- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

The WWDC Report: Substance Over Fluff

If you were hoping to learn about Apple’s rumored subscription TV service, or the next Apple TV during the WWDC, you’ll have to keep waiting. Apple had other priorities. As predicted in the rumor sites, it was very much about enhancing the reliability and performance of OS X and iOS, with fewer gee-whiz features. Apple calls it experience and performance, but that’s a good thing.

It also takes us to OS 10.11 El Capitan. I’m not enamored of the name, but I was less in favor of OS X Yosemite, mostly because it reminded me not of a California landmark but an annoying cartoon character. In any case, Apple appears to be taking a smart approach to the OS X and iOS updates this year, although the critics won’t stop reminding you about features supposedly cribbed from Android and Windows. They also don’t use as many words to discuss the features Google and Microsoft “borrowed” from Apple.

In any case, despite the claim about the great response to OS X Yosemite during the keynote, in fact it received 2.5 stars at the App Store, which his decidedly middling. True, people with problems are more apt to complain, but Yosemite had some serious bugs that have not, thus far at any rate, been completely fixed. But there is a 10.10.4 under construction that may address that notorious Wi-Fi bug. We’ll have to see.

In any case, El Capitan promises some surprising improvements, such as the claim that apps will launch up to 1.4 times as fast, and that apps will switch up to twice as fast. Now I haven’t seen any serious slowdowns with most app launches since I’ve gone all SSD; most apps launch pretty quick. But Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress still drag, so the promised improvement, if realized in the final release, will be significant.

One key component of the announced performance boost appears to be Metal, the graphics enhancement that debuted last year with iOS 7. It’s going to be significant, since Adobe promises to deliver Metal support to their apps, and claims that the After Effects video editing app delivered an improvement of eight times in rendering performance. This is a huge deal, and will put apps that support this technology way ahead of their Windows counterparts.

Mission Control, which is being borrowed for Windows 10, gains a Split View option for the full-screen view, which, as the name implies, puts the app windows side by side and thus appears at first glance to be similar to a feature already available at Windows with an Apple slant. El Capitan also includes enhancements to Spotlight, Safari, Mail, Photos and other apps. The Maps app gains the public transit info that’s also being rolled out in iOS 9.

Both El Capitan and iOS 9 appear to support the very same hardware as their predecessors, so your Apple gear gets another lease on life with the promise of improved performance and reliability. Indeed, with iOS 9, Apple is claiming up to one hour additional battery life. Even better, the installation will be substantially smaller than iOS 8, thus making it easier to upgrade space-challenged iPhones and iPads.

iOS 9 inherits the public transit improvements in Maps, and also gains a new system font, San Francisco, instead of Helvetica Neue. The font is already being used on the Apple Watch. It’s superficially similar to Helvetica but appears to be more readable, and that will address one of the criticisms leveled against Apple after the move from Lucinda Grande to Helvetica Neue.

Among the improvements, Passport becomes Wallet, Siri becomes more powerful and thus becomes a better competitor to Google Now. By far the most significant improvement is the arrival of the long-rumored Split View option for recent iPads. It’s similar to the way it’s done with El Capitan, and the critics will remind us that Samsung has already introduced such a feature on some of their Android gear. But Apple is reserving Split View to iPads with enough processor power to handle the two app scheme without suffering a speed bump.

More important, this will help cement the iPad’s role as a productivity device, and some suggest it may also pave the way for a larger-screened iPad Pro later this year. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see if sales are impacted in any noticeable way.

Apple is also making a huge push to encourage Android switchers with the new Move to iOS app, which will allow users of Google’s platform to transform much of their data, including contacts, messages, and music without DRM, and be able to switch to similar apps on the iOS platform. If it works as promised, the job migrating to an iPhone or iPad will be far easier.

As usual, the new operating systems will roll out this fall. Developers are getting betas now, and the public betas will arrive in July. Developers will also appreciate the fact that all the programs are being rolled into one, meaning a single $99 fee now gets you access to all the prereleases.

In a surprising move, Apple not only announced a major update to Swift, its new programming language, but made it open source and available for Linux developers. So Apple’s walled garden is loosening, and Linux developers will be able to deliver OS X versions of their apps too if they choose to expand their markets.

WatchOS 2 was announced, with support for native apps, third-party complications (the extra elements you see on a watch face), and other goodies. Apple is moving fast to get rid of the early release glitches.

The other prediction that came true was the announcement of Apple Music. The Beats name is reduced to an always-on radio station called Beats 1. The new service debuts on June 30 for iOS and the Mac, with Apple TV, Windows and, believe it or not, Android versions coming this fall. Price is in keeping with the market at $9.99 a month for a single user, and $14.99 a month for up to six users.

The huge promised advantage for Apple Music, acquired when Apple bought Beats Music, is the use of live curation of musical playlists. Will Apple’s marketing muscle beat Spotify? Good question, but that probably won’t be known until after the service is rolled out to all the supported platforms.

Overall, I’m happy to see Apple focus on smart features and better performance, and I am optimistic about trying out the betas for El Capitan and iOS 9.