On June 13, 2016 Apple gathered the audience once more to reveal the future of their platform at WWDC (The Worldwide Developers Conference). These reveals, especially at WWDC, garner media and coverage for their new front facing features, there are many other new reveals that are missed. On the surface this years release of iOS 10 and macOS Sierra (it’s not OS X anymore!) look relatively tame, some may even say lacklustre. Looking at the iOS preview you’d suspect iOS 10 is the Messages update. Looking at Sierra you’d say, “oh, it’s just Siri.” Today I want to go over my top 5 announcements from the WWDC Keynote Presentation.
1. The Siri API
Ever since the iPhone 4S brought Siri to the masses people have been requesting a developer API to allow the applications they use to hook into Siri. Apple’s motto with iOS has always been to design a secure system and ensure it is secure before granting permissions to the users. This is why copy and paste was delayed initially, why the phone didn’t launch with an app store, and why it took so long for the platform to receive extensions. Last year saw the widespread release of extensions because iOS itself was mature enough and they could be implemented in a secure fashion. Fast forward to this year and that’s why Apple has provided developers with a Siri API.
It should be noted that this first version of the Siri API is limited to certain classes of applications: ride booking, messaging, Photos, payments, VoIP, and health and fitness. While this doesn’t cover everything under the sun such as todo lists, third party email clients (maybe, as messaging?), or Spotify it gets the ball rolling. For now this is enough to allow quick access to the majority of popular applications on iOS (Snapchat, anyone?) and in future years it’s not inconceivable to think of Apple adding more categories of applications to the Siri API.
2. iMessage Apps
It seems as though 2016 has been almost entirely focused on bringing intelligence or at least, applications to our messaging platforms. Facebook Messenger was first followed by Microsoft and then Google. With Apple moving into the same space of adding intelligence and the ability to work with applications in Messages, we must ask the question, how will Apple execute this differently than Facebook, Microsoft, and Google? This is an interesting highlight from WWDC not because of innovation but because it will either allow Apple to copy these other solutions or innovate once more. The ultimate question that comes from this is, can Apple out innovate Facebook, Microsoft, and Google?
3. Deleting stock applications… yes
The vast majority of stock applications can now be deleted just like any other application. For years users were relegated to moving unwanted stock applications to a folder where they would be ignored. While this is a feature that Android users will laugh at we need to remember Apple’s core philosophy of providing a secure and reliable platform for all users (as with the Siri API). This is not accomplished by allowing users to remove core applications when they may not have an alternative. It can be said now that there are enough alternatives of stock applications that a user will not suffer. This move also has the benefit of allowing Apple to update the Mail or Notes application independently of the entire operating system.
4. Apple is the “Clear privacy leader among technology companies today”
Apple brought in a privacy researcher from the University of Pennsylvania to have a look at what Apple was doing in the privacy realm. Privacy took centre stage earlier this year with the San Bernardino iPhone case, it’s no surprise that Apple decided to include a mention to privacy in the presentation on the 13th. How is Apple doing this and why is it unique? Every piece of intelligence that can be processed on your device is processed on your device. Further, if something does require server-side processing, Apple will use a technique called “differential privacy” which essentially means that will be scrambled making it hard to trace back to a specific user. It’s incredibly unique because Google’s platform is centred around Google cloud services where the data is sent encrypted but is tied to you. Facebook’s services are outright marketed to make money off of its users. We don’t know too much about which way Microsoft will go in this regard. Essentially with Apple being positioned as a privacy leader means that a user of an Apple product can enjoy all the benefits without telling Apple who they are.
5. Swift Playgrounds for iOS
This fall Apple will be making available a new app for iOS called “Swift Playgrounds.” Swift Playgrounds will be free and is designed with the intent of teaching those who want to learn who to code to do so easily. Swift Playgrounds is positioned for the education market to allow teachers to begin teaching programming at a young age!!! I can not understate how important and groundbreaking this will be. Swift isn’t terse like other programming languages, it’s easy to learn and makes sense when read. There has been an astounding void of “learn to code” mechanisms from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Programming can be taught initially as a game and then as the student gets older more useful and interesting tasks can be accomplished. Anyone who has a background in IT, Computer Science, or Computer Engineering knows that knowing how to write code is an asset and is in some cases absolutely required. Learning to write code is like learning how to write English, you start off with simple sentences and move up to poetry, stories, and then novels. In a high tech world, there’s nothing wrong with knowing how to write code. With this provided as a free option, Apple allows almost any school that uses iPads to teach their students how to code in a fun and engaging manner.
While it may seem as though this years software announcements were lacklustre, these 5 announcements form the core of Apple’s philosophy going forward. While yes there are developer features such as a new file system, Safari extensions in the App Store, and a rework of the drag-and-drop API for macOS, the majority of what was unveiled is consumer facing and it has always been this way. The Siri API and opening Messages as a platform signals that Apple is ready to open up more of its APIs both because that’s the direction that users are heading and that the platforms are now secure and mature enough to allow for it. Deleting stock applications seems like an overdue feature if you use another smartphone but we must remember that until two releases ago it wasn’t possible to search third party applications. This feature almost demands that a default application preference pane be added, that has not happened yet with iOS 10. Apple wants to be the company centred around privacy and security which is an easy task when Google computes in the cloud and Facebook markets your actions, this is a significant marketing strategy for Apple going forward. Finally, education is where Apple excelled in the early years and they’re revamping that experience with by giving schools a free tool kit they can use if they wish to offer coding lessons in computer class. This is a no brainer for Apple’s history and their development of Swift (which was written about last month). Overall while this year may not have impressed it signifies that Apple’s platforms are mature and are ready for developers to tell Apple where to take them next.