WWDC: Tak­ing it all in

Ap­ple kicked off WWDC with a soft­ware and hard­ware show­case we’ll be think­ing about for a long time to come, writes Jason Snell

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In the movie The Princess Bride, af­ter a se­ries of ex­cit­ing events, sword mas­ter Inigo Montoya is asked to ex­plain what has hap­pened since the film’s hero was ren­dered un­con­scious. “Let me ex­plain,” he says. “No, there is too much – let me sum up.”

When it comes to ex­plain­ing the WWDC 2017 key­note, I feel a lot like Inigo Montoya. This was a packed two-plus hours that would prob­a­bly run three­plus hours in the Di­rec­tor’s Cut edi­tion. There were enough Easter eggs in the ‘ad­di­tional fea­tures’ slides

to ren­der the Easter Bunny cata­tonic. There’s a lot to process, and we’ll be pro­cess­ing it for the next few days – maybe even all sum­mer.

But in the mean­time, here are a few big-pic­ture take­aways from Ap­ple’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

Ap­ple walks the walk for pro­fes­sion­als

When Ap­ple gath­ered writers to­gether ear­lier this year to em­pha­size the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to pro­fes­sional Mac users, that seemed to be a mea culpa to pro users, with the im­pli­ca­tion that in the fu­ture, Ap­ple would serve them bet­ter.

The an­nounce­ments were, in essence, Ap­ple walk­ing the walk af­ter pre­vi­ously talk­ing the talk. Not only did the com­pany an­nounce the forth­com­ing iMac Pro, whose ex­is­tence was strongly hinted at dur­ing that brief­ing, but it of­fered speed im­prove­ments across the en­tire line of lap­tops – in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of Kaby Lake pro­ces­sors to the Mac­Book Pro line that was only in­tro­duced eight months ago.

Ac­cord­ing to most re­ports, the iMac Pro was de­signed at a point when it was in­tended to be the re­place­ment for the Mac Pro. While its ex­is­tence now makes me won­der ex­actly what role the new Mac Pro will serve in the Mac prod­uct line, the fact is that the iMac Pro ap­pears to be a desk­top com­puter truly fo­cused on the needs of high-end pro­fes­sion­als. I talked to game de­vel­op­ers who were be­side them­selves with de­light over the specs of the new iMac Pro. No, it’s not for ev­ery­one – this is a com­puter that starts at $5,000 (£TBC), af­ter all – but it’s loaded up and ready for the very peo­ple who might want such a thing.

And don’t dis­count the im­por­tance of Ap­ple ship­ping those Kaby Lake up­dates. Ap­ple’s slug­gish­ness in up­dat­ing Mac hard­ware to take ad­van­tage of speed im­prove­ments from In­tel is a key rea­son why pro­fes­sional users have been frus­trated with Ap­ple. This set of speed-bumped mod­els may not seem like head­line news, but it’s im­por­tant be­cause it shows Ap­ple up­dat­ing the Mac in a more timely fash­ion. It’s a big deal – though Ap­ple’s not out of the woods yet. It needs to con­tinue to up­date its com­put­ers on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, rather than leav­ing them un­ad­dressed for a cou­ple of years at a time.

Ap­ple’s not sleep­ing on VR and AR

Ap­ple’s com­peti­tors have been trum­pet­ing vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) and aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) tech for a

while now, while Ap­ple has re­mained rel­a­tively quiet. But no longer: the key­note made it clear that Ap­ple takes VR and AR se­ri­ously and it’s in­vest­ing in those tech­nolo­gies for the long haul.

Per­haps one day Ap­ple will man­u­fac­ture its own VR or AR hard­ware, but that day isn’t here yet, and prob­a­bly won’t be for a while. That’s not a big deal, though, when it’s al­ready sold mil­lions of de­vices with cam­eras and a lot of pro­ces­sor power. The demo of the day was prob­a­bly Wingnut’s amaz­ing aug­mented-re­al­ity game play, which took place on top of a demo ta­ble on stage. We got a first idea about the pos­si­bil­i­ties for aug­mented re­al­ity last year from Poké­mon Go, but with ARKit, Ap­ple is pro­vid­ing its de­vel­op­ers with the power to roll out many more high-qual­ity AR ex­pe­ri­ences on iOS. It’s a big deal.

On the VR side, the story’s a bit mud­dier. It looks like you may soon be able to ac­tu­ally play VR games on a high-end Mac, and the In­dus­trial Light and Magic Star Wars VR demo sug­gests that de­vel­op­ing VR games on a Mac will ac­tu­ally be pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially on the new iMac Pro. I firmly be­lieve that in the long run, VR head­sets driven by mo­bile pro­ces­sors will be how we use VR, but in the in­terim it’s nice to think that the Mac isn’t a back­wa­ter, but a plat­form that’s ac­tu­ally get­ting se­ri­ous about be­ing a VR plat­form.

