There haven’t been many moments in my budding professional writing career where I had to take a deep breath and compose myself before starting an article. I did that just now. Apple’s WWDC ’14 keynote event told us about a redesigned OS X Yosemite (no indication if this is going to be OS X 10.10 or just OS X Yosemite) and iOS 8.
As keynotes go, this was the most un-Apple like event since may be the first Mac OS X event where they showed the Aqua interface. We’ve known Apple as rigid, grumpy and set in its ways. A lot of enthusiasts including yours truly thought this ideology was getting in the way of Apple doing truly amazing things. I’m glad Tim Cook got the memo. Because what we saw yesterday was the new Apple. The post Steve Jobs Apple. The Apple of the future.
Feature wise, Apple brought a lot of stuff to the table, too much to be covered in this single article without turning it into a short ebook. But I’ll try to cover the best stuff.. stuff that the everyday iPhone, Mac or iPad user needs to be aware about and can make use of.
I’m sure your Android enthusiast friend already told you how a lot of features in iOS 8 are either ripped off from Android or third party apps. It’s true. No denying that. But the way they are implemented and how they work between devices is amazing.
They even added some new interconnectivity features in iOS 8 which are not available on Android/Windows that will surely make you want to buy a Mac.
1. OS X Yosemite Got A New Look
Brushed metal in OS X has been replaced with translucent glass menus. Just like iOS. This is Jony Ive’s OS X, no doubt. It is very much flat and bright.
The typeface has been changed from Lucida Grande to iOS’s Helvetica Neue. The sharp typography, the bright and translucent windows might not look great on non-Retina MacBooks, just like it happened with iOS devices. I’ll have to reserve the judgement on the looks department till I actually use it. It looked a bit too bright and cheery on the presentation slides but just like iOS 7 we will probably get used to it. Thankfully there’s a dark mode you can turn on if things are too bright for you.
2. Yosemite System Apps Got An Update
Spotlight’s In The Spotlight
Spotlight’s upgrade makes it a lot more useful. It looks much like Alfred and many other keyboard launcher apps. It opens right in the middle of the screen and provides contextual data. So you can see relevant mail, contact details etc when you search for a friend. Searching for a movie brings up a summary and where it’s playing near by. It’s all very sophisticated.
Safari looks modern and a lot like the iOS app. But it’s not short on features. The favorites bar has been integrated in the address bar, and the tab view is finally useful now. Pinching out will reveal a birds eye view of what’s going on.
Doodle On Mail
Mail got markup tools so you can draw on any picture, highlight something, add some text etc before sending it off. All of that right from the mail app.
3. OS X and iOS Work In Harmony
Other than looking like iOS, OS X works effortlessly with iOS devices.
Continuity is such a simple word. Yet when I heard it on stage I couldn’t help but think of it in a sci-fi context. Like it could be the sequel to Nolan’s Interstellar. As I would learn in a couple of minutes, it was all very much sci-fi.
With Handoffs you can start working on an email or a Pages document on your Mac and when you pick up your iPhone or iPad, you’ll see a little app icon on the lockscreen. Slide up and the respective app will launch. You can pick up from where you left off.
There’s AirDrop support between iOS and Mac to wirelessly share files between your Mac and iPhone. Finally.
Also, if your phone is nearby, you can make and receive phone calls from your Mac using the computer’s mic and speakers. You can even receive calls on the iPad. Somehow, I just can’t see Steve Jobs approving such a feature. Of course you need the iPhone to be nearby but that’s still huge.
Same goes for texting. Your messages will show up on the Mac and iPad and you can carry on a conversation without switching back and forth between devices.
I hope third party apps like WhatsApp integrate similar functionality, but we can’t say if that’ll happen for sure right now.
4. iCloud’s Finest Hour
If you own an iPad, iPhone and a Mac, iCloud is going to be the glue that holds them together. With Yosemite and iOS 8 comes a big update to iCloud. It can now go head to head with Google Drive and Dropbox.
The problem with iCloud as a backup solution was that apps would let you save stuff to iCloud individually but you never got a file explorer view like with Dropbox to see what was where or have one app access a saved file from another.
All of that changes today with iCloud Drive. Just upload a file to iCloud and you can view it on any device, even on Windows via the web (no mention of Android anywhere). This might finally get you to ditch Dropbox. The only problem is that the free storage is still limited to just 5 GB. 20 GB extra will cost you $0.99 a month. That’s better than $40 a year it was before.
With the Family Sharing feature you can share your iTunes account with 6 different users in your family. They can download any of the purchases from your account. You’ll be able to approve whether your kid can download something you bought, which is good.
