Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is always an exciting event, and this year was no exception. With multiple announcements spanning OS X, iOS, Apple Watch, and more it was no wonder the keynote presentation lasted a whopping two and a half hours.
Continuing Apple’s revamped naming convention, the new version of OS X (10.11) will be called El Capitan, named after the rock formation in Yosemite National Park. This next iteration of Apple’s desktop operating system is intended to be a performance-based release (much like OS X Snow Leopard was for OS X Leopard), with the focus being placed on performance and workflow enhancements.
Among the changes are small updates to core apps like Finder, Safari, and Notes, as well as easy ways to work with windows side-by-side. OS X will now also fully support Apple’s Metal framework, and big-name companies like Adobe have pledged to integrate it into their core products to take advantage of a reported 40% increase in performance and efficiency.
One of the big advantages of Apple’s tight grip on its own software and hardware is the incredibly high adoption rate of updates. Even with a new version coming out every Fall, the current version of iOS enjoys an 83% adoption rate among active iPhone users. That translates into faster innovation and gives developers the rarely-found ability to use the latest technologies and tools available to them without having to worry about leaving most of their users behind.
iOS 9 brings with it a host of changes, although this release (much like its OS X counterpart) is less about major changes and more about necessary refinements. It’s worth noting that all devices that are supported by iOS 8 will continue to be supported by iOS 9, which is bound to make a few iPhone 4S owners out there very happy. Updating should be easier this time around, too; updating to iOS 8 required 4.6 GB of free space while iOS 9 will require only 1.3 GB, so you can safely continue to put off sorting through your photos.
Battery life has been improved by about 1 hour with normal use, and there’s also a new Low Power Mode which can be activated with a single switch to eek out an additional 3 hours of battery — great news if you’ve ever been frantically moving through the Settings screens turning off everything you can think of while your battery indicator ticks down from 5 to 4%.
Apple Pay continues its slow march to replace our wallets and is adding support for all American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards. Apple Pay will also be available in the UK starting in July, with its initial launch supporting over 70% of all debit and credit cards. In case the intention wasn’t already clear, Apple has renamed the Passbook app to Wallet, which will now also keep track of rewards cards as well as boarding passes, concert tickets, coupons, and more. There is also built-in support for Pinterest’s Buyable Pins feature, launching later this month.
Siri is getting smarter, and is being touted as a “proactive assistant” — examples of this include bringing up your music on the lock screen when you plug in your headphones in the morning (because it has learned that you usually go for a run at that time), bringing up the audiobook you were listening to when you get in your car, and alerting you when you should leave for an event on your calendar based on current traffic conditions. You can now also swipe to the left of the home screen to view a full list of recommended contacts (based on upcoming meetings or who you most frequently contact), apps, and news stories.
Speaking of news, Apple is debuting its own News app which will feature content from traditional and web publications alike and boasts more than a million topics.
The Maps app is (finally!) getting public transit support, although the initial rollout will be limited to certain cities: in the United States those are Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
Search on iOS is getting some major upgrades as well, with one of the most notable changes being the ability for third-party developers to surface content from within their own apps and deep-linking directly from a search result. For example, you could search for an Airbnb listing you’ve booked and be taken directly to the relevant screen within the Airbnb app; with the average user having 119 apps on their device this will make finding the information you care about much easier.
Apple seems to be fully aware of how many people are using their iPads as their main computing device and have added some great features to speed up the experience. You’ll now be able to use the keyboard as a trackpad by touching with two fingers, thus enabling you to easily move the cursor and quickly make selections. There are also some much-sought-after multitasking enhancements in this release with Slide Over, Split View, and picture-in-picture options on the iPad. All of these features are intended to work out-of-the-box as long as your app already supports Auto Layout and Size Classes, which have been available for about a year and are widely implemented.
Apple also announced that it would be making its new Swift language (which is already reaching version 2) open source for iOS, OS X, and Linux in late 2015.
iOS 9 is available now as a developer beta, with a public beta in July (a first for iOS), and a free upgrade for everyone in the Fall.
Although the Apple Watch has only been available for 6 weeks, the first major update is already on its way. With watchOS 2, developers will be able to build native apps for the Apple Watch — currently they were limited to running apps on the iPhone with the Watch essentially serving as a second screen.
Developers are also gaining access to much of the Watch hardware, including the microphone, speaker, accelerometer, taptic engine, digital crown, and HealthKit data (such as real-time, streaming heart rate). All of these changes will greatly shift the landscape of how people can use their new wearable technology.
Tim Cook pulled the old “One More Thing…” trick out of his sleeve again this year, with the announcement of Apple Music: a service designed to be a one-stop shop for all of your music needs.
While at its heart this can be considered a streaming music service much like Spotify (but with more Taylor Swift) Apple is still attempting to connect fans with artists (anyone remember Ping?) in an entertaining way with behind-the-scenes images, video, and, of course, music. There will also be a live, worldwide radio station called Beats 1 broadcasting 24/7 out of Los Angeles, New York, and London. Time will tell if this experiment pans out for Apple, but as long as it’s not terrible people will likely adopt it — if for no other reason than the pure convenience of having it built in to your device.
Apple Music is launching at the end of this month with iOS 8.4, as well as a new version of iTunes for Mac and Windows. In an interesting twist, Apple Music will also be available on Android this Fall, putting it in direct competition with Google’s own music offerings. The first 3 months of Apple Music will be free, with an individual subscription costing $9.99/month and a family subscription (up to 6 users) costing $14.99/month.