WWDC 2017 Round-Up: Everything Apple Introduced

These roundups are always daunting to write. There are so many things Apple introduces during their announcements that it can be difficult to remember it all, and that’s on a normal WWDC. This was not a normal WWDC. Normally, Apple spends more time discussing Apple’s day to day business, such as market share and sales. Instead, Tim stated they didn’t have enough time, that “Apple’s doing great,” and they jumped right into a two and a half hour long extravaganza of new items. This included iOS 11, macOS High Sierra (no, really, that’s the name), watchOS 4, a new 10.5″ iPad Pro with shrunken bezels, the fabled Siri speaker, the Home Pod, a new dedication to gaming on the Mac with VR support and external graphics, Airplay updates, Metal 2, an updated iMac, the introduction of the iMac Pro, Apple Pay and Siri updates, and so much more. It was potentially Apple’s most densely packed WWDC keynote ever, so let’s get started.

 

Affinity Photo on the iPad

First, the most exciting announcement that wasn’t from Apple. Serif, makers of the incredible Affinity Photo and Affinity designer for macOS and Windows, announced the iPad version of Affinity Photo, an app that has been promised since Apple released RAW photo support for iOS last year. This was the serious photo editor the iPad needed to really be able to compete with the Mac for space in a photographer’s bag. With the intuitive touchscreen on the iPad, photo editing would be simple, but the iPad has lacked the right tools for pro work. First, it gained RAW support, and now it has an app that’s a fully featured version of a popular and incredibly powerful Mac app. For those who don’t know, Affinity Photo is what you buy when you want all the power of Adobe Photoshop, but don’t want to make monthly payments to Adobe for the rest of your life. It’s that good. Right now it’s just $19 on the App Store, but it’ll be $29 soon. It would have been a steal at $50, so be sure to check it out if you’re interested in using your iPad for photo editing. 

Apple may have failed to make the Mac a touch platform, failing the professional community, but at least the iPad is finally a tool that can be used for much of this work, thanks to Affinity Photo. Now, where’s Affinity Designer for iPad, Serif? 

iOS 11

iOS 11 will bring a number of exciting changes to the OS, which didn’t get the large-scale redesign that was anticipated. However, it still brought us some incredible improvements, especially on the iPad, which is more “pro” than ever before. 

iOS 11 on the iPad

iOS 11 has some special new features that are iPad-only. Every version of iOS has had a few iPad-only features, but iOS 11 brings the most significant changes to the iPad. In fact, an iPad Pro outfitted with iOS 11 could completely replace a laptop for a majority of Apple’s customers. 

Files

Apple’s iOS has always had one huge limitation: file management. There was never a way to view all your files, made from multiple apps, or organize them your way. You might have documents made in Pages that you want to group with spreadsheets made in Numbers, but you’d have no way to do that in iOS 10. Perhaps you’d want one place to quickly organize your Dropbox files along with your iCloud Drive files. This has only ever been possible on macOS, and it’s been a major setback for customers looking to replace their desktop and laptop computers with iPads. iOS 11 changes that. Its new Files app allows interaction between locally stored files, and files stored in other locations, such as iCloud Drive, DropBox, or Google Drive. It even allows you to organize your files however you’d like, creating aliases to the original files instead of moving or copying them in memory, to reduce the possibility of making a mistake or wasting storage. Using multitouch, you can select multiple files, adding files to a collection by tapping them. In a way, it’s like command-clicking on files in macOS. With robust file management, Apple could have finally enabled the iPad to serve as a real laptop replacement. 

Multitasking


Split screen multitasking has been around since Apple introduced the iPad Air 2 and iOS 9 two years ago. However, the solution hasn’t been perfect. Only two apps could be used at a time, and when switching apps, you had to choose which one would keep running through an awkward selection. The leftmost app would be switched by multitasking, the right would stay put. This wasn’t completely clear, and wasn’t reflective of how people worked. Often, they’d want two apps to interact together. I use the WordPress app alongside Safari frequently, to check my sources as I write. However, once I start adding photos to my posts, I often find myself working with the Photos app and Pixelmator. Sometimes you may want more than two apps open as well. With iOS 11, you still have the 2 app split screen view, but you can now open up a third app in a floating window, which will, like the rightmost split on iOS 10 and below, stick around as you switch your apps. On top of that (literally) is picture in picture. So you could potentially have 4 apps running at once on your iPad in iOS 11. 

