An Apple WWDC reflection: Part 1 – iOS 12

WWDC 2018 part 1
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Every year, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), takes stage in San Jose to celebrate all things Apple. One of the biggest misconceptions of this highly anticipated event is that Apple will announce a fresh device such as a new iPhone or Mac, however this is never the case. Instead, Apple treats this event as an outlet to to honour their many developers and educate a wide audience about all the new software upgrades and development tools they’ve been cooking up in the past year.

A quick preamble

I have been lucky enough to previously attend WWDC, where my takeaways had less to do with tech and more to do with enthusiasm. Having engaged with Apple in the past, I don’t think it’s shocking to say that they are challenging collaborators. Their approach is very corporate and they tend to create endless hurdles over the smallest details. However, WWDC is the one week where all walls come down and audiences get direct access to the innovative minds of engineers and business people. The event is filled with Apple geeks and employees that genuinely care about the great stuff that developers around the world are creating. Simply put, it is magical.

This year’s keynote took place the morning of June 4th, when Apple revealed all the fun additions they will be releasing for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. The keynote is over two hours long and doesn’t thoroughly explore all of the new features, so I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts in three separate chapters – starting with iOS.

iOS 12 is Apple’s next generation OS that will power iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches (for those who still use them). It will be available as a free software upgrade in the Fall and work for iPhone 5s and later, All iPad Air and iPad Pro models, iPad 5th and 6th generation, iPad mini 2 and later, and the iPod touch 6th Gen. All in all, the iOS 12 announcement offers improvements and disappointments in terms of digital health, augmented reality, emojis, notifications, Facetime and Siri.

Digital health

As a parent, Apple’s unveiling of a tech addition tool is very interesting to me. It’s clear that this is a response to the criticism Apple received earlier this year from shareholders worried about device addiction. I too am constantly asking my kids to put down their devices, and should probably put mine down more often as well. Now, a reduction in screen time is possible since the newly introduced tools (which are part of the OS layer) will allow Apple’s users to track and limit how much time is being spent on their devices.
Example of the "App Limits" screen on iOSFor those who need help restricting social media consumption, there is a new setting called App Limits which will act like a babysitter for your iDevice. You can set time limits for specific apps, such as 30 minutes a day for Instagram. Your device will track your use and give you a five minute warning when time is running out. Of course, there exists a snooze button that lets you browse through cat pictures for another five minutes.

All these additions are most appealing for parents like myself. I love the new controls that can limit my kids device/app use. Through iOS 12, I can give them a time allowance on their devices and schedule time outs during certain hours, which will limit usage at bedtime. This is a natural extension of the app store family feature which restricts my kids from getting apps without my approval first. Overall, it’s another addition that has parents (and obsessive phone users) in mind.

Augmented Reality (AR)

iOS 12 focuses heavily on augmented reality. The most interesting announcement is the new AR Kit 2 which enables shared experiences. These are persistent AR experiences tied to a specific location and dependant on image tracking. So, now we can have multiple parties on multiple devices share the AR action which makes for a much more dynamic experience.
Apple also announced a new open file format called USDZ. This is a WYSIWYG editor created with Pixar that allows developers to convert objects from photoshop into an AR environment. USDZ is a zero compression and unencrypted zip archive designed to work at runtime. This means that it doesn’t require unpacking and can provide lightning fast “AR Quicklooks” that can be experienced directly through the finder.

WWDC also showcased a dynamic LEGO app experience, where a Lego house triggered animated characters to run around and engage with the building. As a parent I hated this. LEGO is one of those toys that I like because my kids can enjoy it without any screen time. This app will have me wanting them to play with their LEGOs less if they pull out iPads each time.

I think Apple is doing AR right, however it’s still in the early days. When I see people holding out their iPads playing an AR game, all I can think about is how tired my arms would get. This makes me believe that the rumours surrounding the development of Apple AR glasses are not only true, but are exactly what’s needed to take AR to a whole new level.

Memoji

I got the iPhone X the first day it came out and I really like the device. One of the most compelling  and creative features unique to the iPhone X is the Animoji feature. However, besides initially sending a few “cute” Animoji videos to my children, I never use it. Now, they’ve introduced Memoji: customizable cartoon versions of your face. Just like their animal counterpart, the Memoji software will allow for animation through face tracking, and now tongue tracking. Personally, I’m not too sure how often I will use this, but I’m confident my kids will play with it thoroughly.
Example of a diverse set of Memoji faces

Group FaceTime

FaceTime will now support video chats with up to 32 people, and offer brand new effects. I didn’t know I needed a group facetime, however this feature seemed to be well received by the TTT staff. Functionality aside, I’m a fan of all the new filters, shapes and stickers since it turns a regular chat into a pretty wild experience.

Grouped notifications

I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets about 10 notifications every hour that add stress to my day. The current way they are grouped together in iOS 11 makes very little logical sense. Apple has taken notice of this flaw and come up with a new organizational method in iOS 12. The new feature groups together similar notifications into one. Therefore, if you get multiple text messages from one person, the notification will appear as a collection instead of one single message. This should make it much easier to quickly realize who is texting you and to what intensity, without endlessly scrolling through your notifications.  

Siri shortcuts

Mobile screen of Siri shortcuts on iOSOne of the biggest disappointments I had with WWDC is around Siri. After watching Google’s Duplex announcement I was expecting a serious upgrade with Siri, whose voice and intonation feels stale compared to all the other offerings. Instead of a big upgrade, we got Siri Shortcuts, which is basically IFTTT (If this then that) integrations. What is essentially a cookbook of functions to extend Siri, Shortcuts is a feature that combines notifications, learning, and voice commands to do a lot more than was possible before.
I am concerned that the majority of users will not understand how to take advantage of this feature, although I am convinced that developers will be powerful users. I do like how Siri will automatically identify common and repetitive tasks and intelligently set up a shortcuts to automate your life. It shows the beginnings of a more integrative intelligence, although it’s nowhere near the update I was hoping for.

Overall, the iOS update proved to be both creative and protective, with a few key features missing the mark. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Apple WWDC Reflection, where I dive into the new watchOS and tvOS updates.

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