Apple reveals latest moves to create seamless user experience
Worldwide Developer Conference hears Siri to be available to other applications
Apple chief executive Tim Cook delivers the keynote address at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie/AFP/Getty Images
Outside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, there is a big queue. A very big queue. There are about 5,000 people in it. Most are developers, waiting to get into Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, an annual event that is so popular tickets are allocated through a lottery process.
“Hello open minds. Hello new ground. Hello fresh perspective. Hello step change. Hello bigger picture. Hello better world. Hello best work yet. Hello WWDC.” That’s one of the posters outside the auditorium, featuring heavily in photos and videos shot by attendees as they waited for the event to begin. It’s a hint of what way Apple is pitching the event.
It’s a sombre start though. Once the initial enthusiasm welcoming Apple chief executive Tim Cook on stage has died down, he calls for a moment’s silence for the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. You could hear a pin drop in the packed room.
The keynote speech is the highlight of the event for the public at large, with different Apple executives taking to the stage to outline what’s coming next for its mobile and desktop software. In recent years, that has expanded to include WatchOS and tvOS, the platform for its new Apple TV.
Apple is a company under scrutiny. Selling millions of iPhones and iPads every quarter is not enough for investors; they want to see evidence of significant growth. And it had a good run, with a 13-year streak most companies only dream of. But in recent months, growth has faltered.
For Apple, creating a seamless experience for users across its platforms is crucial. This year’s WWDC emphasised that even further, tying up threads and pulling the platforms even closer together.
Its Universal Clipboard, for example, allows you to copy something to one Apple device, be it iPhone or Mac, and have it available on the rest.
The use of iCloud Drive means your desktop effectively travels with you; saving your files to your documents folder or desktop on the latest version of OS X – now MacOS Sierra, by the way – makes them available not only on other Macs but to your iPhone and iPad too.
And then there is Siri. There was no doubt that Siri was going to feature heavily this time around. The news that Apple was opening up the digital assistant was greeted by enthusiastic applause from developers. It means that instead of being limited to Apple applications, developers can take advantage of voice commands and the intelligence that Siri offers.
Will it drive more use of Siri among average users? According to Apple, the digital assistant currently gets about two billion requests a week. However, opening it up to third parties could see that number skyrocket. Adding it into Mac, like Microsoft has done with Cortana for Windows 10, puts the software front and centre for all Apple users.
TvOS, meanwhile, is getting live channels and single sign-on, with an updated Remote app for iOS users that will mimic all the functions of the Siri remote that is included with the latest version of Apple TV.
However, the star of this year’s show was iOS. Hitting double digits, the mobile software was given what Cook described as the biggest release yet for the software. The company outlined 10 things it thought was worth noting, from redesigned, more intelligent Maps to the changes to the user interface that heavily utilises 3D Touch and the lock screen to the overhauled Photos app that will collate memories for you into mini-albums.
In fact, it was so big Apple didn’t go into detail on every addition, including Siri for Ireland, which was spotted by some eagle-eyed watchers on a slide during the presentation.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Siri will be coming to tvOS at the same time. Siri is available for about 30 countries on iOS, but only eight at the launch of tvOS. But it is a step in the right direction.
Of course, WWDC is an event for Apple developers, so the reaction is always going to be a little skewed towards the positive. But the announcements made by the company seem to be real steps forward in many ways.
Developers get their hands on the software immediately, while the public will have to wait until later in the year. The real test of whether Apple got it right will be that reaction.