Multitasking also gets new enhancements in a watchOS-like dock, which can be used to pull up frequently used apps into your workspace. Just open the new grid view multitasking page, and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access iOS 11’s new dock. You’ll find you’re interacting with your iPad using more than on digit in iOS 11, and that’s going to make the experience not only faster, but more intuitive as well. 

Speaking of intuitive, one of the most intuitive desktop features is drag and drop. I was fascinated when switching from a PC to note how many items of the interface on macOS could be dragged from one app to another. iOS has never had this between apps. If you want to copy a file from PDF Expert into Mail, you’d have to open PDF Expert, share the file to a new mail message, and then send it from there, even if Mail and PDF Expert were both open on your Mac in split screen view. iOS 11 does away with this by bringing drag and drop into the mix. Now you can simply drag files to and from emails, copy photos and text, and even use the new dock to open a file in another app with drag and drop, just like you can on macOS. Better file management and multitasking make iOS 11 closer to macOS than ever, yet the interface is still intuitive.

Apple Pencil Improvements

The Apple Pencil is one of the greatest improvements to the iPad in recent years. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the iPad, not on an iPhone or Mac yet. Still, Apple only just released the Apple Pencil with the last iPad Pro generation, and they’re still finding ways to make use of it. For example, in iOS 11, marking up a PDF or note is as simple as picking up your Apple Pencil and beginning to write or draw on the document. You can draw inline on notes, and the text will move out of the way of your drawings. Plus, you can even use your Apple Pencil to create notes directly on the lock screen, which will be saved to the Notes app when you unlock your device. It could even be used to leave your friend or coworker a message when they’re away from their desk. I’m sure no one will ever use that feature to say the owner of the iPad is a buttface or draw anything obscene. No, sir. 

Quick Type Keyboard

Since an early version of iOS, you could make a single quotation mark by swiping up on the comma key, or a double quotation mark by swiping up on the period key on the iPad on screen keyboard. This was a great way to access these characters without changing keyboards. iOS 11 brings this feature to other keys, though Apple decided to make the swipe gesture a downward one, for one reason or another. Swiping down on a key will allow users to type the symbol behind the key. Although, if you’re using an iPad Pro, you should really consider using a Smart Connector keyboard for a tactile feel and to save space on the screen. Interestingly, this won’t work on the 12.9″ iPad, at least not now. It’s unknown why Apple did this.  

iOS 11 on the iPhone/iPad

The iPad won’t be the only device to receive updates. The iPhone is still Apple’s most popular iOS device. These are the features that will be available on the iPhone as well as the iPad, although some features, like augmented reality, HEVC videos will only be available on newer iOS devices, such as the iPad Pro and iPhone 6s/iPhone SE.

Peer-to-Peer Apple Pay

I won’t lie to you, I go out with my friends and coworkers often. At the end of the night, one of us picks up the tab and everyone else just chips in. We’ll throw in cash for a tip, but the rest is usually Venmo. If someone new is picking up the tab, or someone new is in our group, we get to play the game of “What’s your Venmo handle?” “Danielle with a dash before your last name? Capitals? Wait, why’d you use a number? Is this you? What do you mean you don’t know?” It’s a pain in the butt (yet somehow still easier than splitting a check any other way). With iOS 11, we could just iMessage each other an amount of money, and then pay for it using Apple Pay. Just like Venmo or PayPal, the money sits in an Apple Pay card, which you can use for purchases anywhere Apple Pay is accepted, pay others from the amount, or just deposit it into a bank account. It looks incredibly easy to use, and it’ll be very helpful. Everyone has their phone number memorized, after all. 

