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Apple WWDC 2016 Recap

John Ptacek John Ptacek  |  
Jul 05, 2016
In the Developer world, there are usually three big conferences each year; Microsoft’s Build, Google I/O and Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). We previously look at Build and I/O, so let us take a peek at some of the interesting things mentioned from WWDC, which was held in June in San Francisco.

Apple’s WWDC keynote this year, tended to be the more consumer facing, rather than developer facing of the other keynotes from 2016. A majority of the time was spent on items such as iOS 10 features, Apple music redesign, Apple photos, etc. 

Siri – Both Microsoft and Google announced significant expansion of their bot, or conversational UX platforms. Apple, as expected, followed suit by opening up its previously closed Siri platform to third party APIs. What was a bit surprising, is Siri’s expansion only allows for six types of application; fitness, payments, ride booking, messaging, photos and VOIP calling. You will soon be able to use Siri to call yourself an Uber, but you will not be asking Siri to play Life of Pablo on Spotify. We can assume that other classes of applications will be incorporated into the API over time.

In other Siri news, it is also coming to the Mac and will be part of an upgrade to the newly named macOS, which replaces the previous OS X name. This is similar to Windows 10 having Cortana. In day to day usage though, I rarely see people interacting via voice with Cortana, at least in the Enterprise environment. It will be interesting to see if macOS can obtain better success.

It is obvious that all the major tech companies assume that conversational UX will be a big hit with consumers. It is up to consumers to decide if it goes the way of 3D Televisions or not.

iMessage – One of the big rumors heading into WWDC was that iMessage, Apple’s very popular messaging platform would be being made available to Android devices. That wasn’t announced. However, a slew of changes are coming to iMessage. The changes mostly are “fun”; items such as stickers, new emojis, videos, bubble effects etc. Given the popularity of iMessage though, we know these features will be popular. Unlike other messaging application, for example Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, etc, the usage may be limited, since as of now, you cannot take advantage of these new features for users on other platforms like Android. Given that for most iOS users iMessage means SMS, it could lead to frustration.

Apple Watch – There have been two OS releases of Apple Watch in its first year. However, it can still be frustratingly slow to use in day to day activities. Apple announced watchOS 3 which seems to greatly alleviate some of the performance issues. Applications were shown on the current version and the new version and were markedly faster. Apple Watch users will be excited for the new upgrade if those performance gains are realized as promised.

iOS – iOS has a new round of updates as it hits version 10. The notification screen has been greatly redesigned. Apple music has been streamlined and the maps application has been improved. 3D touch, which was introduced with last year’s new iPhones (6s, 6s Plus) is also more fully integrated into the system, especially on the notification screen.

Contextual Awareness – The interesting thing that is permeating a lot of the developer conversations as of late is contextual awareness. A platform, like Google Now, can read email, look at your calendar and contacts as well as location to provide a wealth of information. This can provide very useful and pertinent information to a user. However, the downside to this is you are giving up a some of your privacy, as the service collects your information and mines it. This has definitely been Google’s approach. Apple has a stated focus on privacy, so it is exceedingly more difficult for them to provide these kind of services, which often rely on cloud computing because the information would need to leave the phone. So contextual awareness happens within an application, like Siri, where it will be much more limited.

At WWDC, to make iOS more successful at providing contextual awareness, Apple introduced differential privacy. It is all a bit murky, and involves some crazy abstract mathematics, but it essentially takes information from your phone, randomizes it a bit to mask individual information, stores it and then can aggregate the information together. 

How this actually works in the real world, remains to be seen. However, at first glance, I cannot imagine it being very successful, because the data that would be helpful to you, for example, discerning information about an upcoming flight, wouldn’t have enough other randomized data elements in the cloud for iOS to be able to find information about the flight. 

Resultantly, Apple is using this new feature in four areas for iOS; emoji replacement in iMessage, predictive text in iMessage, search in Notes and search in Spotlight.

It is an interesting take at trying to be contextual and protect user privacy, I am just not sure how successful Apple will be trying to provide contextual awareness with it in their platform as they compete against happily data mining competitors such as Facebook and Google.

So that is a quick tour of 2016 WWDC. Not a lot of big announcements, but more of a refining. As phone platforms reach platform maturity, there will be less and less groundbreaking enhancements on the phone. A lot of the interesting things will be happening in the cloud services that drive these devices. Apple has a lot of catching up to do here.
IOS Development


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