Last night Apple opened their latest World Wide Developer’s Conference Keynote with the video you see above. It’s classic Apple; focussing on the users and developers. And, yet, it feels fresh, open and fun. In so many ways it set the tone for the keynote and the software announcements Apple’s executives made.
And, it should be said, they were impressive announcements indeed, including iOS8 and a new Mac OSX, named Yosemite. Many have wondered how well Apple would do in the post Steve Jobs age and this keynote showed Apple are not only continuing to innovate, but continuing to fulfil the vision Jobs and his team were working on back in the 90s.
Long term Apple users, especially those who have followed the development of .Mac to MobileMe to iCloud would have seen plenty of “new” features in the WWDC Keynote which actually are better, updated iterations of previous ideas.
1. iCloud Drive
With the move to iCloud, Apple users actually lost some cloud storage, file sharing and app synchronisation features. Many of us had to make greater use of other services, like Dropbox, instead.
Cloud storage started to gradually come back for dedicated Apple products, like Pages and Numbers, but now it’s been opened up, along with cheaper and more generous storage plans and the ability to organise files in iCloud the way you want.
2. Handoff And Device Agnosticism
In the YouTube video above you could see Steve Jobs, back in 1997, advocating a kind of device agnosticism – you just pick up the nearest device to hand and carry on with whatever you are doing. Apple now have a new name for that, Handoff, a set of features that allow you start work on one device, they continue on another device right where you left off.
Alongside this, the lines between devices continue to blur. You’ll be able to answer phone calls from your Mac and use iMessages to send voicemail.
Apple are now offering developers much greater access to the controls of the iPhone and iPad cameras, which will surely spur more features in mobile photography apps. And, you can now use third-party features inside Apple’s own phone app.
Along with this, it will soon become easier to access your photo library across all devices and synchronise photos taken on any device and also, photos within your family (one of several great family-oriented features, reminiscent of the old .mac and MobileMe family packs).
Finally, although it wasn’t mentioned in the Keynote, Apple have also added Time-Lapse capability to the iOS photography app.
It’s hard not to imagine this as a further nail in the coffin for personal cameras, as mobile photography becomes the default photographic approach for most people in their day to day lives.
4. Good Design
Apple used to have an excellent, consistent, system-wide design philosophy. But, when iOS came along, Apple got stuck with competing ideas. The move to a cleaner, flatter OS on all devices continues now, but the rate of change has picked up.
In particular, the changes to system typography (including a shift to Helvetica Neue) are not only gorgeous, they are clearer and more practical. There’s a solid visual language connecting both OSX and iOS now, and the more subtle use of opacity and even darker menu areas feels current while still retaining a clear Apple identity.
Back in the 90s, email was one of my favourite aspects of being web connected. I loved being able to dispense with awkward and often illegible facsimiles and slow, sometimes unreliable standard mail.
But, these days email is the bane of my existence. Achieving inbox-zero feels less and less like a normal practice and more and more like scaling a small mountain in a blizzard.
Partly, this is because Apple’s email product, Mail, is just not very good. In fact, along with iTunes, it’s one of the few programmes Apple seems unable to fix.
Well, they are trying now, along with some interface updates, the ability to visually notate within Mail (a feature set familiar to Preview users) and some new tricks for sending large file attachments.
In fact the latter will be a breakthrough for many users, making it easy to send attachments up to 5GB. Of course, many of us get around email’s limitations by using ftp services. But, it will be nice and efficient not to need to do that anymore for most work.
In fact, work felt like a big theme in this WWDC Keynote (and I’ve only scratched the surface of the new features). While some of the graphics and development features will help bring better games to Apple devices, especially iOS devices, most of the new features have immediate productivity benefits.
Which, quite frankly warmed my heart far more than any new iPhone or Mac announcement could have done. When I switched to Apple, back in the 90s, it was because I saw these computers in the hands and under the fingers of creative people I knew and admired; musicians, graphic designers, architects, educators, writers and artists.
Speaking to these people I always got the sense they understood how design and aesthetics helped make systems stronger and more productive. This is something Apple have struggled to get right in the last few years, but based on what we saw at this WWDC Keynote, it might, like so many things, be coming back at last.
One More Thing?
There wasn’t a Steve Job’s style “one more thing” at the end of this keynote. But, I suspect, given the breadth of changes announced, many of us will find favourite features that maybe got little or now attention in the first rush of news.
For me, it was the announcement RSS is back in Safari. RSS is the technology that lets you subscribe to news feeds and it is the lifeblood of blogs. Apple took RSS out of Safari a few years ago, messed with trying to put it in Mail, then gave up.
Now it’s back in Safari again, which will make it easier for most users to subscribe to blogs and also share their favourite blog content across social media. Thank you Apple.