Siri

Siri sounds more expressive now, more like an actual human. On top of that, Siri is the name Apple’s given for a number of AI-assisted features within iOS 11. So yes, you can ask Siri for sports game scores, even by typing instead of speaking now, but you can also ask for a personalized playlist, translations from English to Chinese, Spanish, French, German, or Italian, get personalized news, advanced QuickType suggestions, or events and information scraped from Safari webpages. Siri should sound more natural, and be able to better hold conversations with users, but we won’t know how it compares to Alexa, Google Now, or Cortana until it’s been finished completely this fall. Siri’s always evolving, let’s hope Apple’s plucky assistant has finally caught up. 

Augmented Reality

iOS 11 will bring a new technology to developers, ARKit. It’s a framework for augmented reality (AR) that makes implementing AR incredibly easy for developers. With just a few lines of code, developers can employ object tracking on iOS devices. With a phone that’s aware of the space around it, the objects in its view, and can place virtual objects in it, Apple may have created the perfect AR tools (at least until their secretive, potentially smartphone-killing AR glasses project is revealed). With ARKit, iOS 11 apps can make your coffee table a gamespace, show a digital Lego creation in real life, track your friends faces and apply silly effects, identify objects and provide details, even price comparisons, and help walk users through the steps necessary to repair or upgrade their car. ARKit gives developers the tools necessary to turn an iOS device into an augmented reality powerhouse, and the ease of implementing AR in apps could potentially change the way we use our devices. If you thought Pokémon Go was cool before, wait until the Pokemon feel like they’re actually in the room with you using ARKit. 

Storage Space

Ask anyone about why they need more storage space on their iPhone or iPad and they’ll likely respond it’s to store photos and videos. For most people, it’s not music, apps, or documents taking up the bulk of the space on their devices, but instead, it’s their photos and videos. Apple’s looking to change that, and they’re doing it by compressing your photos and videos in a new way, that allows them to be just as beautiful as ever, but take up about half the space. 

Photo Credit: Greg Barbosa, 9to5Mac

Apple had been using JPEG and H.264 image and video compression technologies on the iPhone for years. However, these formats are showing their age. JPEG is notorious for compressing images too much, losing details and depth from RAW photos that can never be recovered. H.264 compression is fine, but 4K videos take up a massive amount of space on phones due to this format. These formats are being replaced by High Efficency Image File Format (HEIF) and High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). These are new formats, finalized only within the past two years, and they’ll save about 50% of your storage space when you upgrade to iOS 11. In testing, the HEIC photos not only have more light details than the JPEG versions, but they also come in at about half the size. Professional photographers will be happy to hear that they’ll still be able to interact with RAW photos on their iOS devices, and in fact, new tools like Affinity Photo, Snapseed, and Pixelmator will allow photographers to edit and refine their RAW photos. Even they’ll be happy to know their more casual photos, those taken when out with friends for example, will be stored in a format that saves space and quality.

Live Photos

I didn’t quite get Live Photos when they were introduced. I thought, what is it going to really capture, a few moments of getting my camera set up before a shot? For the most part, I saw it as a monumental waste of storage space. If you wanted a better shot from the Live Photo, you were out of luck anyway. iOS adds new effects, like looping photos, bouncing the animation, or combining the shot into one long exposure, without the shaky effects of an actual long exposure. If you loved Live Photos, you probably liked that they could occasionally capture moments better than a normal photo. In iOS 11, you’ll be able to apply some cool effects to them. Also, thanks to the storage coach improvements iOS 11 brings, you won’t have to worry about them taking up your entire phone. 

App Store

The App Store is getting some large improvements in iOS 11. It’s being broken up into three main tabs, “Today,” “Games,” and “Apps.” The Today tab will be used to show off new and promoted apps and games, curated by Apple. The Games tab will be a similar tab, with a curated list of games displayed in a similar way. Apple wanted to draw attention to what is the most popular app category, and the Games Tab is for that. Finally, there’s the Apps tab, a tab for all the apps that aren’t games. Each section will have stories, like behind the scene looks into your favorite apps, and notes from the developers, as well as tips and tutorials on how to make the most out of your apps.

