This was an all-out blowout of small reveals for every major Apple operating system.
By John Burek
The opening keynote of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was an all-out blowout of small reveals for all of Apple’s major OSes.
This fall, Apple will roll out iOS 12 for hardware back to the iPhone 5s generation. MacOS will tick up to a new version, Mojave, which will see some early-stage steps on the developer back end toward making it easier to make apps jointly for both iOS and macOS. And tvOS and watchOS are getting a host of feature updates — such as the addition of Dolby Atmos support to tvOS and auto-detection of workout-like activity on Apple Watch — to make sure you get credit for every extra stride you jog and drop of sweat you drip. A direct-communication “Walkie-Talkie” mode is also coming to Apple Watch.
No single feature looks to be an earth-shaker. But Apple opened the sluice gates on such a torrent for its platforms that we’re left with scores of middling-to-minor new features and development-tool tweaks to consider. What’s left to do but try and make sense of the ones that will matter most?
Which will have the biggest impact and why? Here’s our quick take.
Digital Focus and Time Management
What It Is: This is a broad initiative that Apple, to our eyes, is arching over both iOS and macOS. With Screen Time in iOS 12, sophisticated features herald an era of more “quantified usage” of your iPhone. On iOS, you’ll see how you and your family use your i-devices to figure out…well, where all that time you spent watching YouTube or scrolling Facebook went.
You can set per-app or overall-usage time limits, manage app access for other users (such as children), set up warning pop-ups when you’re close to hitting a preset usage time limit, and more.
Also in iOS, a new Do Not Disturb function can impose a black sleep screen on your iPhone, lest your sleep be distracted by middle-of-the-night notifications. Do Not Disturb will show just the clock time, suppressing the usual flurry of notifications that can pull you in at a glance. And a new notifications grouping feature can let you manage (or delete) your stream of notifications in clusters (sorted by, say, thread or app), as opposed to just viewing or dealing with them as onesies and twosies.
You might even count Apple’s new Dark Mode for macOS Mojave in this initiative. It’s partly just an aesthetic thing, extending an optional high-contrast UI onto the Mac desktop. But it also highlights the content you are working on and brings it to the fore, especially if you are working with images, enforcing a bit of focus. Also, Apple’s new Mojave desktop will have an optional “time-sensitive” aspect, transitioning the desktop background from a morning to night theme, giving you a subtle sense of the passage of time through the day as you compute.
Why It’ll Be Big: Tech addiction and digital distraction are an increasing worry, especially for kids. Apple is getting ahead of the curve — and perhaps what it perceives as a coming backlash — by integrating some of these features that emphasize maintaining focus, getting control of access, and usage-time quantification (the last so you can define the problem areas or apps). We expect something of an arms race on this front across the smartphone world (or you might call it a race to disarm).
What It Is: Animoji, which debuted with the iPhone X last year, are cartoony, mostly animal-themed, avatars that stood in as emoticons, representing you, in iMessage. They mimic the real-world facial expressions you hold when you “record” them. (Frown, and so does your avatar.) They are popular, but Apple kept them simple at the outset. Animoji debuted with just 12 avatars, and they didn’t let you get overly creative with their designs.
At WWDC, Apple announced that it is adding four more Animoji in iOS. But the bigger deal is the expansion into true custom avatars: Memoji. You can fashion these from the ground up to look like you. The new feature is also a counter to a similar feature that Samsung rolled out on its 9-series Galaxy phones, AR Emojis (which were often criticized at rollout).
Why It’ll Be Big: Sure, the four new Animoji creatures — the tiger, the koala, the ghost, and the, um, T-Rex — are cute and all, but do you identify as a marsupial? We bet not. Being able to customize a self-styled moji/avatar, down to eye color, hairstyle, eyeglass style, and even eyewear tint, is going to eat up a lot of millennials’ clock cycles. Also, Apple has added what it has called, cheekily, “tongue detection” (we see what you did there) to let your Animoji or Memoji stick out its tongue when you do. Because, why not?
Multi-User Augmented Reality (Via ARKit 2.0)
What It Is: It’s so much more fun when you AR with two. Apple demonstrated a proof-of-concept game, SwiftShot, that lets you duke it out with slingshots against friends and family using two iPads. The demonstration app at WWDC transformed an empty table into a virtual battlezone of wooden blocks and rubber-band-propelled projectiles, with no mess to clean up after and no spent ammo to fish out from under the couch. Apple also announced a new open file format for AR, dubbed USDZ.
Why It’ll Be Big: The SwiftShot game itself is not the “product” here, so to speak. It’s less vital for what it is than for what the category it represents might become: a new kind of virtual collaboration software for work (training, virtual instruction) and play (head-to-head virtual experiences, without cumbersome MR or VR headsets and their demanding hardware). This is all part of Apple’s launch of ARKit 2, its development platform for the creation of AR content and environments for its i-devices.
What It Is: An extension of Apple’s popular video-calling feature, the new Group FaceTime supports up to 32 participants in a single call. The app shows all call members in a strip at the screen bottom, and the software can auto-maximize the person speaking.
It’s also possible to overlay animated Animoji or Memoji onto call participants’ faces, with the avatars reflecting your actual demeanor and facial expressions. If you ever wanted to host your weekly workgroup scrum as a T-Rex…well, get ready to have at it. Even Tim Cook made himself into a Memoji.
To our eyes, the actual scattered layout of the faces in a Group FaceTime call, as demonstrated at WWDC, didn’t seem the most efficient use of screen space. But this was still a demo, and we could see Apple tweaking that layout, in time, to something else based on feedback, such as a Brady Bunch or Hollywood Squares-style grid.
Why It’ll Be Big: Sheer force of i-momentum? We’ve wrangled with enough balky, unintuitive group-calling and video conferencing software in offices over the years to know that the path of least resistance often wins when time is tight.
Of course, Group FaceTime has obvious appeal for far-flung families, too. But we’d suggest that makers of small business video-conferencing systems keep a wary eye on this feature. Given its high ceiling for maximum number of users per call, we could see it chipping away at the fringes of dedicated office conferencing systems or solutions. (If Apple can figure out a more elegant, less chaotic way of showing more than a few faces at once in a group call, that is.)
What It Is: “Shortcuts” that you use with Siri will bring some new flexibility to Apple’s digital assistant. Any app will be able to expose quick-to-execute actions that you can now trigger with your voice via Siri.
Shortcuts will enable you to use Siri to trigger custom actions, or custom action sequences, bridging more than one application based on a single voice command. For example, Apple suggested a scenario in which telling Siri to “find my keys” might trigger a Tile Bluetooth tracker you have attached to the ring to help you find ‘em.
Also, it’s now possible for Siri to look at your day-to-day habits and, where it notices patterns, to suggest behaviors it can assist with. It might poke you to set up a command for your usual morning coffee order if you’re typically making it via one of your devices.
Why It’ll Be Big: The action-sequence functionality, already extant in a form on Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, is what intrigued us most. A compelling example: A given voice command could trigger a set of actions you’d want done when you leave the office for home in the evening. You might want a weather check, a traffic report for your route home, and a message sent to your S.O. that you’re en route. The promise is of a voice-triggered macro maker for life, something that Siri has been lacking and that has the potential to make the assistant much more relevant for i-device die-hards, as well as users of (and window-shoppers for) the pricey Apple HomePod.
Read More: “The Coolest Things in iOS 12”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.