5. Core iOS Functionality Gets Better
iOS has always been a closed ecosystem – a walled garden. Now Apple is taking off some restrictions. And for you the user, this is great news.
You can tap a button to reply to a message from the banner popup or the lockscreen, type the reply then and there and send it off. You wont be pushed to a separate app.
Third Party Widgets In Notification Center
With iOS 7 Apple added widgets to the Notification Center but they were just system apps. Now, Apple is opening it up to the developers so they can make their own interactive widgets. This is not going to be as functional as Android’s homescreen widgets but it’s a step in the right direction.
Apps Can Talk To Each Other
Apple showed a demo where you can apply filters from a third party app like VSCO Cam right within the default photos app. You won’t have to jump apps anymore. This is just the glimpse of the inter app communication future in iOS. I think the potential of this feature will only be limited by the developer’s imagination.
Third Party Keyboards
Get ready to swipe your way through a conversation because third party keyboards like Swype and Swiftkey are on their way to iOS 8.
Lastly, Siri now has touchless controls. So saying “Hey, Siri” will wake her up. You don’t need to long-press the home button anymore.
6. Messages Turns On Chat Apps
Messages app has integrated voice chat functionality from apps like WeChat and WhatsApp. Hold down the mic icon, speak, swipe to send it off.
You can do the same with video as well, using the front or the rear facing camera. And the media plays in-line, not fullscreen. And here’s the kicker – the rich media self destructs after a set time. Messages just became a direct competitor to Snapchat.
You can also finally leave a group chat. Say goodbye to annoying cousins who keep adding you to new groups you don’t want to belong to.
With this update, the Messages app is clearly going for established third party chat apps. Will it succeed? Only time will tell.
7. Photos App Goes iPhoto
Photos app for iOS will receive a pretty big update. You can edit and enhance photos right within the app easily. And you don’t need to know anything about exposure, shadows, highlights, etc to make a good picture great.
Photos will bring iPhoto like feature rich editing in an incredibly simplified interface. You’ve got a simple slider for lights and color with thumbnail previews. Slide over it for precise control. When you do this, the app changes technical details like the exposure, shadows, brightness etc on its own. If you want to get your hands dirty with the details and want to edit those details individually, you can do that.
All your photos and edits will live on the updated iCloud storage, at their original resolution even if you’re importing RAW files there. iCloud’s 5 GB free storage can be a problem here. If you want to add a lot of photos, you’ll need to pay more.
9. You’ll Be Able To Control The Lights With Your iPhone
The future is here and it is well integrated. The functionality to control smart lights from Philips or smart home sensors from WeMo directly from your iPhone already exists, but only from individual apps. Now you’ll be able to do so from one single screen and what’s more, the app supports Siri. So telling Siri “Good Night” actually will turn off the lights. How cool is that!
9. iPad Got Some Well Deserved Love
With iOS 7, iPad took the back seat. There wasn’t even a working version for the iPad at the last WWDC event. And when they did release it, it was just the iPhone UI stretched out. The iPad deserves more and it’s starting to get it.
Apps like Safari have been updated with shared links and the new tabs view. The mail app got Mailbox like gestures for delete and mark as read. You can even receive calls on it if your iPhone is nearby and connected to the same network. And of course all the great things like iCloud Drive, enhance feature from Photos app etc will be carried over to the iPad.
We didn’t see anything revolutionary, like the rumored split screen multi-tasking. But it’s good to know that in the eyes of Apple, iPad is no longer thought of as a stretched out iPod. And I believe this is just the start.
10 . Tim’s One More Thing
On stage yesterday, Tim Cook had his own “one more thing” moment, just like Steve. But not in so many words. This is what he said.
“If we ended the keynote now, it would be a giant release. But there’s a lot more. It’s about what iOS 8 provides to devs.”
And what happened in the next 30 minutes is going to shape the future of Apple as we know it. Apple is opening up the closed iOS, empowering home automation and building incredible game engines that will bring console quality games to iOS. They even showed the Health app. Although right now it is just a dashboard for data collected from different apps and peripherals but I can firmly say this is foundation of something big coming from Apple. It might be the iWatch, it might be something else.
What I took away from the keynote more than anything is Apple’s willingness and ability to adapt. It started with them acquiring Beats, something I never thought Apple would do and it continues with them embracing the future that is openness, customizability and interconnectivity.
This is the post Steve Jobs Apple we’ve been waiting to see since 2012. Tim Cook & Co has finally delivered.