The iPad Pro gets its wings

Af­ter seven years in the iPhone’s shadow, with iOS 11 it re­ally feels like the iPad is com­ing into its own, di­verg­ing dra­mat­i­cally from the ap­proach of the iPhone. With the new Dock, mul­ti­task­ing view, drag and drop, and Files app, Ap­ple is bring­ing Mac-style func­tion­al­ity to the iPad, but in a uniquely iOS style.

There’s a lot to di­gest about how iPad mul­ti­task­ing has been al­tered in iOS 11 – the new mul­ti­task­ing view re­places both the ap­pli­ca­tion switcher and Con­trol Cen­ter, for ex­am­ple – but in the end th­ese are fea­tures that will be em­braced by peo­ple who want to use the iPad Pro to get work done, and ig­nored by those who don’t care so much.

The in­flu­ence of macOS is un­de­ni­able: Files is a lot like the Fin­der, the Dock is ex­tremely Mac-like (but with Siri app sug­ges­tions in­stead of a min­i­mized-win­dow area), and drag and drop feels fa­mil­iar. But that’s to be ex­pected, be­cause the Mac has evolved over the years to ful­fil the needs of many users. iOS is newer, and still evolv­ing, but its more se­ri­ous users have those

same needs. On the Mac, Fin­der is the de­fault – the ‘home screen’ for ev­ery user. On the iPad, that’s not the case, but the Files app is there if you need it. Ap­ple Mu­sic steps for­ward, Siri steps back In gaug­ing ru­mours about the WWDC key­note, I felt it was likely that this would be a ma­jor event for Siri. Siri def­i­nitely got a lot of screen time – new voices and no­ti­fi­ca­tions, new proac­tive as­sis­tants in a bunch of places, and of course Siri’s pres­ence on the HomePod – but none of it felt co­he­sive. In fact, it feels like Ap­ple is con­tin­u­ing to chuck a whole lot of fea­tures into a box and call it Siri, de­spite the amor­phous def­i­ni­tion of what ex­actly Siri is. It’s a voice as­sis­tant, but some­times also text. It’s not the same on iOS as Ap­ple TV, nor on macOS as on Ap­ple Watch.

The an­nounce­ment of the HomePod could’ve been a huge win for Siri. Here, at last, was a de­vice that puts Siri into the cen­tre of your liv­ing room, ready to re­ceive your or­ders. In­stead, though, the HomePod was a show­case for mu­sic in gen­eral and Ap­ple Mu­sic in par­tic­u­lar. We heard a great deal about tweet­ers, woofers, au­dio pro­ces­sors, and the like dur­ing the key­note – and then there was a brief seg­ment about Siri to­ward the end.

What does this all mean? My guess is that Siri is such an amor­phous catch-all of evolv­ing fea­tures that Ap­ple was re­luc­tant to lean on it too hard in the in­tro­duc­tion of the HomePod. In­stead, Ap­ple Mu­sic’s large li­brary, cu­rated playlists, and per­son­al­ized rec­om­men­da­tions car­ried the day. This isn’t a bad call for Ap­ple to make – on sound qual­ity alone it at­tacks the great­est weak­ness

of the Ama­zon Echo – but it’s in­ter­est­ing to see just how soft-ped­aled the Siri ref­er­ences are. Maybe Ap­ple’s not as con­fi­dent about Siri as we think it is?

A jam-packed event

Let me sum up: when you, as a com­pany, have four ma­jor soft­ware plat­forms and a gag­gle of hard­ware prod­ucts in need of up­dat­ing, you have a day like this. It will take days, if not weeks, for all the con­tent of Ap­ple’s key­note to sink in. This is the open­ing gun of Ap­ple’s prod­uct year, and there’s much more to be learned. But I’m im­pressed with the rich­ness of this year’s key­note.

Ap­ple strikes me as a com­pany with some­thing to prove this year, show­ing a hunger that hasn’t been ap­par­ent in the past few years. That’s a good thing. I like it when Ap­ple feels it needs to prove it­self, to users and de­vel­op­ers alike. The com­pany is at its best when it’s step­ping up to a chal­lenge.

Ap­ple demon­strated VR ca­pa­bil­i­ties com­ing to the Mac

Ap­ple iMac Pro will ship in De­cem­ber 2017

Ap­ple HomePod is po­si­tioned first as a home mu­sic sys­tem, then as a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant ca­pa­bil­i­ties

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