 

Messages

Prior to the reveal of iOS 11, a concept showed a new way to view iMessage apps. This involved a scrolling bar of the apps, as well as a keyboard based space for those apps. That’s exactly what Apple created for iOS 11. Apps in Messages are easier to find than ever, and you can quickly send money, play games, find a good reaction gif, and more, straight from Messages. This took a feature Apple introduced in iOS 10 and made it much easier to use. 

Control Center

Configurable, modular, and customizable. Those are the three features users have been asking about Control Center since it was first introduced. Apple instead gave us an awful two-panel interface, which often makes changing the volume or brightness a pain. Fortunately, Apple has finally done right by us. The new control center is completely customizable, users can put what’s most important to them in view. Users can even add buttons for quick screen recordings, Home controls, volume, and more. The new control center looks a little unbalanced, but you can make it however you’d like.

And the Rest

One handed keyboard, screen recordings, automatic setup with NFC, AI news recommendations, updates to Maps for lane guidance and indoor maps, do not disturb for drivers, full list of notifications on the lock screen, intelligent invert colors, quick annotations of screenshots, Airplay 2, Apple Music social improvements, and more.

macOS High Sierra

I (and everyone else in my office watching the keynote) was flabergasted when Apple announced this name. Last year Craig Federighi made a joke about the macOS marketing team hopping in the VW bus and driving all over California, eventually settling on macOS Weed… and then deciding to go for macOS Sierra instead. This time, he set up the same joke, eventually saying it would be called High Sierra. We all laughed… but then he didn’t correct himself. High Sierra is the actual name. No, really, I know, I make jokes often too, but this isn’t one. It’s called High Sierra. Pass the OS on the left hand side? 

Apple sees High Sierra as an improvement on Sierra, rather than an entirely new operating system. It’ll run on every device that ran Sierra, so if your Mac is up to date now, you’ll be able to upgrade for free this fall. The new operations system does bring a number of key features though, and you definitely won’t want to miss this update. 

Metal 2, VR, and External Graphics Cards

Macs just haven’t been good for gaming. You couldn’t play games on high settings, there wasn’t a single Mac that came with a powerful enough graphics card to run virtual reality, and even the desktops that did have good graphics cards were set up for rendering video for workstations, such as special effects, making them better for work than play. With macOS High Sierra, Apple has finally realized that people don’t want an either-or machine, they want one that can do it all. Metal 2 enables users to connect third party external graphics cards to their Macs without clever workarounds, as you’d have to do currently. This is finally official support for eGPUs, a first for Apple, and the greatest way Apple has supported professionals and gamers alike, because frequently, professionals like to work hard and play hard. Developers with macOS High Sierra would be able to not only develop VR applications and game, but also play their games. Metal 2 will speed everything up. 

APFS

Apple File System (APFS) is Apple’s update to HFS+, the file system they were using. HFS is over 30 years old now, and it’s due for an update. It wasn’t made for flash memory. APFS is better optimized with how devices work today, so you can expect dramatically faster file copying and moving, as well as getting the size of files and directories instantly. You’ll even gain a little bit more storage space on your drive.

Safari

Safari is already a fast browser, faster than Chrome on macOS. Safari on High Sierra will blow Chrome out of the water. On top of that, it still has the best battery optimization on macOS, so you get that speed without sacrificing battery life. Safari in High Sierra will also work to make the web less annoying. It’ll intelligently block ad tracking between pages, as well as prevent auto play videos from starting. Finally, you can read a story on your favorite websites without the video annoyingly playing a few seconds after you’ve started reading the article. 

Photos

Next to Safari, Photos is the most updated app in macOS High Sierra. The app gets more professional-level editing tools, so you can edit your photos directly in the app you use to store and organize them. Apple’s also enabled the “Open in” menu for your photos, so if you prefer to use Affinity Photo to edit your shots, you can open them right from Photos. This is part of the reason I never used the app to store my shots. It also brings new Live Photo editing tools, which allow you to select the starting image, other new Live Photos options such as looping and even enabling intelligent motion blur in photos. Intelligent cataloging for memories and facial recognition has also been improved.

