Apple's World Wide Developer conference is supposed to be a place for, you guessed it, developers to hear about the latest developments in Apple’s software and hardware. In previous years, it’s been about releasing new devices, and that has turned it into a bit of a media circus. Not this year though, because Apple didn’t announce any new hardware at all. There was no iWatch, no new iPhone and no improvements to the iPad.
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Apple just spoke about two new things. The new version of MacOS and iOS8, the latest iteration of its mobile operating system. On the surface, this sounds a bit disappointing, but in reality Apple has done more to change mobile and desktop computing than anyone else has for some time.
The first significant announcement was that Apple would be allowing iOS phone users to control their devices from their Mac. This has, to some extent, already been done on Android. And techies like me have been using Bluetooth for this sort of thing for more than 10 years, but Apple, as always, has nailed the way it’s done. The demo, at least, made it look like the most natural thing in the world to start writing a message on your phone, and then finish it on your Mac. Of course, these things work well when you and everyone you know just uses Apple hardware, and Apple made no significant inroads to embracing other platforms today.
Most exciting of all though, was Apple’s iOS8. To look at, you wouldn’t think that would be the case. Visually, it’s just a tweak to iOS7, but under the hood things start to get more interesting. Extensions were the first thing that blew my mind. Now iOS apps are able to communicate with each other, and one can give or take data from another. This might sound like a small thing, but with Apple’s eye for security in place, it allows apps to work together in ways they never could have before.
It allows, for example, your Jawbone UP app to get information from your diet app about what you’ve selected to eat today, along with calorie counts and nutritional information. If you then wanted to give data about your number of steps taken, and calories consumed to the new HealthKit then that’s now possible. From there, you can pass it to your doctor or anyone else you choose. This is a significant improvement over current iOS devices, and there is no similar feature on Android either.
Also exciting was the new widgets for the notifications area. Widgets are an Android stronghold, and Apple doesn’t have the same “homescreen” style layout as Google's OS, so widgets had to go to the notifications area. But the demo of eBay proved just how well this system has been developed. In the example, you can see your ongoing auctions, and simply increase your bid in the notification widget. That’s a massive usability advance, and reduces clicking and app changing times. For users, that will be a huge boost.
Apple also opened up its fingerprint scanner via a new API. This means that you’ll be able to authorise app purchases via fingerprint. Rightly, Apple doesn’t allow any of that secure information off the device, it’s all kept locked away, but this is a great, secure way to pay. Fingerprints are not perfect security of course, but they do bring together conveniences and a reasonable level of protection, which is what the public wants.
Another great decisions has been with the decision to allow third-parties to develop keyboards. I have just written about this very subject, bemoaning Apple’s lack of flexibility, and then suddenly the company changes its mind. But this is great, and Swiftkey is already in development for iOS, and it’s likely all the best Android keyboards will make their way over too. This has been handled well by Apple, as it has taken care with the security of your data, and it restricts what keyboards can send to internet services, but users have the option to allow this if their chosen keyboard has cloud functionality, for remembering personal dictionaries.
Even the way Apple handles app purchases has changed for the better, users can now share apps with family members and there’s ways for app developers to bundle things into one package. A very clever idea for helping increase sales in a market that is very saturated.
In total, Apple says there are now 4000 new APIs for developers to use in iOS8. To most of us, this doesn’t mean a lot, but what the firm did at this WWDC was make it clear that Android’s reputation for flexibility is being challenged, and Apple thinks it can avoid the problems with malware and viruses that have been something of an issue for Android.
This is the first WWDC where I think Apple has got everything right. There was some “borrowing” of ideas from Android and others, but once again, Apple manages to integrate things in a more seamless way than the Android phone companies.