Puma Thongsithavong | 06/28/2016 | Digital Experience and Mobile | Events
The 2016 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) highlights Apple’s enhancements to its four major operating systems: macOS, iOS, tvOS and watchOS. With no hardware announcements, the focus was on helping developers take advantage of key software updates.
In five days, more than 5,000 Apple developers of all ages (as young as 9 years old!) from 72 countries packed the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and learned how to build better, more exciting apps to compete against Android.
Here are my highlights from the WDDC:
Apple is changing the name of OS X to macOS, with the latest version nicknamed Sierra. macOS will have a strong emphasis on continuity. For example, with the new Auto Unlock feature, if you have an Apple Watch nearby that’s already authenticated, you’ll be able to log in automatically to your MacBook. Another major boost to continuity is the Universal Clipboard. If you’re browsing a website on your iPhone, you can copy the URL to the clipboard and paste it in your MacBook. These features add to the concept of continuity among devices that Apple has been stressing for the last few years.
Another big one — and this could prove to be major — Apple Pay will be available on the Mac (through the Safari browser), authenticated through TouchID from an iPhone or Apple Watch. With the surge in popularity of Apple Pay, there should be a good number of participating websites for this feature and this could prove to be a big win for Apple.
iOS 10 is a major milestone for Apple. A key update is Raise to Wake, which turns on the iPhone lock screen just by picking up the phone. One downside is this will only work on iPhones running iOS 10.
Another major announcement involves the release of SiriKit for developers which enables iOS 10 apps to work with Siri. For example, you can ask a question of Siri such as “give me an Uber in the next 5 minutes” and Siri will launch the Uber app. With SiriKit, Apple is providing developers more access to Siri so they’ll put Siri into more applications.
iMessage is getting a solid update, incorporating popular features from Snapchat, WhatsApp and other messaging apps. One new feature is rich links. By enabling rich links into iMessage, if you receive a message with a YouTube link, you’ll be able to view the video directly in iMessage instead of having to open YouTube.
Apple is also integrating stickers into iMessage and making it easy for developers to create iMessage sticker apps. Apple is emphasizing stickers in a big way, although from my conversations with developers at the conference the reason for such a big push is not clear. Nevertheless, there will be an app store dedicated to stickers similar to what Facebook does with Messenger.
Several performance upgrades in tvOS were highlighted. The most important update — and this is a very good feature when compared with the competition such as Xbox — is single sign-on for all tvOS applications. Here’s where it’s really good: Both Xbox and Apple TV include Netflix, Hulu Plus and numerous other apps. But while Xbox still requires you to sign in and authenticate to each app, with Apple TV’s single sign-on, you just need to sign in once and you’re authenticated into all Apple TV apps.
At last year’s WWDC, Apple announced a tvOS developers kit for writing tvOS apps. The number of video channels grew from 80 to 1,300 in this past year. I can easily see this number surpassing 3000 by next year’s WWDC.
The next release of watchOS is version 3. Apple is focusing very heavily on the performance of its watch applications, including application boot time. Formerly, it took up to 10 seconds for an Apple Watch app to start up, but with Instant Launch, background data is refreshed automatically to enable apps to start almost instantly. This is a huge upgrade and a major step in the right direction for watchOS.
Many iOS features are being incorporated into watchOS 3 as well. For example, App Switcher will be available, allowing easier multitasking among recently used apps on the watch. Control Center will also be incorporated into watchOS 3.
These new features are all part of Apple’s focus on continuity among its operating systems.
Top Takeaways: Swift and Swift Playground
Perhaps the strongest thread throughout the entire conference is Apple’s growing emphasis on the Swift development language. Apple is pushing Swift very heavily now; in fact, all conference sessions featured Swift code and not Objective-C. Swift 3.0 is being released in the fall with upgrades to the syntax to make it more readable. There’s a big pivot this year with more developers confirming the shift to Swift.
To broaden the pivot to Swift, Apple is releasing the Swift Playground, an iPad app for kids (or anybody) to learn to program in Swift. It’s a very interactive way to learn a programming language. In Swift Playground, the code is on the left side of the screen, and an interactive video game is on the right side. For example, in the tutorial the character needs to move from Point A to Point B, and the user must figure out how to do that. It’s a user-friendly, interactive way to drag and drop code snippets to make the move.
In my opinion, it’s still a pick-and-choose among organizations on whether to implement Swift. Enterprises still aren’t quite ready to fully transition to Swift at this time because although mobile developers are beginning to shift to Swift, there is still a much larger Objective-C developer crowd. However, as Swift gains more momentum, in the next 4–5 years this should change.
Apple has arguably lost momentum in recent years, but the push for continuity among all Apple operating systems this WWDC should enable developers to write better apps that will elevate the iPhone and other devices to the next level. It all comes down to the quantity and quality of apps, and Apple apps are still the best in the industry.