High Sierra has a number of other changes like expanded seaches in Spotlight, Mail, and Notes, tables in Notes, Live Photo capture in FaceTime, iCloud backups of iMessages, and more. It’s an upgrade every Mac user should get. 

watchOS 4

Let’s face it, we’re all using the same Apple Watch watch face, aren’t we? Apple’s modular watch face certainly isn’t the best looking watch face Apple has, but it’s the most functional. With it, you’ve got room for 5 complications as well as the time itself. It’s the best face for getting all your information at once. Apple’s looking to improve your watch face using Siri, and maybe you’ll finally have a different face to use every day. With the new Siri watch face and complication, Siri can keep you up to date on what you’ve got coming up next, intelligently providing information when you use it most. 

watchOS 4 will also bring performance improvements to all apps, allowing them to launch and become interactive more quickly. Developers will also gain access to deeper levels of watchOS, so they can develop more powerful and even more fun apps. The level of integration is surprising, Apple’s even allowing third party developers to gain access to their Water Lock, which pushes water out of the speaker on the Apple Watch Series 2. Maybe someone could make a squirt gun app!

MacBook Pro Updates

The MacBook Pro needs an internal redesign, freeing up storage and memory once more, but that’s not what it’s getting. It is, however, getting some speed improvements and a price reduction, which should have been present upon release last fall. The MacBook Pro is now using Intel’s Kaby Lake processors, giving it a significant boost in performance over the 2016 model released in November. On top of that, it also means that the MacBook Pro can support up to 32GB of RAM, so you know your apps will run quickly as the data they need will be close at hand. The MacBook Pro is otherwise the same computer, same 4 USB-C ports, same unserviceable parts, same Touch Bar. 

iMac Updates

The iMac is Apple’s desktop favorite. They’ve long since abandoned the Mac Mini and Mac Pro (which they still sell), and now expect everyone to flock to the iMac. However, they’ve given us new reason to take it seriously (no, it still doesn’t have Apple Pencil support or a new design). The new iMac comes with enough power to finally bring it up to the power of PC counterparts. For the first time, the iMac can support VR and other games with its lineup of Radeon Pro graphics cards and new Intel chips. It also has USB-C with Thunderbolt now, so you can extend the graphics power with external graphics cards. It still has the same external design, and the same lack of a touch screen, and we don’t know yet what Apple’s plans will be to bring the Touch Bar to their desktop computers, so you may want to hold off if you’re looking forward to these features. Otherwise, it’s an excellent boost in performance for a computer that was desperate for it. 

iMac Pro

The iMac Pro is Apple’s iMac update to appease pro users until they can release the new–actually capable–Mac Pro. This was no surprise to anyone who’s been anxiously following Apple’s progress (or lack thereof) in professional hardware. Apple stated some time ago that they’d release a professional iMac to hold pro customers over until they’re ready to release their new, modular Mac Pro. It’s still the most powerful Mac Apple’s ever made though, by a large margin. 

The iMac Pro starts with an 8 core Xeon processor and can be configured with up to 18 cores of processing power. Those processors can be clocked with turbo boost up to 4.5GHz for some incredible speed. It’ll also be available with AMD’s yet to be released Radeon Pro Vega graphics, which will be pover three times more powerful than any graphics card ever offered on an iMac. That’s enough power for real-time 3D rendering. Want memory for your projects? The iMac Pro can be equipped with an unheard of 128GB of memory. That’s enough to hold an entire video project for class, all the assets for your game, and render incredibly large 3D models and worlds. Need to sort through data? That’s enough memory to keep crunching along, processing an unthinkable amount of information at breakneck speeds. 

The iMac Pro will come with a number of ports, including USB-A, USB-C/Thunderbolt, Ethernet, and even an SD card slot. It can run two 5K monitors (alongside the 5K monitor it comes with). The screen is capable of displaying billions of colors with 10 bit dithering and a new, brighter screen, up to 500 nits. It won’t just look good either, the iMac pro comes with new stereo speakers, so the sound coming out of it will be rich and full. 

