Reactions to yesterday’s keynote have, as usual, been mixed – but there has been a distinctly disappointed note to much of it. In particular, those not following the rumors as closely as 9to5Mac readers have expressed frustration at the lack of hardware announcements. One Reddit thread along these lines was at 1550 comments and counting at the time of writing.
Who needs hardware when you get emojis?
RIP Mac Pro
What have we done to anger the apple hardware gods? Do we need to sacrifice an apple II ?
This is really really disappointing. Unbelievable that the rMBP hasn’t been updated in over a year and the prices have stayed the same.
Others weren’t happy about what they saw as the limited focus on Macs in general, one commenting that ‘they spent longer on iMessage than they did on macOS.’ But despite the lack of hardware, and of major surprises in general, my view is that yesterday’s announcements didn’t disappoint …
I think Apple’s fondness for the dramatic reveal, and for hyping so many things as ‘magical’ and ‘revolutionary’ and other such hyperbolic language, has trained people to expect A Single Big Something from any keynote. This expectation of course derives from Steve Jobs’ famous ‘one more thing …’
Yesterday didn’t give us A Single Big Something. But it did, in my view, give us some fairly big things – and a whole mass of smaller things that will, together, add up to a significantly enhanced user experience.
Let’s start with what I see as the bigger things …
Photos. Apple has always created great camera hardware in its iDevices. Long resisting the largely meaningless megapixel race, it instead focused its efforts on the things that mattered: large sensors, decent lenses and impressive processing. But on the software side, there’s no question that Apple allowed Google to leapfrog it – especially in image-recognition.
Data has of course always been Google’s strong point, so it was no surprise that the company got there first in terms of automatically figuring out content in photos and tagging them with keywords. Google Photos could recognize everything from settings – beach photos, mountains, cities and so on – through objects to specific individuals.
Apple now appears to have caught up – or thereabouts. We’ve had mixed results here in playing with the beta, but overall first impressions are that it delivers impressive performance, especially when you consider that Apple said that it doesn’t rely on the cloud, suggesting that all the processing is done locally on the device. Face-recognition, though, doesn’t appear to be fully implemented in the first beta.
And Apple has done what it always does: take existing tech, and deliver it in the most user-friendly way.
The iPhone will automatically create video slideshows of memories for beautiful reflections and reviews of your favourite family moments […] Users can customize these movie files into shorter or longer summaries, as well as apply a variety of stock themes.
People love to share photos, and this is going to make creating beautiful, customized slideshows something anyone can do in a few taps.
Oh, and CNET noticed that Apple is now letting camera apps access raw photo data – something which potentially further boosts quality, especially when you want to process the photos afterwards.
The Siri SDK, allowing third-party apps to be accessed via voice. This was something I asked for last year, and will, in my view, make a massive difference to how quickly and easily we’re able to carry out a whole variety of tasks.
As widely rumored, Apple today announced a sweeping upgrade to its voice assistant AI Siri. The new update features rich third-party app integration via a developer API as well as many new features and enhanced understanding, allowing users to interact with Siri in new ways.
There was some disappointment in the detail: Benjamin revealed today that the six examples Apple gave in the keynote are, for now, the only six app categories supported.
For iOS 10.0, the Siri API will only work with six kinds of application: ride booking (think Uber), messaging, Photo Search (find photos and videos in a particular app), payments (‘Send $100 to John with SquareCash’), VoIP Calling (e.g: Skype) and Workouts (for starting health and fitness activities).
So we’re not yet where I’d like us to be – where we can use Siri to access literally any app on our phone, and more – but it’s still a big step in the right direction.
And, of course, Apple also gave us another long-awaited feature: Siri on the Mac. As someone who very definitely doesn’t live in a post-PC world, and sees my Mac as my primary device, this is particularly welcome to me.
Apple Pay coming to the Mac – albeit using the iPhone or Watch to validate until Macs get Touch ID – is perhaps a medium thing rather than a big one. All the same, I do think it will be one of those things where, once we have it, we’ll wonder how we ever managed without it.
Touching a fingerprint sensor beats entering card details into a website every time, even if Keychain or a password manager does most of it for us. I’m sure you can all think of websites that won’t auto-enter expiry dates because they use dropdowns, and where they don’t read all the data from Keychain because the fields aren’t properly labelled.
But it’s also about security. Retailers are hacked with monotonous regularity, and there have been a number of high-profile websites where card details were compromised. With Apple Pay, the retailer never has my card details in the first place, just a one-time code.
watchOS 3 finally makes the Apple Watch behave the way it should: giving us immediate access to the apps we use the most, and opening them instantly. That might sound like a small thing, but it’s really not. Sluggish performance was something I complained about on day one, and was still complaining about a fortnight ago.
The upshot of this was that I’d pretty much stopped bothering to use either Glances or apps. My Watch became a pure notification plus Apple Pay device. It was still extremely useful as such, but watchOS 3 means that its effective functionality for me and many others expanded significantly. I’m thus also putting that into the ‘medium thing’ category.
The new Apple File System is not something users will ever see directly, but I think it still qualifies as a medium deal.
It should improve the performance of all devices, especially Macs. It will also be more secure, and its ability to rollback to earlier states should significantly enhance the performance of Time Machine (one of the Mac’s best features, but not always the friendliest or fastest of tools to use).
Then there was a huge long list of smaller things that, collectively, add up to a big deal. Auto-unlocking of Macs as we approach them with our Apple Watch on our wrist or iPhone in our pocket. A small thing, but for those who login to their Macs a dozen times a day, it just removes one of life’s daily hassles.
Universal clipboard, likewise, is a feature I’ve wanted literally for years. No biggie on its own, but put enough of this sort of thing together, and life gets a lot smoother.
The new Music app UI may be a small or medium thing depending on how much you use the app and how you found its original usability, but it’s certainly very attractive – and, let’s face it, most people laying out cash for Apple devices care about how they look as well as how they perform. Sleek, minimalist apps are as important as sleek, minimalist hardware. Built-in lyrics is also a big plus for those of us who like singer-songwriter tracks.
The built-in Homekit app will make life a lot more convenient for those of us with lots of smart home devices.
The new lock screen, more proactive Maps app, improved News features, voicemail transcription, integration of voice messaging services like Skype, ability to zap stock apps (finally!) and myriad enhancements to the Messages app are all things that are certainly very nice to have.
Finally, there are all the smaller things, many of which weren’t even announced, but we’ve been discovering while playing with the beta.
So, no, there were no shiny new toys, and no Single Big Something – but I think this is still a decent update across the iDevice platforms, and however much people may complain now, I suspect they’ll come to appreciate the new features when they experience them.
What’s your view? Please take our poll, and share in the comments the things that most impressed and disappointed you.