iTunes Store. I’m not going to tell you that I would sign up for Apple Music myself, or that I found the overall pitch to be compelling, but I haven’t signed up for any competing service either, and wouldn’t for $10 per month. Other people obviously feel otherwise, and having the feature integrated into iOS 9’s Music app, the iTunes Store, and the Apple TV is going to be a very big deal for them.
9. Apple’s New Keyboard Solutions, Including QuickType. This is a big deal that looks like a small deal, but fixing the messed up iOS 7/8 shift key by borrowing the “shift the entire keyboard” feature is a welcome change, and some of the briefly-mentioned iPad keyboard tweaks — support for accessory keyboard shortcuts and swipe-through-the-keyboard gestures — again hint at what Apple’s been planning for a more powerful iPad Pro. The changes mightn’t seem huge on the surface, but for a more Mac-like iPad, they have a lot of potential.
10. Safari Quality-Of-Life Improvements. From pinned tabs — being able to keep a Facebook tab perpetually active in the corner — to mute controls for increasingly obnoxious interrupting audio, to AirPlay-to-Apple TV video streaming directly from a Safari tab, Apple is bringing a ton of additional multitasking-like power to Safari. These little tweaks will make the overall browsing experience a lot better for people, and extend the power of web pages into your HDTV in a very Chromecast-like way.
What announcements do you think were the biggest at WWDC yesterday? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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