Oh, and it’ll come in a space gray finish, along with dark space gray accessories. It’ll be available for order in December of this year. 

10.5″ iPad Pro

The new 10.5″ iPad Pro is a few millimeters larger than the outgoing 9.7″ iPad Pro (so your old cases and Smart Keyboard won’t work with it). However, those few millimeters are to accommodate a new, larger 10.5″ display. The display takes up more room on the front of the device, with 40% smaller bezels. Both it and the 12.9″ iPad have 264 ppi displays with P3 color gamut and 120hrz refresh rate. That translates to screens that look bright, crisp, with rich colors, and react so quickly to your touch that the motion is remarkable. It’s something you have to see in person to believe, because the screen you’re probably reading this on can’t display 120 frames per second of movement. This super fast screen enables a 20ms delay for the Apple Pencil, barely conceivable by human standards, making the new iPad Pro tablets the next best thing to designing and writing on paper. In fact, thanks to digital enhancements, they may be far better at any writing or drawing related task. 

Both iPad Pro models now have Apple’s latest A10X Fusion processors. These feature 64-bit desktop class architecture and incredible performance and battery life improvements. The processors now come with 8 cores, 4 for high performance, and 4 four sipping power, and intelligent firmware switches between the two as necessary. It’s been reported that both new iPad Pro tablets will be available with 4GB of memory, an improvement over the 2GB of memory from the 9.7″ iPad Pro and the 3GB of memory in the old 12.9″ iPad Pro. 

10.5″ iPad Pro (left) vs. 9.7″ iPad Pro (right). Photo Credit: Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica

Both iPad Pros now have the same 12MP cameras from the iPhone 7, as well as wide color capture and a new 7MP front facing camera with Retina Flash and HDR. You could potentially take a photo on your iPad, edit it in Affinity Photo, and publish it to your favorite image sharing platform like 500px, Flickr, or even Instagram, all from the same device. With iOS 11’s Files app, enhanced multitasking, increased memory, and the larger screen, both iPad Pro tablets could soon replace a laptop for most customers. 

Unfortunately, there’s still no good way to write code on the iPad, so, as a developer, I’m still in need of a Mac. Ironic that a company that’s built on good software would continue to make devices that can’t create software. 

HomePod

This is Apple’s long fabled Siri speaker, and I’m not sure if it’s exactly what we were expecting yet. Apple focused on its musical capabilities during WWDC (which are incredibly impressive, by the way), but it can do a whole lot more. In it is the same Siri that’s in your phone. That means you can ask it questions about the weather, traffic, or sports scores, but you can also use it to control any of your HomeKit enabled accessories, controlling your house with your voice. We can’t be sure if Siri is as powerful as Alexa yet, especially without the huge selection of third party integrations, but Apple’s HomePod will be the best sounding home assistant, by far. 

The HomePod has 6 directional microphones, and that’s not just to hear commands from you from across the room. It’s also to enable your HomePod to measure the room. Using a powerful subwoofer and 7 tweeters, the HomePod can “measure” your home, then provide the perfect directional sound to ensure that, no matter where you are in your space, the HomePod fills it with music that sounds great everywhere. Those in attendance at WWDC say it blows the Amazon Echo and others out of the water. You can even grab two of these, setting them up at various points in your house, where they’ll notice the presence of the other and adapt the sound, providing full, split, rich sound to your entire space. 

The HomePod hopes to be the only speaker you need, and one that enables you to control your house and get answers with nothing more than a vocal request. If you use HomeKit connected devices, your iOS device for music, and want to have Siri throughout your house or apartment, there’s no better way to do it than a HomePod. They’ll be $350, and will go on sale this December. 

WWDC Wrap-Up

This was Apple’s biggest WWDC yet. This wrap-up took longer than any other I’ve written up in the past, and for good reason. iOS 11, macOS High Sierra, the new iMacs, iMac Pro, MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and HomePod made for an exciting WWDC. We’ll see all these new products before 2018 rolls around, so look for the iPad Pro and other hardware updates out now, iOS 11 and High Sierra in the fall, and the new iMac Pro this December.

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