Apple sure has been busy lately! While everyone knew (and hoped) Apple was up to things, the gap between the 2016 and the 2017 WWDC seemed to yawn cavernously on, with any glimmers of hope generated by eager commentators and aficionados while Apple remained monolithically silent. We all hoped Apple was crazy-busy behind the scenes, but there was little evidence to support that, thanks to the usual layers of secrecy, until the very welcome blockbuster announcements.
The hardware announcements appealed to almost everybody, but of course, WWDC is a developer conference. For the San José hordes to leave smiling, they needed more than a raft of new hardware to aspire to.
But Apple’s messages have been mixed. On the one hand, Apple more than halved affiliate fees people can earn by directing their readers to Apple services, which just seems rude and uncaring considering how stinkingly-wealthy Apple is, while on the other there have been moves to both broaden and tighten the so-called ‘Apple ecosystem’. In this model, every device you have is by Apple, and Apple tech and services connects them all up. Coders code on Apple devices and in Apple environments, and users can’t really get into the hardware and software of those devices, unlike the more accessible Microsoft and Android platforms.
Some of these moves are very welcome. For example, Apple will soon let the people who make podcasts learn what podcast listeners actually like – and what they ignore. A coming version of Apple’s Podcasts, which is by far the most popular podcast app, will provide basic analytics to podcast creators, giving them the ability to see when podcast listeners play individual episodes, and more importantly what part of individual episodes they listen to, which parts they skip over, and when they bail out of an episode.
This has been an annoyingly opaque world for far too long: launch your podcast into the ether and your only real feedback is how many people downloaded it, and the minimal user-feedback on iTunes.
iBooks is even worse – the authoring app dates back to 2012 and the awful truth only really dawns on you when you publish a book: sales are tiny because nobody really uses the iBooks platform (which is flat-out marvellous) and Apple seemingly cannot be bothered to put any effort into it or to properly promote it.
But the podcasts initiative is a sign of hope.
However, Apple is now clearly busy on several fronts. Self-driving machine learning is at the core of Apple’s car ambitions. We know this because Tim Cook said so. You know, in public. Business Chat will appear in iOS 11, which will work across Apple’ iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but not the Mac (at first, anyway). Apple customers will be able to start a conversation with a business from Safari, Maps, Spotlight, and Siri. Once again, inside that Apple ecosystem, all will be sweet – it’s just that some find this a constriction whereas most users find it a pure boon.
Tim Cook has also announced a wide range of software and hardware changes that will finally bring VR to macOS, and that’s pretty surprising because Tim Cook himself had been on record as giving “exactly zero damns about VR“. Which I think is a good thing because it shows he’s flexible to new realities, right?
For some, of course, it has all been too much, even from the 2016 announcements. Because when you think about it, a lot of the top announcements at the last WWDC hardly went anywhere. How many people with 3D Touch-capable devices actually use it? Not many, in my experience, which is a shame as it’s remarkably useful. The same can’t be said for Stickers in Messages. I had a look once, and can’t be bothered with it. Like most people. This was froth, unlike most of the core tech and fundamentals of this year’s initiatives. It’s hard to use, and worse, virtually pointless.
Even Siri was practically useless to me until I discovered it’s superb function as a maths problem solver. I’m so bad at maths it takes me ages even to frame the question properly in a calculator or spreadsheet. Then if I’m lucky I might get close to the answer. Being able to just ask Siri a maths problem framed as a normal question is unbelievably satisfying and efficient.
All round, I think this year’s WWDC showed a much greater commitment to the core of what makes people Apple fans. And I’m really happy about that.